#WhaleWednesday – Corky the Orca

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Corky, a female orca, is the longest held captive orca in history. On December 11 of this year it will 48 years since she was forcibly removed from her family and the ocean environment and then taken to the harsh reality of a life imprisoned in a concrete tank. When Corky was captured in 1969 at the age of approximately 4 years very little was known about orcas. Not even the fact that they form closely bonded family groups within which member remain for their entire lives.

Corky’s family in the wild is known at the A5 pod (northern resident population) of British Columbia, Canada and she still has close and distant relatives living free who she knew as young orca, as well as siblings she has never known. Her mom, A23 known as Stripe, died in 2000 at 53 years of age. Corky had a brother A27 Okisollo also deceased, her living family currently consists of a younger sister, A43 Ripple, a niece A69 Midsummer and a young brother A60 Fife, all of whom she has never met.

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A60 Fife – Corky’s Brother – ©Rob Lott/WDC

Corky was captured on December 11, 1969, on that evening her pod chose to enter Pender Harbour on the Sunshine Coast of north of Vancouver, British Columbia. Word had reached a group of local fisherman that there was a group of whales nearby and they were aware that the whales meant a big pay day (since there was a capture the previous year in the same area). The fisherman located the whales, encircled part of the pod with fishing nets and battled to keep the nets in place and afloat overnight. The following morning, half of Corky’s pod was trapped inside the net, with remaining pod still on the outside, who were then surrounded as well. Six whales from Corky’s pod were selected by buyers and the remaining six were released but did not immediately leave the area. This would be the first time Corky was separated from her mom and the last time she would see her.

After being selected for captivity Corky was moved into shallow waters, where divers got into the water and positioned a sling around her body, with  holes for her pectoral fins. A crane then slowly lifted Corky’s sling out of the water and hoisted her into a truck. Removed from the weightless experience of the ocean, Corky’s own weight would have been crushing down on her. She made the long journey from British Columbia by truck, plane, and another truck before her final lift into a circular tank at Marineland of the Pacific, near Los Angeles, California.

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Corky at Marineland of the Pacific

The moment Corky’s freed was stolen her world was suddenly and drastically changed. Now, movement was restricted by never changing dimensions; concrete walls replaced the cliffs, rocks, caves and kelp forests of the vast and limitless ocean. There was no longer anywhere for her to explore and her choices were limited. Gone now were the familiar sounds of the sea; instead, there was the constant drone of filtration systems, and anytime one of the whales in the tank called, their sounds reverberated off the barren walls. There would be no more waves, no currents, no fish to chase and hunt, no dolphins or porpoises to play with – Corky’s entire life was forever changed.

The sameness was relieved marginally by the companionship of 4 other member of Corky’s family, 2 were captured with her and 2 the year before. Unfortunately that soon ended, after 1 year Corky I died and Corky was given her name, and in Patches dies in 1971. A male orca who was never named died in 1972 and from then on Corky and a male cousin named Orky, who was captured in 168, were by themselves. Corky is now the sole survivor of all the orcas captured from the northern resident community of British Columbia orcas.

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Corky & Orky 1985 Marineland of the Pacific

Around the age of 11, Corky began to sexually mature and on February 28, 1977 she delivered her first calf, a male. This was the first live orca to be born in captivity. Orky (Corky’s cousin) & also the father of all her calves, helped the calf to the surface after a difficult birth. The situation grew tense when the calf failed to curse and the staff of Marineland had to intervene and force feed the calf several times a day. Despite these efforts, the calf lost weight and eventually died of pneumonia, after living for just 16 days. Corky was pregnant a total of 7 times and the longest any of her calves live was 46 days. All of Corky’s calves failed to nurse properly, even though Marineland staff made a dummy calf in an attempt to teach Corky to position herself appropriately. In the wild Corky would have been taught this fro her mother and other females pod members. Corky gave birth to one stillborn calf and her last pregnancy ended when an aborted fetus was found at the bottom of her tank. Finally at the age of 21, Corky stopped ovulating. In the wild, Corky would probably have had several calves and most likely be a grandmother by now.  A female orca in the wild will typically have 25 productive years during which she may give birth to 4-6 offspring.

In December, 1986, 17 years after Corky’s arrival, Marineland and its surrounding lands were purchased by Sea World’s corporate owner, the U.S. publisher Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, for a rumoured $23 million. Corky was then transferred to Sea World in San Diego where she became Sea World’s main performer, “Shamu”.

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Corky at Sea World San Diego

Shamu is the SeaWorld trade name for its orcas. The name has been passed from performer to performer. Corky’s physical condition has fluctuated over the years. At one point, Sea World listed her condition as “poor”, perhaps because her kidneys were not functioning well. Her lower teeth are worn and she is almost blind in one eye. Sea World considers Corky as an “old” animal and tells visitors that orcas only live to about 35 years. They used to say 30 years. For a while, Sea World even decreased the number of shows Corky did, but now she is back doing a full schedule. When she is not performing, Corky is held in one of the back pools with the other orcas. She spends most of her time simply circling her tank.

During her time in captivity, Corky has experienced some social difficulties, most notably with an Icelandic orca named Kandu V who appeared to be jealous of Corky. Over the years, there had been a lot of tension between the two females. Then, in August 1989, just as their public show was beginning, Kandu rushed out from the back pool and charged at Corky. In the attack, Kandu fractured her jaw, a bone fragment severed an artery and she bled to death. No one had ever seen or heard of an orca attacking another orca before. Kandu’s daughter, Orkid, was just one year old at the time and, in an odd twist of fate, Corky became her surrogate mother.

Back in the wild, Corky’s family carries on. The A5 pod originally had 18 members but the 7 who were removed in the 1968 capture all died and one entire matriline was lost. Of the six taken in 1969 only Corky survives. Slowly over the years, as their fortunes waxed and waned, the complexion of the wild pod has changed. Despite the losses, the pod appears strong, and its members still love to hunt big Spring salmon when they travel the waters of Johnstone Strait, Blackfish Sound and the rest of the Inside Passage. But they have never been seen near Pender Harbour again.

It seems that orcas, like elephants, have long memories. Corky still remembers her family. She visibly shook and vocalized poignantly when a tape recording of her family’s calls were played to her in 1993. Corky still ‘speaks’ the same dialect as her family,

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The time left for Corky to reconnect with her family is disappearing. She has already survived longer than any other captive orca. This tells us that Corky is an incredibly strong individual… but no one, no matter how strong, can last forever.

Free Corky: (Via OrcaLab) “The campaign to free Corky originally aimed at returning her to a full life with her family in the wild. In recent years, acknowledging the difficulties involved in accomplishing this (“owner” intransigence, Corky’s age and condition) we have modified our goal by proposing that Corky be “retired” to a facility in the ocean, where she would feel the ocean around her, and be able to reconnect with her family and community. Corky would hear familiar voices from long ago, and have opportunities to interact with her kin. We can’t know precisely what would happen following her return, as this would be determined by Corky and the other orcas. She would continue to receive human care, including from Sea World staff who know her well. There are many compelling reasons for doing this. In fairness, we owe it to Corky, and to her family to make the attempt to reunite them. Corky’s return to the ocean will also give us an opportunity to learn details about orca society that we will never know otherwise. But beyond these humanitarian and scientific reasons, Corky’s story and the complex project needed to bring it to a successful conclusion has the potential for focusing public attention on a wide range of critical ocean issues besides captivity… the health of vital habitats, fisheries and food supply, impacts of human activity and industry, even global warming.”

 

#WhaleWednesday – Sperm Whale

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© Douglas Hoffman

Sperm Whales are the largest of the toothed whales and the largest living carnivore. The sperm whale is easily recognized by it’s massive head and prominent rounded forehead. They have the largest brain of any creature known and their heads hold a large quantity of spermaceti (milky white waxy substance in the head cavity). During the days of commercial whaling, sperm whales were so named  because when the head was cut open it was found to contain a milky white substance and the whalers once believed that the fluid was sperm.  Spermaceti is a high quality oil and was used originally in lamp oil and later as an industrial lubricant, in cosmetics, automatic transmissions, and pharmaceutical compounds, making this species highly valuable to whalers.

Scientists still do not fully understand the function of spermaceti. One common theory is that fluid, which hardens to wax when cold, helps the whale alter its buoyancy so it can dive deep and rise again. Sperm whales are known to dive as deep as 3,280 ft in search of squid to eat, which means these whales must hold their breath for up to 90 mins on such dives.

 

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© Douglas Hoffman

Sperm Whales have 20-26 pairs of cone shaped teeth in their narrow lower jaw. Each tooth is 10-20 m long and can weigh as much as one kilogram. However, the existence of teeth in sperm whales is a bit of mystery as the teeth are not considered to be necessary for feeding on their primary food item, giant squid. Some sperm whales have scars on their bodies caused by giant squid tentacles during fights. Although sperm whales are known to eat a wide variety of sea creatures their primary prey items are deep-water squid which they are believed to catch by the suction method of eating.While sperm whales can dive to depths of up to 1 km to locate the rarely seen squid, most dives are to approximately 400 m and last for 35 mins to 1 hour. After a long dive, sperm whales remain at the surface for around 8 mins – it is during this time that sperm whales were most susceptible to whalers.

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© Douglas Hoffman

Sperm whales can be quite gregarious and known to breach, spyhop (vertically pokes it head out of the water) and lobtail (sticking their fluke out of the water into the air, swing it around, then slap it on the waters surface). A sperm whale spends most of its life in either nursery schools (adult females with young) or bachelor schools (males between 7 & 27 years of age) although older males tend to live on their own in very small groups and join nursery schools during breeding season. The only natural predator of the sperm whale is the orca and even then most attacks are not thought to be fatal. During such attacks however, the females show defensive behaviour of calves by creating a ring with the calves in the centre, called a marguerite. These rings may have their heads or tails on the outside.

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Sperm whale adult males grow to be about 50-60 feet long, weighing about 40-50 tons, whereas females are smaller about 33-40 feet long, weighing 14-18 tons. The four chambered heart of the average sperm whale weighs about 277 pounds! Sperm whales have flipper that are about 5 feet long and 3 feet wide, they do not have a dorsal fin but there is a small hump two-thirds of the way down its back. There are also ridges between the hump and the tail flukes.

Sperm whales are found in most of the world’s oceans, except the high Arctic and prefer deep water. They can be found in large numbers where food is abundant, and where the sea temperature suits them.

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© Douglas Hoffman

The species has been drastically affected by commercial whaling in the past and numbers are thought to have been decimated. Sperm whales are still threatened by hunting, principally by Japan. The current worldwide population is not known and the conservation status of the sperm is listed as Vulnerable.

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Video: Friendly Sperm Whale

 

 

 

 

#TaijiTuesday – Striped Dolphins

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The 2017/2018 Drive Hunt Quota allows for 450 Striped Dolphins

The striped dolphin is extremely active at the surface, performing amazing acrobatics, including somersaults, back somersaults, upside down porpoising, and breaching with leaps three times its length.

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The striped dolphin body size and shape resembles the short-beaked common dolphin, but the colour pattern is unique; its dorsal side is bluish grey to brownish grey, with a white to pinkish underside. The most recognizable feature is a stripe running from the dark beak, above the eye, across its flank and down to the underside at the rear of its body. A second pronounced stripe runs below the eye to the pectoral flipper. It may or may not have a black patch around each eye.

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Striped dolphins travel in groups, typically numbering from a few dozen to 500 animals, but herds numbering in the thousands are sometimes reported. When swimming at high speeds, as much as one-third of a pod will be above water at any given time. Striped dolphins are curious animals and will also often bow-ride, sometimes approaching from a distance. In the wild they can occasionally be seen associating with common dolphins, however confusion over identification can be avoided as the species-specific colouration and markings are easily distinguishable; the striped dolphin does not possess the yellow hourglass pattern found on the common dolphin.

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Striped dolphins are widely distributed throughout the world’s oceans and tend to prefer offshore waters in temperate and tropical zones. Striped dolphins feed mostly on small fish, such as cod or lanternfish, and small squid.

The largest threats to striped dolphins are bycatch in fishing nets, and intentional hunts. Conservationists are also concerned about the long-term impact that pollution, habitat degradation, and prey depletion will have on populations and although the IUCN provide a population estimate of approx. 2 million individuals, and list them as of ‘Least Concern’ (2008), certain populations may be more at risk than this might imply.

Video: Striped Dolphins in the Mediterranean Sea

In Taiji:

A drive of Striped Dolphins into the Cove will either result in slaughter or captivity and sometimes it may be a combination of both. Dolphins will be selected for captivity based on age & sex. Hunters and trainers will also look for dolphins that do not have any scars.

How do they capture dolphins, what happens during a dolphin drive? 

Before sunrise, about 26 fishermen board their 13 motorized boats and head out to deep water where the dolphins migrate. The dolphins have been using these migratory paths for thousands, perhaps millions, of years, and the hunters know exactly where to find them.

When a school of dolphins swims by, the fishermen position their boats one behind the other, perfectly evenly spaced. Then they lower several stainless steel poles into the water, one on each side of each boat. The poles are flared out at the bottom much like a bell, which amplifies the sound produced when the hunters repeatedly hit the poles with hammers. The noise creates a wall of sound underwater, and the dolphins suddenly find themselves trapped between this wall of sound and the shoreline.

In an attempt to escape the sound, the dolphins swim in the opposite direction, toward the shore. The dolphins’ panic and with the loss of their navigational sense, the fishermen can drive them into a small, hidden Cove near Taiji harbor. The fishermen seal the mouth of the Cove with several nets, and the dolphins are trapped.

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Why don’t the dolphins jump the nets?

I hear this question many times, and understandably so. When standing at the mouth of the killing cove in Taiji, you often looked down at a school of dolphins trapped in the killing cove. From above, it’s obvious that all the dolphins have to do is jump the nets, and they would be out of harm’s way. But the dolphins don’t have this advantage of seeing everything from above. They don’t know what’s on the other side of the nets.

To us, a jump would be a leap into safety. To them, it’s a leap into the unknown. It’s also important to keep in mind that nets and other artificial boundaries are foreign objects to wild dolphins. Living in a three-dimensional world, the only boundaries they know are the shoreline and the ocean’s surface. These are a natural boundary that dolphins understand. A net, on the other hand, is completely unfamiliar to them. They are probably afraid of this strange phenomenon and therefore stay away from it. Dolphins in captivity have to be trained to jump over things – it is not a natural behavior.

 

 

 

#WhaleWednesday – Common Minke Whale

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Last week on #WhaleWednesday you read about the Antarctic Minke whale this week you’ll learn about the Common (or Northern) Minke Whale

Minke whales are the smallest and most abundant of the rorqual whales. They have a sharply pointed snout, straight mouth line and a long ridge along the head with two blowholes. They have hundreds of baleen plates 20 to 30cm long growing from their upper jaws and between 50 and 70 pleats running from their throat and ending just past their flippers. These pleats stretch, allowing the whale to take in huge volumes of water when feeding. Minke whales have a streamlined shape and smooth skin with no callosities or barnacles. They are black, dark brown, or grey on their upper side with a lighter belly and a dorsal fin positioned far behind the centre of their back. Minke whales in the northern hemisphere have a white band on each flipper, though many in the southern hemisphere do not. The fluke of a minke whale is rarely seen above the surface.

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You are more likely to see minke whales at close quarters than other baleen whales because they are notoriously inquisitive and often approach boats.

The minke whale is the smallest of the rorqual whales. Females reach an average length of 8.5m and males grow to about 8m. Like other baleen whales, those found in the northern hemisphere tend to be smaller than those from the southern hemisphere. Minke whales weigh between five to 10 tonnes.

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The minke is widespread and seasonally abundant in the North Atlantic Ocean. In the winter, they migrate southwards, although it is unclear where their breeding grounds are located. In summer, concentrations shift northward to Spitsbergen and the Barents Sea, the coast of Norway and the waters off Iceland, Greenland and Newfoundland. In the northern Pacific, minkes are found in the Bering and Okhotsk Seas, and Gulf of Alaska in the spring and summer.

Like other great whales, minkes migrate to temperate and tropical waters in winter and polar waters in summer. Minke whales are often solitary, although they often travel in pairs or groups of three. In higher latitudes they are sometimes found in larger groups.

Common minke whales are generally solo marine mammals and prefer to travel alone, however in some cases they may be accompanied by one or two other whales. During small gatherings groups may expand to 4-10 minke whales but these occurrences are rare.

In the eastern North Pacific and North Atlantic, breeding may occur throughout the year, but there appears to be a calving peak in winter. The gestation period is believed to be around ten months. Females give birth to a calf every 12 to 14 months. Killer whales prey on minkes, as do other natural predators. They are believed to live to 40 to 50-years-old.

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Minke whales tend to feed on the food source that is most abundant in a given area, primarily krill and small schooling fish, but occasionally larger fish such as mature arctic cod and haddock. In the North Pacific, minke whales reportedly feed on euphausiids, copepods and sand eel, and those in the Okhotsk Sea feed on krill, and sometimes fish. In the North Atlantic, minke whales feed on a wide variety of prey, including sand eel, euphausiids, copepods, salmon, capelin, mackerel, and cod.

Northern minke whales are caught in the North East Atlantic by Norway pursuant to an objection to the International Whaling Commission’s (IWC) whaling moratorium, and by Greenlanders as “aboriginal subsistence” whaling. Japan hunts 150 whales a year in the North Pacific under their “scientific” reasearch permit. Japan also hunts up to 440 southern minkes a year in the Antarctic under their “scientific” research permit.

Minke whales are know to face attacks from groups of killer whales in areas where these predators are know to hunt other marine mammals. Numerous cases of minke whale meat being found in a killer whales stomach have been confirmed along with injuries and scares being observed on minke whales that have successfully escaped being killed. There are also a number of cases where dead minke whales have been spotted eaten by groups of sharks which my indicate that they are either hunted by sharks or the sharks wait for the whale to die and then consume the carcass.

The common minke whale global population however is currently under review by the IWC whilst little information is available for the dwarf minke whale. The species is listed as of Least Concern by IUCN (2008).

Video: Bait Ball – Common Minke Whale lunge feeding

#Taiji Tuesday – Short-Finned Pilot Whale

Short-Finned Pilot Whale:

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There are currently two recognized species of pilot whale, the short-finned and long-finned. In Japan, there are two morphologically and geographically distinct populations of short-finned pilot whales, one northern and one southern. It is believed that they are in fact separate subspecies however further examination is required.

Pilot whales are large, robust animals with a bulbous head and no discernible beak. The flippers are long with a pointed tip, though in the short-finned form they are more curved, slightly shorter and the ‘elbow’ is less defined than in the long-finned form. The dorsal fin is set forward on the body and varies in shape depending on age and sex. The tail flukes also have sharply pointed tips plus a distinct notch in the middle and concave edges. The short-finned pilot whale is jet black or dark grey with a grey or white ‘saddle-patch’ over its back behind the dorsal fin. It has a grey or almost white anchor shaped patch on its chest and a grey or white stripe which goes diagonally upwards behind each eye. Male short-finned pilot whales are on average 5.5m in length & weighing up to 3,000kg, whereas female short-finned pilot whales on average are 4.3m in length & weighing up to 1,500 kg. Males are thought to live to be about 45 years of age whilst females are thought to survive into their 60’s.

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Short-finned pilot whales are highly sociable and are rarely seen alone. They are found in groups of between 15-50 animals, though some pods are as large as 60 individuals. Super-pods of hundreds of individuals are not uncommon and may swim abreast in a line several miles across with adults occasionally porpoising when swimming fast. They are sometimes seen logging and will allow boats to get quite close. They rarely breach, but may be seen lobtailing, spyhopping and surfing in the wake of large waves. Short-finned pilot whales have a preference for water about 1000m deep and are often found on continental slopes where their main prey item, squid is abundant.  The typical diet of the short-finned pilot whale appears to consist of squid and fish, as well as other cephalopds, such as octopuses. However the short-finned pilot whales have been reported to harass sperm whales and dolphins, so marine mammals may also be included in their diet. This species usually feeds at night, making deep dives in search of prey.

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Their highly social nature and strong familial bonds could explain why this species is amongst those cetaceans that most frequently mass-strand. The short-finned pilot whale live in a matri-lineal or female based society and females have been known to care for a calf that is not their own. After weaning, young male short-finned pilot whales may move to a new group, whereas the females tend to stay in the pod to which they were born. The name “pilot whale” comes from an early idea that these pods are piloted by a leader, typically known as the matriarch.

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The worldwide population of short-finned pilot whales is unknown and although they are not thought to be threatened on a global scale, several populations are hunted. Targeted in Japanese drive fisheries, in the Faroe Islands The Grind,  and other hunts elsewhere. The short-finned pilot whale is also favoured as a display species in aquariums around the world. Other threats to the species include entanglement in fishing nets and noise pollution. The IUCN lists the species as Data Deficient.

Video: Short-finned Pilot Whales Underwater

In Taiji: 2017/2018 Taiji Drive hunt quota allows for 101 Short-Finned Pilot Whales

The first drive hunt in Taiji this season was a nursery pod (mainly mothers and their calves) of short-finned pilot whales on September 3, 2017.

In some instances a drive can last for almost an entire day and for hour after hour the dolphins are relentlessly chased. In those long hours of pursuit, while the dolphins are driven towards the cove, the brutal reality of the hunts is driven home – No matter the species, the hunts are torture for dolphins. Kept in a continuous state of “fight or flight,” vast amounts of energy are mobilized as the pod attempts to evade the hunters.

And for seven hours on September 3, 2017 the first pod of pilot whales this season, fought for their lives, struggling against the deafening sounds of boat engines, of poles being banged (designed to confuse the dolphins’ sensitive navigation systems) and the sheer willpower of the hunters themselves. By early afternoon, it became clear the dolphins were losing the battle. Their swimming became noticeably slower, and several times the pod refused or were unable to move. However with the boats so close to the pod, they had no choice but to keep moving, ultimately swimming right into the cove.

Boats and skiffs quickly left the cove, leaving the pod alone for the rest of the day and night. Many juveniles were seen in the pod, huddled close to their mothers. Little heads bobbed up and down while the adults continued to circle the tightly-knit group. The scene was horrifying, for, unlike the dolphins who are unaware of their fate, we have a good idea of the atrocities that will unfold tomorrow.

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On the second day, 10 pilot whales were slaughtered and 3 juveniles were taken for captivity. The remaining pilot whales were kept for a second night. Exhausted and terrified, missing 13 pod members. Their fate would be determined the following morning. On Day 3, after slaughtering 10 more today (not including 1 that was floating in the bay all day) the hunters rushed out to attempt another drive leaving the remaining juveniles in the cove. Eventually they released the young Pilot whales and all boats returned empty handed.

A total of 21 dead Pilot whales and 3 taken for captivity, over the course of 3 days. These images below are proof of the cruel nature of the captivity industry. Trainers who claim to love and care for these animals remain under the tarps while the hunters slaughter those the trainers do not want. We can all put a stop to this by helping everyone connect dolphin shows with these horrifying slaughters.

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#WhaleWednesday – Antarctic Minke Whale

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The minke whale is the smallest rorqual whale and, as such, was the last to be targeted by whalers. Until the turn of the century, the minke was treated as one species but it is now widely accepted that there are two species: a common minke and an Antarctic minke whale. The latter overlaps in its distributional range with a small form of the common minke, sometimes called the dwarf minke whale.

The Antarctic minke whale is among the smallest of the baleen whales, with only the common minke and the pygmy right whale being smaller. Males can reach a length of 35 ft and females approximately 32 ft in length, and adult minke whales can weight up to 15 tonnes.

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The body colour is usually black or dark brown with streaks of paler colour on their lateral sides, and a distinctly paler belly. It has a notably pointed rostrum and a single ridge on its head. This species often has a yellow wash to its baleen as a result of diatom growth. Most importantly, the Antarctic minke lacks the distinctive white flipper mark that is found in the common minke whale.

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Antarctic minke whales are known from around 7º S to the ice edge (and into the ice fields) during the austral summer (November through March). There they feed mainly on krill and, in turn, are important prey items for the orca that also live in these waters. They will occasionally approach smaller boats when feeding. The Antarctic minke whale is usually found alone or in pairs, although aggregations of hundreds of whales can gather in feeding grounds.

The antarctic minke whale reaches sexual maturity at 7 to 8 years old and has a lifespan of approximately 50 ears. The species mates over the winter and the female undergoes a 10 month gestation period, usually giving birth to a single calf, although twins and triplets may sometimes occur. The calf typically suckles for 5 months before being weaned, and will remain with the female for up to 2 years.

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Distribution Map: Minke whales are the only baleen whale species which is still most common in Antarctic waters and the most ice adapted of the Antarctic baleen whales. They have been seen hundreds of kilometers into heavy pack ice in the middle of winter and some of them obviously spend winter there. In summer, their favourite habitat seems to be open pack ice, that is, pack ice where there is quite a lot of open water among ice floes.

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Minke whales (both Antarctic and common) continue to be hunted in large numbers by the Japanese whaling fleet, who claim to kill minke whales for “scientific research”, but they are simply attempting to recommence commercial whaling. The meat from this research is sold in commercial markets. Since 2005 Sea Shepherd Conservation Society has used its ships to disrupt Japan’s annual whaling expedition in Antarctic waters. (Be sure to check out the TV series Whale Wars) However this year, Sea Shepherd has announced it is suspending the campaign, since the Japanese whalers have doubled their whaling grounds and are now employing military surveillance to watch Sea Shepherd ship movements in real time by satellite. The result is that Sea Shepherd cannot compete with their military grade technology. Captain Paul Watson, founder of Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, has stated that Sea Shepherd will regroup with different strategies, tactics and an alternative way to dealing with the Japanese whalers.

Like other cetaceans, the Antarctic minke whale is also vulnerable to chemical and noise pollution. Climate change will also be a major threat to this species. With rising temperatures, a reduction of sea ice means the Antarctic minke whale may lose between 5 and 30 percent of ice associated habitat in the next 40 years. As the area of suitable habitat reduces and prey populations decrease there will be an increase in competition for space and food, ultimately decreasing the population of this whale species.

They are categorized as Data Deficient by the IUCN Red List (2008).

 

Video: Curious Antarctic Minke Whale

 

 

#TaijiTuesday – Pacific White-Sided Dolphins

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Pacific White Sided Dolphins near Telegraph Cove, BC, Canada – Photo Credit: John E. Marriott

The 2017/2018 Drive Hunt Quota allows for 134 Pacific White-Sided Dolphins

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The Pacific white-sided dolphin is energetic, active and is frequently seen leaping, belly flopping and somersaulting. They are strong fast swimmers and enthusiastic bow riders, often staying with moving vessels for extended periods.

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The Pacific white-sided dolphin has a robust body with a very short stubby beak and black lips. The dorsal fin is one of the most distinguishing characteristics of this species being tall, falcate, and bicoloured with a black leading edge fading to grey on the trailing edge. The large flippers are similarly coloured with rounded tips. Overall the Pacific white-sided dolphin is dark grey or black in colour. As its name suggests, it has a greyish thoracic patch which extends down the sides to just below the dorsal fin. Thin greyish stripes under the dorsal fin meet and broaden along the tailstock. The throat and belly are bright white. The eye is surrounded by a dark patch and there is a black stripe running from the face to the flippers and down to the anus, separating the white underside from the greyish flanks. Several colour morphs exist throughout the species range. The Pacific white-sided dolphin may be confused with the common dolphin, but the latter has a more pronounced beak and different colour pattern, whilst the former can usually be easily identified by its diagnostic dorsal fin.

Video: Mark Peters and friends encounter an unexpected surprise while albacore fishing off the coast of Santa Cruz, CA – Pacific White Sided Dolphins

Pacific white-sided dolphins are extremely agile, acrobatic and social. Generally traveling in groups of tens or hundreds of individuals, they can be seen in herds of 2,000 or more. Groups are often segregated according to sex and age. They associate with many other species including northern right-whale dolphins, Risso’s dolphins, sea lions, and seals. They are avid bow and wake riders, and are known to actively approach boats. They can be seen performing leaps, flips, spins, somersaults, and they often porpoise at high speeds. Large groups travelling at high speeds create a lot of surface disturbance that is visible from a great distance.

Video: Dolphin Superpod in Strait of Georgia

The Pacific white-sided dolphin is found in the cool temperate waters of the North Pacific and adjoining seas. It prefers deep, offshore waters around the continental shelf although they can also be found in more nearshore waters. In recent decades the major threat to this species was bycatch in drift and gill-net fisheries operated on the high seas. Many thousands of individuals were killed before the fisheries were banned in 1993. Bycatch in other fisheries however remains a threat. Pacific white-sided dolphins have also been taken in small numbers off the coast of Japan, and that country is considering starting regular hunting of this species again. Other threats include prey depletion, marine debris and the impacts of climate change.

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Distribution Map

There is no reliable global population estimate for this species and the IUCN categorises this species as of ‘Least Concern’.

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In Taiji: As already mentioned, Pacific white-sided dolphins are very fast, very active and they are also very valuable to the captive trade in Taiji  – they are worth more than Bottlenose dolphins. So valuable that they do not drive the Pacific white-sided dolphins into the cove for fear of injury and the simple fact that they are worth more captive than they are for meat.

Instead of driving the Pacific white-sided dolphins into the cove the Taiji dolphin hunters and trainers will do an off-shore capture. In the off-shore capture the dolphin hunters will try to orchestrate large nets to surround the Pacific white-sided dolphin pod. The small skiffs will then attempt to pull these nets tighter and tighter, making if more difficult for the dolphins to swim or even surface.

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These dolphins are then subjected to examination by trainers to determine probability for a life of captivity. The dolphins are then tossed into skiffs and held down by several of the Taiji fisherman netting them to the floor of the boats. They are then taken to the Taiji harbour sea pens (floating sea prison) and dumped over the side of the skiffs into the tiny sea pens, which will hold multiple dolphins.

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Pacific White Sided Dolphins at Dolphin Base in December 2013:

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