#WhaleWednesday – Humpback Whale

The humpback whale is a charismatic species of large whale that has a truly global distribution, living from Antarctica to the Arctic and from the coast to the open ocean. The humpback whale is one of the largest animals on Earth, growing to lengths of more than 50 feet and weights of 40 tons. This incredible size is only possible because of this species’ aquatic lifestyles and the buoyancy provided by seawater. On land, an animal as large as the humpback whale would almost certainly be crushed under its own weight.

Interestingly, though they are enormous, humpback whales are not predatory.  They filter feed for tiny krill or small pelagic fishes and are totally harmless to people (other than through accidental collisions).  This life history strategy is common among several large animals in the ocean, including the whale shark, the basking shark, and the other great whales.  Like all whales, humpback whales are mammals and give live birth to very large calves.  These whales are known for their singing; during courtship, the males compose intricate songs to attract females.  The killer whale is the only species known to attack and eat humpback whales (always juveniles).

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Humpback Whale – Victoria, BC – Photo Credit Mel Komus

Every year, humpback whales undergo incredible migrations between feeding and breeding grounds.  They feed near the poles and give birth in the tropics, and each year, individual humpback whales travel as much as sixteen thousand miles (25,000 km) between these two areas.  They only eat in their winter feeding grounds and live off fat reserves for the rest of the year, including while migrating.

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Humpback Whale – Victoria, BC – Photo Credit Mel Komus

During the height of commercial whaling, the humpback whale was hunted almost to extinction.  Global populations declined by more than 90% before regulators enacted a worldwide moratorium on hunting in 1966.  Fortunately, the humpback whale has recovered remarkably well, and populations continue to increase.  Now, this great whale has come all the way back from the brink of extinction to be considered a species of least concern.

#WhaleWednesday – Orcas

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Transient Orca in Puget Sound – Photo Credit: Mel Komus Photography

Orcas (Orcinus orca) often referred to as, Killer whales, get their name from their reputation of being ferocious predators, exhibiting almost hateful behaviors when toying with their prey.  Interestingly, however, killer whales are not true whales.  They are very large dolphins, reaching lengths of 33 feet (10 m) and weights of at least 10 metric tones (22,000 pounds).  Killer whales and other dolphins are thought to be some of the smartest animals on the planet, challenging the great apes (chimps and gorillas) for the top spot.  They are also extremely curious and often approach people to investigate.  Their intelligence is likely both a result of and a driver of their complex social structures.  They are intelligent, playful, powerful animals – a worrisome combination if you happen to be their preferred prey.  Different killer whale populations specialize on different prey types, including large bony fishes; seals, sea lions, and other large marine mammals; and penguins; among other things.

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J52 Sonic of the Southern Resident Killer Whale Population takes to the air – Photo Credit: Clint Rivers Showtime Photography

Though all killer whales, worldwide, are considered to be members of the same species, there are several known populations that have slightly different appearances, sizes, and behaviors.  These include populations that are somewhat territorial and do not migrate long distances (the so called resident populations) and those that are more migratory in nature (the so called transient populations).  Furthermore, some transient populations stay near the coast and overlap with resident populations, while others are oceanic.  Some killer whale scientists believe that these populations may represent different species, and recent research suggests that there may be as many as 16 different species of Killer Whale.  To date, the new species have yet to be described, and the cosmopolitan species Orcinus orca is considered to cover all individuals around the world, regardless of behavior or appearance.

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T036A’s and T075B’s playing with their food – a tail flick sent the Harbour Seal skipping off the water. Photo credit: Clint Rivers Showtime Photography

Though they are powerful hunters and are known to exhibit somewhat tortuous behavior towards large sharks and other marine mammals, killer whales have never been known to attack humans in the wild.  This is a somewhat puzzling lack of aggressive behavior, as people would be extremely easy prey for this species.  In captivity, however, male killer whales have killed several trainers in the last few decades.  These large, marine predators are not meant to be kept in small tanks in captivity, and they seem to eventually snap and exhibit aggressive behaviors toward their handlers.  In addition to their capture for display in public aquariums, low numbers of killer whales have been regularly hunted for food in some regions around the world.

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Transient Orca in Puget Sound – Photo Credit: Mel Komus Photography

Global Candlelight Vigil in Remembrance of the Lives Lost in the Cove

March 1, 2017 marked the first annual Global Candlelight Vigil in Remembrance of the Lives Lost in the Cove, organized by Dolphin Freedom Now. Be sure to follow Dolphin Freedom Now on Facebook & Twitter.

Activists around the world gathered in memory of the dolphins killed during the 2016-2017 Taiji Dolphin Drive hunt. A total of 569 dolphins were slaughtered this season and 235 dolphins were taken for a life of captivity this season.

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The event was also a way to honour the thousands of dedicated activists around the world who  follow and report on the dolphin hunts in Taiji from September to March each year.

Many activists held their own  private Candlelight vigils, while other activists held events around the world: Australia, Alaska, Germany, New Zealand, Denmark, South Carolina, United Kingdom, Los Angeles, New York City, Osaka Japan, Philadelphia, Philippines, San Diego, San Francisco & Seattle.

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Osaka, Japan:

 

 

 

Racing Extinction – Southern Resident Killer Whale Population

When it comes to the Southern Resident Killer Whales (SRKW) a year has made all the difference in the world. Last year at this time, we were all celebrating a remarkable baby boom, with 8 new orca calves over the previous 12 months & another new baby was added in January 2016, for a total of 9.

However, if 2015 was considered the baby boom year, then 2016 was the exact opposite with a total of 6 orca deaths recorded during the calendar year. Then the announcement on January 2, 2017 of J2 Granny’s presumed death  as of December 31, 2016. J2 Granny was last seen by the Center for Whale Research on October 12, 2016.

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J2 Granny

In 2016 we saw the loss of L95, J55, J14, J28, J54, & J34

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L95 Nigel

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J14 Samish – left with daughters J37 & J40

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J28 Polaris and then her baby son J54 Dipper.

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J34 Doublestuf with mom J22

“The SRKW population is now estimated to be 78 as of 31 December 2016, and J pod contains only 24 individuals plus the wandering L87. To whom will he attach now? Who will lead the pod into the future? Is there a future without food? What will the human leaders do?” Ken Balcomb – Center for Whale Research

We are now racing the extinction of the SRKW’s – What it is going to take…

  • Heightened awareness and continued education
  • Sustainable fisheries and healthy wild Pacific Salmon stocks
  • Continued research into understanding where the whales go in the winter & what they do
  • Improved technologies for boating
  • Continued education for younger generations-the next group of Salish Sea ambassadors!!
  • Ongoing efforts to foster & promote ethical boating etiquette amongst all user groups: fishing – both private and commercial, kayaking, sailing, seaplanes, cruise ships, freighters, ferries, etc.

What can you DO to help:

  • Let Prime Minister Justin Trudeau know what his approval of the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline expansion means for the endangered SRKW’s – say no to the Kinder Morgan pipeline and say yes to saving Orca’s
  • Please visit the David Suzuki Foundation – find your MP and send a message to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Catherine McKenna (Minister of Environment and Climate Change) & Jim Carr (Minister of Natural Resources)

Eat Sustainable

Become a Member of the Center for Whale Research – follow them on Facebook & Twitter

Adopt a Whale – check out The Whale Museum for more information

Follow Dam Sense on Facebook and check out their website damsense.org

Tweet to help save the SRKW’s and tear down those dams

Read the following articles to learn more:

The Orcas are Starving by David Niewert Breach dams, or its game over for salmon by Jim Waddell

No Fish No Blackfish – RIP J28 Polaris

RIP J28 Polaris

Her loss is made even more tragic by the additional loss of her most recent calf J54. At less than a year old and still nursing, his survival is unlikely without his mother to feed him. He was last seen on October 23 and is now presumed deceased. This brings the year’s losses up to 4 (L95, J14, J28 and J54) and the population back down to 80.

More then ever, we need to look toward more fish as the primary solution in saving the endangered Southern Resident Killer Whale Population.

It is fairly simple … No Fish No Blackfish

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What can you DO to help:

Get Involved – volunteer for a shoreline cleanup in your area – tell organization why support or why you do not – write to your local government representative (send letters and emails)

Sign petitions:

Eat Sustainable

Become a Member of the Center for Whale Research – follow them on Facebook & Twitter

Adopt a Whale – check out The Whale Museum for more information

Follow Dam Sense on Facebook and check out their website damsense.org

Tweet to help save the SRKW’s

Read the following articles to learn more:

 

Help Save the Southern Resident Orca’s

It has recently been learned that J14 Samish of the Southern Resident Killer Whale Population (SRKW) is missing and presumed dead. It is highly unusual for an individual orca to go off by themselves and leave their pod, especially a matriarch. At only only 42 years old, the loss of J14 is a surprising one for J pod.

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Copyright Valerie Shore Shorelines Photography

With the loss of J14 there are now only 82 orca’s left of the SRKW population. The recent gains from last years baby boom are being diminished quickly – so far this year we have seen the loss of L95, J55 and now J14.

From recent sightings and reports it now appears that J28 Polaris (only 23 years old) is very ill and looking emaciated in a recent encounter. Emaciation is typical sign of illness and/or starvation and can be seen when a whale starts to develop what is referred to as a “peanut head” (a loss of blubber behind the base of the skull) and is usually an indicator that death is not far off.

“Things are shaping up to be pretty bad.” said Ken Balcomb of the Center for Whale Research ” J28 is looking super gaunt, and I would say she is within days of her death”

While occasionally whales do recover from this condition, the possible loss of J28 will likely mean the loss of her newest calf J54. At only 7 months old J54 is not ready to survive on his own. It is possible that he will be adopted by another female in the group J28’s mom J17 Princess Angeline or sister J35 Tahlequah.

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J28 Polaris approx 12 days ago Copyright Eagle Wing Tours Naturalist Corinne McKay

SRKW Population

What can you DO to help:

Get Involved – volunteer for a shoreline cleanup in your area – tell organization why support or why you do not – write to your local government representative (send letters and emails)

Sign petitions:

Eat Sustainable

Become a Member of the Center for Whale Research – follow them on Facebook & Twitter

Adopt a Whale – check out The Whale Museum for more information

Follow Dam Sense on Facebook and check out their website damsense.org

Tweet to help Take down the dams

Read the following articles to learn more:

Watch Free the Snake: Restoring America’s Greatest Salmon River – Jim Waddell lays out the reasons why the four lower Snake River dams must be breached

Orca’s Live on Explore.org

If you are unable to make it out to British Columbia, Canada to do some whale watching the next best thing is to check out the live-cams on explore.org

Explore.org offers many different live-cams: orcas, belugas, sharks, bears, elephants, even wild Bison in my home province of Saskatchewan Canada!

You can also sign up for text message alerts! Explore.org will text you when the orcas come into view on the live-cams.

Explore has also has an app available for download:  http://explore.org/apps/pages/explore_apps/

Here are some of my favourites to check out below.

Orcas off the coast of British Columbia:

Orcalab Base – http://explore.org/live-cams/player/orcalab-base

Caracroft point surface – http://explore.org/live-cams/player/orcalab-cracroft-point-surface

Rubbing Beach – http://explore.org/live-cams/player/orcalab-rubbing-beach

Rubbing Beach underwater – http://explore.org/live-cams/player/orcalab-rubbing-beach-underwater

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Sunrise on Orcalab Base live-cam

Belugas – Churchill River and Hudson Bay:

Beluga boat cam on deck – http://explore.org/live-cams/player/beluga-boat-cam-on-deck

Beluga boat cam underwater – http://explore.org/live-cams/player/beluga-boat-cam-underwater

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Beluga boat cam – underwater

Bears – Katamai National Park, Alaska:

Brooks Falls – Katamai National Park, Alaska – http://explore.org/live-cams/player/brown-bear-salmon-cam-brooks-falls

Brooks Falls

Brooks Falls Katamai National Park, Alaska