#WhaleWednesday – Beluga Whales

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The beluga whale is a relatively small toothed whale that is brown-gray at birth and bright white in adulthood. The beluga is one of just two species in the “white whales” family, the other being the narwhal. As they are closely related and do not have the characteristic tusk of the males, juvenile and female Narwhals can be incorrectly identified as belugas.

Belugas, however, are typically more solidly white than their grayish cousins.  Adult belugas are also slightly larger than Narwhals, reaching lengths of around 18 feet (5.5 m).  Interestingly, the beluga whale is the only species of cetacean (whales and dolphins) that has a movable neck.  Belugas can move their heads up and down and from side to side.

Beluga whales are restricted to the Arctic Ocean and adjacent waters.  They feed in shallow, coastal waters during the summer and near the ice edge in winter.  Some populations undergo long, seasonal migrations, while others are more resident in nature.  They eat a variety of fish and invertebrate prey.  Killer whales and polar bears have been known to attack and eat beluga whales.  Scientists believe that belugas may swim far into ice-covered waters to avoid Killer Whales but that this may put them in greater risk of predation by Polar Bears.

Occasionally, belugas can be observed far inland, swimming up coastal rivers as far as hundreds of miles.  Scientists do not know if these trips into freshwater are for feeding or for other purposes, but belugas are apparently unafraid of very shallow water.  In fact, some individuals have been known to survive being stranded/beached by patiently waiting for the return of the high tide.  Belugas are also known for their loud, clear vocalizations.  They often “sing,” and can even be heard above the ocean surface by people in boats or onshore.

Northern Manitoba’s Hudson Bay coastline is home to the world’s largest population of beluga whales. More than 57,000 beluga whales gather in the region between mid-June to mid-September.

You can check out Explore.org live cams in Churchill: it’s the office season now – but the live cam highlights are definitely worth checking out!

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

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

Conservation scientists consider the beluga to be near threatened with extinction.  Climate change is causing rapid changes to the Arctic ecosystem that affect beluga habitat, and chemical pollution in the Arctic is particularly bad, risking the health of large predators like this species.  These whales are hunted, legally, by indigenous peoples all around the Arctic, but this ongoing hunt is not generally thought to threaten the species.  Climate change and pollution are likely more significant threats to beluga populations, though further research is necessary before accurate predictions can be made.

 

#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

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

Hunger Strike for the protection of Humans & Marine Life in Queensland, Australia

Fellow Cove Guardian alumni, marine conservation campaigner and underwater photographer, Nicole McLachlan, began a hunger strike (refraining the consumption of all food and liquid with the exception of water) on February 6th, 2016, with the ultimate goal of increasing the protection of both humans and marine life off the coast of Queensland, Australia.

http://www.nicoleshungerstrike.com/

The hunger strike will be conducted by Nicole  in order to:

  • Mobilize the Queensland and Australia-wide general public to urge the Queensland State Government to invest in non lethal alternatives to shark mitigation efforts within the state as well as phasing out lethal shark control methods.

  • Raise public awareness of and highlight the destruction caused by lethal shark control programs to both marine life and humans.

  • Encourage public support for non lethal alternatives to the current shark control program in Queensland.

Nicole will continue her her  hunger strike until the following policy changes and commitments are met by the Queensland State Government/ Department of Primary Industries.

  • A commitment of at least $16 million (to match the NSW State Governments’ recent commitment) into the trial and implementation of non-lethal alternatives along Queensland beaches (to ultimately replace shark nets and drum lines).

  • A commitment to phase out all shark nets along the Queensland coast within the year 2016. These nets are a high risk to beach goers and marine rescue crews and should be removed as soon as possible.

  • A commitment to phase out all drum lines off the Queensland coastline over 5 years, by replacing these with non lethal alternatives (e.g. shark spotters programs).

Please sign Nicole’s petition on Change.org:

https://www.change.org/p/protect-both-marine-life-and-humans-along-the-queensland-coast

Follow Nicole on Facebook:

https://www.facebook.com/nicolemclachlan.underthesea

Transient Orca’s in Puget Sound Summer 2015

Whale Watching in British Columbia is one of the best places in the world to view orcas, humpback whales, gray whales and other marine species. The city of Victoria and in particular the southern tip of Vancouver Island is renowned for orca sightings and is the ultimate destination for BC whale watching. Victoria is at the centre of the world’s highest concentration of killer whales. It’s perfectly situated in the middle of the southern resident killer whales’ seasonal feeding ground.

I spent a lot of time researching whale watching and looked at several different whale watching tour companies in Victoria. I finally decided to book with Eagle Wing Tours. Eagle Wing Tours is Victoria’s first award winning whale watching company and is the #1 ranked whale watching company in Victoria on TripAdvisor.

I was unsure of what to expect for my first whale watching tour, but all I knew was that it would be amazing to see wild orcas, even better to see them spyhopping, breaching and if I got to see a baby orca too then that would just be fantastic! Well turns out my first experience would not disappoint and I managed to see all of this in one trip!

 

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If you ever have the opportunity to experience Orca’s in the wild – just do it! It is by far one of the most exhilarating experiences!