#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

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:

 

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

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Brooks Falls Katamai National Park, Alaska

 

The Real Sea World – Victoria, BC

This past August was the first time I had the opportunity to see Orca’s in the wild and I have to say there is no other experience quite like it! It truly was an exhilarating, left me with the best natural high and a permanent smile for days!

I’ll be honest I have been to Sea World – a few times as a child and young adult. If documentaries like Blackfish and the Cove had been available back then I would never had made those trips. I do not regret those experiences, although I do wish there had been someone to say to me or teach me from a young age that these highly intelligent mammals do not belong in a concrete tank swimming in circles day in and day out, performing tricks in order to be fed. While I was growing up there was no such thing as social media – there was no Facebook, twitter or Instagram – what was a blog – if you wanted to write down your thoughts you did it in a journal that no one ever read. I owned my first computer at 18 and that was when I signed up for my first email address.  Now it is important to use every possible outlet available to educate today’s youth about the captive marine mammal industry. The end of Sea World, Marineland Canada and other such marine parks, will only end when the demand for it ends. If we teach the youth of today that it is wrong to keep Orcas, dolphins and whales, etc in tanks then hopefully the demand for it will slowly dissipate and we will one day see the tanks of Sea World and Marineland Canada emptied.

Now (with the help of social media) I have the ability to enlighten others about the captive industry, while also making them aware that there are better options available to view these marine mammals in the wild and on their own terms. I’ve had the opportunity to experience Orca’s in the wild – I’m pretty sure my next trip will be to experience dolphins in the wild. My only experience with wild dolphins to date was during my time in Taiji as a Cove Guardian, so seeing wild dolphins is definitely at the top of my bucket list!

Here are a few videos from my experience with Transient Orca’s off the coast of Victoria, BC this past summer. While these videos only offer you a short glimpse into my experience of whale watching hopefully they will inspire you to experience Orca’s in the wild for yourself.

Transient Orca’s in Puget Sound August 19, 2015

Transient Orca’s (T010’s) August 21, 2015

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!

The Real SeaWorld: Baby J50 Makes a Splash #Blackfish

The Southern Resident Orca pod is making a comeback after almost three years without a successful birth, There has been a bit of a boom with four calves born since December 2014. The Orca calves, known as J50, J51, J52 and L121 can been seen frequently.

On July 4, whale watchers on an Eagle Wing Tours in Victoria got a show from J50. “J50 stole the show, and hearts, with more than 60 breaches as she and her family moved south in Haro Strait,” said Clint Rivers, a naturalist and photographer. “It’s like she just figured out how this breaching thing works and couldn’t stop. She was still breaching well into the evening.”

I’ll be making my first trip to Victoria in the near future and have decided to do not one but two whale watching tours with Eagle Wing Tours! It would be amazing to see one of the new Orca calves, however just having the opportunity to see these incredible mammals on their own terms and in their environment will be an experience of a life time. Stay tuned for photos from my trip – but for now enjoy the photos below of J50

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© Clint Rivers, Eagle Wing Tours, Victoria, BC

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© Clint Rivers, Eagle Wing Tours, Victoria, BC

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© Clint Rivers, Eagle Wing Tours, Victoria, BC