#WhaleWednesday – North Atlantic Right Whale

 

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The North Atlantic right whale, as some of you may already be aware, has been in the news recently as the Canadian Federal Fisheries officials investigate the death of yet another endangered right whale on the Canadian east coast. The department confirmed on Tuesday August 1, 2017 that a whale was found dead in the Gulf of St. Lawrence after washing ashore on the west coast of Newfoundland. In total the carcasses of 10 endangered right whales have been found in the Gulf since June 7 of this year. Jerry Conway of the Canadian Whale Institute in Campobello, NB, said the deaths are disastrous for an already vulnerable species. “We feel there is tremendous urgency,” he said “This has had catastrophic ramifications on the right whale population, this number of whales being killed when we only know of three calves being born this year. It certainly indicates a rapid decline in the population”

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What are the threats to the North Atlantic right whale? North Atlantic populations have been decimated by historical over exploitation by whaling industry. The species get its name from early whalers, who considered them to be the “right” whales to hunt. Their slower pace, the fact that they come close to land, their tendency to float after being killer and their “productivity” in terms of oil made them lucrative whales to target. Today, the species is threatened by ship collisions, entanglement in fishing nets, and separation from calving areas because of shipping traffic. Since the right whale is found in coastal habitats, it is more likely to suffer impacts of human activity than more open-water cetaceans.

The North Atlantic right whale is mostly found along the Atlantic coast of North America, where it is threatened by entanglement in fishing gear and ship collisions. Some scientists believe these whales have already been extirpated from the eastern North Atlantic and now survive only on the east coast of Canada and the U.S.

The right whale is characterized by a symmetrical skill, paired blowholes, and rows of baleen plates for feeding on plankton. Males can reach up to 12.9m, while females can reach up to 18m and weigh approximately 96, 000 kg or 105tons.  They are a relatively slow swimmer, averaging about 8 km/hr and typically makes a series of 5 or 6 shallow shallow dives, the submerges for around 20 minutes. Right whales emit a number of low frequency sounds, mostly during courtship. It is estimated that they can live longer than 30 years and up to about 75 years.

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This large whale mostly inhabits temperate waters and compared to other similar sized cetaceans is found more often in coastal waters, especially during breeding season.

Whereas groups of North Atlantic right whales once numbered in the hundreds in feeding grounds, nowadays they usually travel alone or in groups of 2-3 sometimes up to about 12. Groups splinter off for feeding, most likely the result of the sheer quantity of food required for each individual whale. These aggregations are not fixed, and individuals have been observed to change groups. One notable exception is in the Bay of Fundy, where up to two thirds of the remaining population aggregates in the summer to feed.

North Atlantic right whales feed mostly on copepods and krill larvae. About 2200-5500 lbs may be consumed every day. The right whale feeds by swimming through a swarm of prey with its mouth open and the head slightly emerging on the surface. Having filtered the prey with its baleen plates, it drives out the water, dive, and swallows the food, as a process known as skimming.

Females breed about once every three to five years. Gestation is about one year and the single calf is nursed for 9-12 months. Pregnant females migrate to area off the coast of Georgia and Florida to give birth between December and March and then migrate north to their feeding grounds in the Bay of Fundy.  Scientists are confident there is at least one other nursery area but have yet to discover it – where these whales mate is also a mystery.

As with other mammals, right whale mothers and their calves display strong attachments, with the calf keeping in close contact with its mother by swimming up on her back or butting her with its head. Sometimes the mother may roll over to hold her calf with her flippers.

 

#WhaleWednesday – Gray Whale

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Gray whales have a hump and a ridge of sharp bumps along their back, instead of a dorsal fin, and can be between 40 and 50 feet long. They are a type of baleen whale, meaning they filter food from the water through special bristly structures in their mouths. Gray whales stay close to shore and feed in shallow water. Their migrations take them between feeding and breeding areas, swimming as much as 12, 000 miles per trip.

Critically endangered western gray whales migrate into their summer feeding grounds near Sahkalin Island, Russia in May or early June and then return to their winter feeding grounds in the the South China Sea in late Autumn.

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The eastern population of the gray whale can be found in the Bering and Chukchi Seas between Alaska and Russia during the summer feeding. In the winter, the eastern gray whale migrates south along the west coast of the US to Mexico to breed and have their calves.

The Gulf of California’s San Ignacio Lagoon is one the best places in the world to see gray whales with their calves. The calm, warm waters of the lagoon are a safe place for young whales, free from predators like killer whales. Locals in the area, call gray whales “friendly ones” as they have an unusual tendency to approach whale watching boats and check out the occupants.

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Threats: Oil and gas development, entanglement in fishing gear, and collisions with ships threaten gray whales. The western North Pacific gray whale is on the verge of extinction because of such threats. The waters off Russia’s Sakhalin Island, a main feeding habitat for them in the summer, are being targeted for oil and gas development. In the eastern Pacific Ocean, the potential for oil and gas exploration in the Bering and Chukchi Seas also exists. Whales are very sensitive to noise and such industrial activities generate massive underwater booms. The gray whale must get an entire year’s worth of food during those summer months and any disruption could have significant impact on this process.

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Friendly Gray Whales in San Ignacio Lagoon

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

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!

Operation Sleppid Grindini #OpGrindini

Entire pods of pilot whales and dolphins are brutally and senselessly slaughtered in the Faroe Islands. The slaughter is better known by the traditional Faroese term, grindadráp, or simply as the grind. Similar to the infamous Taiji Dolphin Drive Hunt, the grind is also a blood red stain on these otherwise pristine waters.

The local community heads out in small boats loaded with stones, hooks, ropes, and knives. Once they’ve approached the pod, the boats form a small half-circle behind the dolphins. Small rocks attached to lines are thrown into the water to create a wall of bubbles to reflect the sonar of the pilot whale. The cetaceans interpret the bubbles as a cliff wall that they must steer away from – because of this, the small boats are able to herd the cetaceans towards a low-lying shore. As the pod approaches land, the boats continue to harass and frighten the mammals until they’re washed up on the shore. Once beached, a knife is used to cut through the veins and arteries that supply blood to the pilot whales head. Some pilot whales suffer for as much as 30 seconds while others can take up to four minutes to die.

On July 23, approximately 200 hundred pilot whales were slaughtered on the killing beaches of the Danish Faroe Islands. These slaughters took place on two separate beaches in the Faroe Islands, resulting in one of the bloodiest days this year. Three Sea Shepherd crewmembers from South Africa, Belgium and Luxembourg have been arrested and another two, from Italy and France, have been detained for standing in defense of the whales that were targeted for slaughter. These people are volunteers who are opposing this atrocity by standing on the shores of the Faroe Islands armed with only a camera.

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Faroese whalers standing in a sea of red blood.

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Land Team Leader Rosie Kunneke is held down with her face into the ground by three Faroese police.

In 2011 not a single whale was slaughtered while Sea Shepherd patrolled the waters of the Faroes. In 2013, when Sea Shepherd was not present, more than 1,300 whales were slain. Last year in 2014, when Sea Shepherd returned, the kill was 33. What has changed so far in 2015 and why are so many whales dying this summer?

From Sea Shepherd Founder Paul Watson – “The answer is the Royal Danish Navy. Despite the fact that killing whales is illegal under European Union regulations, the government of Denmark has thrown their weight behind the killers. Sea Shepherd, as a non-governmental organization that practices non-violent intervention, is at a complete disadvantage against two Danish warships, their helicopters and their small flotilla of commandos in fast small boats plus the boats and officers belonging to the Faroese police. Denmark and the Danish people have sanctioned this cruelty and this despicable slaughter, and no matter how much they claim this is out of their hands, that it is a Faroese responsibility, the fact remains that between those who attempt to save the lives of the pilot whales and dolphins and the blood being spilled on the beach sits the Knut Rasmussen and the frigate Triton, both symbols of Danish power, Danish complicity and Danish involvement.”

Warning – the following video does contain graphic images.

For more information please visit Operation Sleppid Grindini

 

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