#WhaleWednesday – Bryde’s Whale

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© Jirayu Tour Ekkul

The Bryde’s whale (pronounced “broo-dess”), is named after Johan Bryde who helped build the first whaling factory in Durban, South Africa in 1909. Sometimes known, appropriately, as the “tropical whale”, this is the only baleen whale species that lives all year-round in warmer waters near the equator.

The identity and number of species in the “Bryde’s whale complex” however is still unclear. In addition to the “ordinary” Bryde’s whale, with a worldwide distribution in the Pacific, Indian and Atlantic oceans, one or more smaller forms which tend to be more coastal in distribution have also been described. For the moment, the taxonomic status of the smaller forms is unclear and there may be several additional species and/or subspecies however currently two are recognized;  offshore Bryde’s whale, and Eden’s whale.

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© Jirayu Tour Ekkul

Bryde’s whales are closely related to several other fast swimming, medium-to-large whales all with a similar body shape and which may be confused with each other when viewed at sea. This group includes sei, minke and fin whales.

 

The Bryde’s whale has three parallel ridges on the top of its head. Like other rorqual whales, the Bryde’s whale has numerous grooves (between 40 and 70 throat pleats) running along the underside of the lower jaw to the belly which allow its mouth to expand when feeding. As with some of the other baleen whales, the Bryde’s whale primarily eats schooling fish and sometimes krill and other planktonic crustaceans. The Bryde’s whale has a slender body which is smoky blue-grey in colour with a sickle-shaped dorsal fin. The body is often mottled with some scars caused by parasites and/or cookie-cutter sharks. The flippers are slender, pointed and relatively short – approximately one tenth of their body length. The broad, distinctive tail flukes are rarely seen above the surface.

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The Bryde’s whale usually feeds alone, although mothers and calves often feed together. It is known to make sudden changes of direction when feeding both on the surface and underwater. Sometimes inquisitive, the Bryde’s whale can be seen approaching or swimming alongside boats. It has irregular breathing patterns, and will often blow four to seven thin, hazy spouts, followed by a dive, usually about two minutes long, although it is capable of staying below the surface for longer. They have also been see to blow or exhale whilst underwater. When surfacing between dives, the Bryde’s whale rarely shows more than the top of its head.

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© Jirayu Tour Ekkul

Bryde’s whales become sexually mature at 8-13 years of age and may mate year round. The peak of the breeding and calving season may occur in the autumn. Females breed every second year, with a usual gestation period of 11-12 months. Females give birth to a single calf that is about 11 feet (3.4 m) in length, that is nursed for about 6-12 months.

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A long standing prohibition on the operation of factory ships north of 40°S, put in place to prevent hunting of rorqual whale’s at their lower latitude breeding grounds, allowed the Bryde’s whale to escape most of the historical exploitation of rorquals, as it occupies this region all year round. Only populations in the North Pacific may have been affected, as whaling vessels in this region were allowed to operate at lower latitudes, but even this threat was mitigated by the international moratorium on all commercial whaling implemented by the International Whaling Commission (IWC) in 1986. Although pelagic whaling by Japan was subsequently resumed in 2000, it is under scientific permit, and limited to catches of 50 individuals per year.

The main concern is that, while assessed as a single species, the Bryde’s whale appears to be abundant, but if it is in fact a complex of several separate species, some populations may be so small that they warrant threatened status and require conservation action.

Video: Bryde’s Whale Feeding in Raja Ampat

 

 

#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 killed 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 dives, then 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!