#WhaleWednesday – Bryde’s Whale

brydewhale-jirayu_tour_ekkul

© 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.

brydewhale-jirayu_tour_ekkul6

© 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.

download

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.

brydewhale-jirayu_tour_ekkul4

© 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.

Wildlife

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 – Sperm Whale

physeter_macrocephalus_douglas_hoffman2

© Douglas Hoffman

Sperm Whales are the largest of the toothed whales and the largest living carnivore. The sperm whale is easily recognized by it’s massive head and prominent rounded forehead. They have the largest brain of any creature known and their heads hold a large quantity of spermaceti (milky white waxy substance in the head cavity). During the days of commercial whaling, sperm whales were so named  because when the head was cut open it was found to contain a milky white substance and the whalers once believed that the fluid was sperm.  Spermaceti is a high quality oil and was used originally in lamp oil and later as an industrial lubricant, in cosmetics, automatic transmissions, and pharmaceutical compounds, making this species highly valuable to whalers.

Scientists still do not fully understand the function of spermaceti. One common theory is that fluid, which hardens to wax when cold, helps the whale alter its buoyancy so it can dive deep and rise again. Sperm whales are known to dive as deep as 3,280 ft in search of squid to eat, which means these whales must hold their breath for up to 90 mins on such dives.

 

physeter_macrocephalus_douglas_hoffman3 (1)

© Douglas Hoffman

Sperm Whales have 20-26 pairs of cone shaped teeth in their narrow lower jaw. Each tooth is 10-20 m long and can weigh as much as one kilogram. However, the existence of teeth in sperm whales is a bit of mystery as the teeth are not considered to be necessary for feeding on their primary food item, giant squid. Some sperm whales have scars on their bodies caused by giant squid tentacles during fights. Although sperm whales are known to eat a wide variety of sea creatures their primary prey items are deep-water squid which they are believed to catch by the suction method of eating.While sperm whales can dive to depths of up to 1 km to locate the rarely seen squid, most dives are to approximately 400 m and last for 35 mins to 1 hour. After a long dive, sperm whales remain at the surface for around 8 mins – it is during this time that sperm whales were most susceptible to whalers.

physeter_macrocephalus_douglas_hoffman4

© Douglas Hoffman

Sperm whales can be quite gregarious and known to breach, spyhop (vertically pokes it head out of the water) and lobtail (sticking their fluke out of the water into the air, swing it around, then slap it on the waters surface). A sperm whale spends most of its life in either nursery schools (adult females with young) or bachelor schools (males between 7 & 27 years of age) although older males tend to live on their own in very small groups and join nursery schools during breeding season. The only natural predator of the sperm whale is the orca and even then most attacks are not thought to be fatal. During such attacks however, the females show defensive behaviour of calves by creating a ring with the calves in the centre, called a marguerite. These rings may have their heads or tails on the outside.

e4a4b-breaching

Sperm whale adult males grow to be about 50-60 feet long, weighing about 40-50 tons, whereas females are smaller about 33-40 feet long, weighing 14-18 tons. The four chambered heart of the average sperm whale weighs about 277 pounds! Sperm whales have flipper that are about 5 feet long and 3 feet wide, they do not have a dorsal fin but there is a small hump two-thirds of the way down its back. There are also ridges between the hump and the tail flukes.

Sperm whales are found in most of the world’s oceans, except the high Arctic and prefer deep water. They can be found in large numbers where food is abundant, and where the sea temperature suits them.

physeter_macrocephalus_douglas_hoffman

© Douglas Hoffman

The species has been drastically affected by commercial whaling in the past and numbers are thought to have been decimated. Sperm whales are still threatened by hunting, principally by Japan. The current worldwide population is not known and the conservation status of the sperm is listed as Vulnerable.

download (1)

 

Video: Friendly Sperm Whale

 

 

 

 

#WhaleWednesday – Common Minke Whale

170718_480149889631_3145799_o_1

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.

balaenoptera_acutorostrata-aishling_hefferna

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.

minke_whale_gremm

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.

balaenoptera_acutorostrata-kerstin_voigt_2

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

#WhaleWednesday – Antarctic Minke Whale

balaenoptera_bonaerensis-fabian_ritter_3

The minke whale is the smallest rorqual whale and, as such, was the last to be targeted by whalers. Until the turn of the century, the minke was treated as one species but it is now widely accepted that there are two species: a common minke and an Antarctic minke whale. The latter overlaps in its distributional range with a small form of the common minke, sometimes called the dwarf minke whale.

The Antarctic minke whale is among the smallest of the baleen whales, with only the common minke and the pygmy right whale being smaller. Males can reach a length of 35 ft and females approximately 32 ft in length, and adult minke whales can weight up to 15 tonnes.

antarctic minke 3

The body colour is usually black or dark brown with streaks of paler colour on their lateral sides, and a distinctly paler belly. It has a notably pointed rostrum and a single ridge on its head. This species often has a yellow wash to its baleen as a result of diatom growth. Most importantly, the Antarctic minke lacks the distinctive white flipper mark that is found in the common minke whale.

antarcticminke

Antarctic minke whales are known from around 7º S to the ice edge (and into the ice fields) during the austral summer (November through March). There they feed mainly on krill and, in turn, are important prey items for the orca that also live in these waters. They will occasionally approach smaller boats when feeding. The Antarctic minke whale is usually found alone or in pairs, although aggregations of hundreds of whales can gather in feeding grounds.

The antarctic minke whale reaches sexual maturity at 7 to 8 years old and has a lifespan of approximately 50 ears. The species mates over the winter and the female undergoes a 10 month gestation period, usually giving birth to a single calf, although twins and triplets may sometimes occur. The calf typically suckles for 5 months before being weaned, and will remain with the female for up to 2 years.

antarctic minke

Distribution Map: Minke whales are the only baleen whale species which is still most common in Antarctic waters and the most ice adapted of the Antarctic baleen whales. They have been seen hundreds of kilometers into heavy pack ice in the middle of winter and some of them obviously spend winter there. In summer, their favourite habitat seems to be open pack ice, that is, pack ice where there is quite a lot of open water among ice floes.

map_antarcticminke_w

Minke whales (both Antarctic and common) continue to be hunted in large numbers by the Japanese whaling fleet, who claim to kill minke whales for “scientific research”, but they are simply attempting to recommence commercial whaling. The meat from this research is sold in commercial markets. Since 2005 Sea Shepherd Conservation Society has used its ships to disrupt Japan’s annual whaling expedition in Antarctic waters. (Be sure to check out the TV series Whale Wars) However this year, Sea Shepherd has announced it is suspending the campaign, since the Japanese whalers have doubled their whaling grounds and are now employing military surveillance to watch Sea Shepherd ship movements in real time by satellite. The result is that Sea Shepherd cannot compete with their military grade technology. Captain Paul Watson, founder of Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, has stated that Sea Shepherd will regroup with different strategies, tactics and an alternative way to dealing with the Japanese whalers.

Like other cetaceans, the Antarctic minke whale is also vulnerable to chemical and noise pollution. Climate change will also be a major threat to this species. With rising temperatures, a reduction of sea ice means the Antarctic minke whale may lose between 5 and 30 percent of ice associated habitat in the next 40 years. As the area of suitable habitat reduces and prey populations decrease there will be an increase in competition for space and food, ultimately decreasing the population of this whale species.

They are categorized as Data Deficient by the IUCN Red List (2008).

 

Video: Curious Antarctic Minke Whale

 

 

#WhaleWednesday – Sei Whale

HI_257682

The Sei Whale is identified by a dorsal fin, 38 to 56 ventral grooves (throat grooves that allow their throat to expand during the hug intake of water during filter feeding). Sei whales are also baleen whales, meaning that instead of the common mammal tooth form, baleen whales have plates for filtering foods in and water out, specifically sei whales have two rows of 300 to 380 baleen plates. This whale is known to be 14 to 20 m long and weighs about 20 tons – females are generally 1-2 m longer than males. The sei whale is dark gray or bluish grey on the back and sides with a greyish white area on the ventral grooves of the lower jaw and underbelly.

The sei whale is one of the fastest cetaceans, reaching speeds of up to 50 km/hour.  Sei whales have a more regular dive sequence than most others and is known to stay near the surface more consistently. The sei whale normally blows once every 40 to 60 seconds, for about 1 to 4 minutes, and then can dive for 5 to 20 minutes. During the shorter dives, the sei whale rarely descends deeper than a few feet, so its progress can be followed by “fluke prints” or swirls left by the beat of the tail just below the surface. The sei whale seldom breaches, however the dorsal fin and back remain visible for longer periods of time than with other large whales.

facebook-flukeprints

Fluke Prints – the path of the unseen whale

Sei whale groups mostly consist of 2-5 individuals, however thousands may aggregate where plenty of food is available. Like the other baleen whales, sei whales feed by skimming and swallowing surface plankton, mainly copepods (tiny marine crustaceans) but also euphausiids (krill, shrimp like crustaceans).

Mating season ranges from November to February in the Northern Hemisphere and from May to July in the Southern Hemisphere. Females generally give birth to a single calf every other year in winter, after a gestation period of 10.5 to 12 months. Although little is known about their breeding habits, some data indicate that sei whale migration is loosely organized around sex, age, or reproductive function. This presumably relates to mating strategies, but at this time nothing is known of their mating habits or calving grounds.

Capture2

The sei whale species was intensively exploited worldwide after blue and fin whale stocks have been reduced. In 1980, it was estimated that the Southern Hemisphere population had been reduced to around 24,000 from an initial level of 100,000 or so. In the North Pacific there was a decline from 42,000 in 1963 to just 8,600 in 1974, while figures in the North Atlantic are the most uncertain, although some surveys have suggested a figure around 10,000. Since 1985, the International Whaling Commission has officially halted all commercial whaling of this species. However, today 50 sei whales are killed annually by the Japanese whalers in the North Pacific in Japan’s “scientific whaling” program.

Sei whales inhabit all ocean and adjoining seas except in polar regions, feeding in cold water during the summer and migrating to warm tropical and subtropical waters during the winter. In the western North Pacific, sei whales are most common in the south-west Bering Sea to the Gulf of Alaska, and offshore in a broad arc between about 40 degrees North and 55 degrees North across the Pacific.

In the North Atlantic, sei whales can be found from the coast of Labrador, and along the coasts of Greenland and Iceland. In the East Atlantic, sei whales migrate north to northern waters off Norway, Shetland, Orkney and the Faeroe Islands an occasionally, Svalbard. Sei whales are also present in the Denmark strait

Sei Whale Feeding Frenzy video:

#TaijiTuesday – Another Drive Hunt & Slaughter Season About to Begin

 

13988097_276079119441372_1982237210133871197_o

Just a week away, on September 1, 2017 another season of the Taiji Dolphin Drive Hunt & Slaughter will begin. Each year, from September until March, pods of dolphins make their way across Hatagiri Bay which is located near the town of Taiji in Wakayama Prefecture in Japan. While this is a scenic and even serene area at times, death haunts the infamous Cove which is located directly adjacent to Taiji’s Whale Museum.

Every year during the annual government sanctioned dolphin & whale hunt, thousands of dolphins are brutally and inhumanely slaughtered. Below is the 2017/2018 Drive Hunt Quote – Taiji Fisherman’s Union is allowed to take 1,940 dolphins from nine different species over the course of six months. Over the coming weeks Voice for the Blue will do a #TaijiTuesday blog post and introduce you the nine species of Taiji Drive Hunt Quote.

wp-image-1104149241

Not all dolphins driven into the cove are slaughtered. Taiji is known as “ground zero” for international trade in live dolphins. There is big money in the captive dolphin entertainment industry and there is a direct link between the captive dolphin entertainment industry and the bloody waters of the infamous Cove in Taiji. It is the dolphin entertainment industry that fuels the drive hunt and the killing of dolphins for meat unfortunately follows in its wake.

While in Taiji in December 2013, I witnessed numerous slaughters of Risso’s Dolphins, a slaughter of Striped Dolphins, one slaughter/live capture of Bottlenose Dolphins, and one live capture of Pacific White-Sided Dolphins. While each slaughter was different to experience they were in a sense all the same: The sound of dolphin taking its last breath, the sound of the Taiji killers yelling, the sound of a dolphin thrashing furiously in an attempt to escape death, then the eerie silence that tells you the slaughter is done and yet another pod of dolphins has lost its life at the hand of the Taiji fisherman. The sounds of slaughter are something that remain with you long after you left Taiji.

The Cove

Sunrise at the Cove – shortly before the slaughter of a pod of striped dolphins

Unfortunately many of us who stood witness to and documented the drive hunt and slaughter on the ground in Taiji are unable to return. Many activists have been held for questioning in immigration, then denied entry to Japan and deported back to our home countries. Japan has recently decided that simply witnessing and documenting the slaughter of dolphins is now a crime and classified as terrorism.

Being on the ground in Taiji was one of the hardest, but by far one of my proudest moments. I may not be able to return to Taiji but I will ensure that I educate as many as people as possible on the Drive Hunt & Slaughter, the direct relationship it has to the dolphin entertainment industry and why people should not participate in swim with dolphin programs or attend marine parks, such as Sea World & Marinleand Canada.

For the dolphins, Mel

cropped-img_0611.jpg

#WhaleWednesday – #RIPKasatka

#WhaleWednesday this week will be dedicated to Kasatka

Six weeks after being rumored to be near death, orca matriarch Kasatka has died.

SeaWorld San Diego announced today that Kasatka was euthanized on the evening of Tuesday August 15, after a long bout with bacterial respiratory infection, or lung disease.

kasatkarots

Capture

Kasatka’s passing comes just three weeks after the death of 3 month old orca calf Kyara at SeaWorld Antonio (Kasatka’s granddaughter and San Diego born Takara’s daughter).

Kasatka was captured off the coast of Iceland on October 26, 1978, at the age of less than 2 years (she was estimated to be born around 1976). She was captured alongside her pod mate Katina, also approximately 2 years old, and then sold to SeaWorld that same month. For 4 years, Kasatka and Katina lived together, but the two were separated in 1984 when Katina was shipped to SeaWorld Orlando, where she remains imprisoned for the remainder of her life.

Kasatka, since then has been held captive and imprisoned at various SeaWorld parks for the last 39 years. Her crime? She was born an orca (killer whale)! A marine mammal species so intelligent, beautiful and intriguing to people that the owners of SeaWorld knew they could put her on display and people would pay to watch her swim circles in a tank.

Kasatka’s body, while in the end was ravaged by illness, had been abused for her entire time in captivity. She had been forced to perform multiple times daily for 39 years by food deprivation (meaning SeaWorld would reduce the number of calories a whale gets over a period of time so the animal becomes increasingly food motivated – orcas are more likely to cooperate with a trainer when they are hungry).

Kasatka was also forced to bear children that were then removed from her side and relocated to other SeaWorld owned prisons. Given what is known about the bonds between mother and calves (in the wild males remain with their mother for their entire lives) this is an even greater violation that food deprivation and is simply extreme emotional abuse.

Kasatka was one of SeaWorld’s most successful breeders and has given SeaWorld 4 orcas: Takara in 1991, Nakai in 2001, Kalia in 2004 and Makani in 2013. She also had six grandchildren ( Kohaana, Trua, Sakari, Kamea, Amya and Kyara) and two great grandchildren (Adan and Victoria)

Kasatka was one of only 4 remaining wild captured orcas still in SeaWorld parks, with her passing there will now only be 3 – Ulyssess and Corky in San Diego and Katina in Orlando.

At least in death, Kasatka’s lifetime of suffering has finally come to an end – as heartbreaking as her death is, the truth of the matter is that it is Kasatka’s life that was the real tragedy. At least now Kasatka can finally swim free!

d08511b84bd14a499d7ccf7b016f11f2_kastaka

Will the recent death of 3 month old calf Kyara and now the death of Kasatka just 3 weeks later, finally wake people up enough to address these issues of cetaceans in captivity?

In all honestly likely not, but I sure hope so!

There are so many people that think the only way to view orcas (dolphins, belugas, whales, etc) is at Sea World (or similar marine parks) and that this is an educational experience for children.  This is by no means an educational experience, it’s an excuse people use as to why we still hold these intelligent social beings in captivity.

Choose to view wildlife in the wild and do not support SeaWorld or any other similar marine park. Change begins with each and every one of us – teach your children kindness to animals and that is wrong to keep animals in captivity.

“There is as much educational benefit in studying dolphins in captivity as there would be in studying humans beings by only observing prisoners in solitary confinement” Jacques Cousteau

While it is too late for Kasatka, it is not too late for SeaWorld to start building sea sanctuaries for the other orcas imprisoned in their parks, including Kasatka’s children and grandchildren.

Check out the The Whale Sanctuary Project to learn more about the mission to establish a model seaside sanctuary where cetaceans (whales and dolphins) can live in an environment that maximizes well-being and autonomy and is as close to possible to their natural habitat.

“Be the change you wish to see in the world” Mahatama Gandhi