Tag Archives: whales

Trouble for Whales? Their Favorite Food Could Be Disappearing

What is one of the baleen whale’s favorite food? Krill. But as carbon dioxide levels rise, it creates a big problem for these tiny crustaceans.

Studies at the Australian Antarctic Division agency found that krill eggs do not hatch when exposed to higher CO2 levels. In fact, Antarctic Division biologist So Kawaguchi believes there will be a 20-70% decline in Antarctic krill populations by the year 2100 and a complete extinction by 2300. Dr. Kawaguchi says:

“Higher levels of carbon dioxide in the water mean greater levels of ocean acidification. This interrupts the physiology of krill. It stops the eggs hatching, or the larvae developing.”

Although krill are tiny creatures, they are one of the most abundant species on earth and have a massive role in the marine ecosystem. They sit at the bottom of the ocean food chain and serve as sustenance for (or sustenance for the prey of) several animals such as fish, squid, sea birds, seals and whales. If krill die off – or populations diminish significantly – it will have a serious, negative impact on baleen whales and much of the ocean’s ecosystem.

It’s not too late, however, as Kawaguchi suggests a moratorium on fishing in the region until the agency can dive deeper into the effects ocean acidification has on krill.

 
 
Featured image by Jerry Kirkhart / CC BY 2.0

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Humpback Whales Are Making a Huge Comeback in Australia

In Australia, the humpback whale population has rebounded to 90% of the pre-whaling numbers on the country’s west coast and 63% on the east coast.

Scientific research conducted by an international team of collaborators and published in the Marine Policy journal found that, since 2012, numbers are rising at about 9% per year off the west coast and 10% off the east coast – some of the highest recorded in the world.

Co-author on the paper and Murdoch University Professor Lars Bejder told Guardian Australia:

“Our point here was [that] we are really keen to bring out a successful story. It’s usually all doom and gloom in marine conservation. And it’s very depressing and demoralising for managers, politicians, NGOs and the general public, so what we wanted to do here was say there are rare occasions where it works, so don’t give up.”

Photo by Brian Jeffery Beggerly / CC BY 2.0
Photo by Brian Jeffery Beggerly / CC BY 2.0

Decades and decades of legal and illegal whaling since the 19th century severely diminished humpback numbers in seven major breeding populations in the southern hemisphere. For example, one group was reduced to 500 whales but is now at an estimated 14,552.

Because of these population increases, the risk of extinction is extremely unlikely and Australian humpback whales can be removed from their threatened status. That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t still be protected under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act), though. Bejder says:

“If humpback whales were removed from the Australian threatened species list, the EPBC Act would still protect them from significant impacts as a matter of national environmental significance, as these whales are a migratory species. Beyond Australia, the International Whaling Committee manages the global moratorium on commercial whaling, which is essential for the humpback whales’ continued success.”

The Australian humpback whale comeback represents a conservation success. But continued success rests upon ongoing efforts to protect this species and keep its numbers on the rise.

Photo by Christopher Eden / CC BY 2.0
Photo by Christopher Eden / CC BY 2.0

Featured image by texaus1 / CC BY 2.0

Drone Footage Gives Rare Sight of Blue Whale Mother and Calf [VIDEO]

Blue whales are the largest animals in the world. They can grow up to 100 feet long, weigh 180 tons and live to 90 years old. But people rarely get to witness these majestic giants. Fortunately, activist group Sea Shepherd Society gives us a rare sight of these creatures, after encountering two in the Southern Ocean off Antarctica in late January. They sent a drone up from their boat, the Steve Irwin, and captured this stunning footage of a mother and calf blue whale.

What Was Behind the Mysterious Whale Deaths on the Pacific Coast in 2015?

Since May, more than 30 whales have been found dead on the pacific coast without explanation.

11 fin whales, 14 humpbacks, one gray whale and four unidentified cetaceans were found dead in the western gulf of Alaska. Six more whales were found dead off the coast of British Columbia including four humpbacks, one sperm and one fin whale.

The unknown cause behind the deaths prompted the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to declare it an “Unusual Mortality Event” last month. But after investigation, scientists think a widespread algae bloom located off the coast could be suspect in the deaths. NOAA spokesperson Julie Speegle told the Guardian:

“Our leading theory at this point is that the harmful algal bloom has contributed to the deaths. But we have no conclusive evidence. The bottom line is we don’t know what’s causing these deaths.”

Scientists have already been monitoring a large stretch of warm water that started out off the coast of Alaska two years ago and has grown to almost 500 miles across. “The Blob,” as it has been named, is several degrees warmer than the surrounding ocean and has caused a record algae bloom spanning the West Coast from Alaska to California.

Photo by NOAA
Photo by NOAA

However, the fast rate of decomposition makes it nearly impossible to sample the dead whales, meaning there may never be a definitive conclusion. Scientists do know of one species of phytoplankton that produces a neurotoxin, which enters the food chain in smaller fish and birds, can cause disorientation and fatal seizures in severe cases.

Although the death count is almost three times the historic average annual mortality rate, whale populations are not overly affected. Marine mammal specialist with the Alaska Sea Grant marine advisory program and on-site coordinator of the UME investigation Bree Witteveen tells Yahoo Canada News:

“From a population perspective, the level of deaths that we’ve seen are not likely to have much of an impact. It’s more of a warning sign.”

Featured image by Sarah Nichols / CC BY-SA 2.0

Blue Whale Sighting in English Waters is the First Since Near Extinction

The world’s largest animal, the blue whale, has been seen in English waters for the first time since the 1900s.

The creature was photographed 250 miles from the coast by scientists aboard the RRS James Cook, which is studying marine life in the Whittard Canyon off England’s south-west coast. Oceanographers believe the photos are the first to show a blue whale in the region since in the early 20th century when they were nearly hunted to extinction in the north-east Atlantic.

The crew captured two photos, one showing the glimpse of spray from the whale’s blowhole and another showing its bluish-gray back and tiny dorsal fin. Chief scientist of the expedition from National Oceanography Centre (NOC) Veerle Huvenne says:

“There was huge excitement on board as many people got a glimpse of their first blue whale, but only later did we realize that this is probably the first to be photographed within English waters. The Biscay margin is already recognised as a hotspot for whales, dolphins and seabirds – our new data further underlines the importance of this area for iconic marine life.”

This sighting, along with others by observers on ferries crossing the Bay of Biscay, indicates the species may be slowly recovering from its near-extinction. Also recorded on expedition were more than 20 fin whales, which are the second largest animal in the world and also endangered.

Photo by National Oceanography Centre
Photo by National Oceanography Centre

Featured image by NOAA Photo Library / CC BY 2.0

Whales and Dolphins Win Fight Against U.S. Navy Over Use of Underwater Explosives

In the battle between the U.S. Navy and marine mammals, the marine mammals won.

In September, a federal judge approved a legal settlement between environmental groups and the Navy that limits the use of sonar and other underwater explosives because they are inadvertently harmful to marine mammals. The blasts and high-pitched noises can deafen or even kill marine mammals, in particular whales and dolphins.

The settlement ends the use of sonar in the feeding grounds for whales off the coast of Southern California near Santa Catalina, San Clemente, and San Nicolas islands, in addition to those in Hawaiian waters, including around Maui, Molokai, and the Big Island.

Oceans director for one of the groups involved in the settlement, the Center for Biological Diversity, Miyoko Sakashita says:

“The settlement protects some of the most important areas for marine mammals that are sensitive to sonar. It’s a great benefit to the whales and lets the Navy fulfill its training needs.”

Photo by NOAA Photo Library / CC BY 2.0
Photo by NOAA Photo Library / CC BY 2.0

A report in 2013 by the Navy estimated that from 2014-2019, sonar testing, underwater explosives, missile launches, anti-submarine warfare and ship strikes could kill up to 155 whales, dolphins, seals, and sea lions and permanently injure over 2,000 animals.

But this is the first time that the Navy has recognized that it is possible to protect marine animal habitats without impeding upon or interfering with its training regimen. It sets a precedent for the future where Navy activities can occur as long as care and consideration is given to marine animals.

 
 
Featured image by Official U.S. Navy Page / CC BY 2.0

Japan Plans to Resume Independent Antarctic Whaling Later in 2015

Japan says it will resume whaling in the Antarctic in the 2015 winter season, defying the the International Whaling Commission (IWC), which stated that Tokyo has not proven the mammals need to be killed for research.

In a report in June, the IWC’s scientific committee concluded that it could not determine whether lethal sampling was necessary for Japanese whale stock management and conservation.

Japanese officials said they will submit additional data to support their argument, but still plan to resume whaling in the Antarctic in winter. Tokyo proposed a revised plan to catch 333 minke whales each year between 2015 and 2027, which is around one-third its previous target.

The IWC made a similar indeterminate conclusion in April when Japan revised its Antarctic whaling plan in response to the international court of justice 2014 ruling that the hunts were not truly scientific. As a result of the ruling, Japan sent a non-lethal expedition to the Antarctic for the 2014 season.

Image credit: ravas51 / CC BY-SA 2.0
Image credit: ravas51 / CC BY-SA 2.0

In 1986, the IWC banned commercial whaling but Japan continued hunting the animals under a research exemption. The country’s government has spent large amounts of tax money to continue whale hunting operations. In recent years, however, Japan’s actual catch has decreased in part due to a drop in domestic demand for whale meat and protests by anti-whaling group Sea Shepherd.

Featured image: Dagur Brynjólfsson / CC BY-SA 2.0