Showing posts with label Whales. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Whales. Show all posts

March 1, 2018

Only 450 Right Whales Left and The Plane Looks for Any Calfs But Finds None

On winter days when the weather is good, a research plane takes off from St. Simons, a barrier island in Georgia. Pilots from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration fly straight lines out and back along Georgia's Atlantic coast, covering hundreds of miles of open ocean. Riding in the plane, surveyors are glued to the window scanning the water for North Atlantic right whales. 
There are only about 450 of the big, rotund whales left on Earth. The whaling industry once decimated the species. While they've been protected for decades now, the endangered whales are still struggling, and this has been a terrible season for them. 
The whales spend most of their time around New England and Canada, but starting in November pregnant whales and some others head south to the warmer water off the coast of Georgia and North Florida. This is where they spend the winter and begin to raise their calves. 
But this year, no one saw any whales until the end of January. And most of the way through the calving season, there still aren't any calves. 
So the aerial survey team keeps looking. 
"On really nice days, you're looking out as far as possible, just for any disturbance at the surface," Melanie White says as she leans into the window of the plane, watching for whales. White is the Right Whale Conservation Project manager for Sea to Shore Alliance, the nonprofit that employs the surveyors. 
She sees dolphins, sea turtles, rays and molas, which are big pancake-shaped animals also known as ocean sunfish. But rarely does the aerial survey team see a right whale. They've spotted just a handful this winter. 
Last year the numbers were low, too. They've been trending down since 2011. But no calves at all is a low for recent years.
Melanie White takes photos of North Atlantic right whales from NOAA's Twin Otter as the plane circles the whales near Savannah. Whale observers and researchers use the photos to identify the whales.
Molly Samuel/WABE
"This is the first time since I have worked with right whales that that has ever happened," said Barb Zoodsma, who has worked on right whales with NOAA since the early-1990s. 
She says of the 450 or so right whales alive, fewer than 100 are breeding females. 
"Ninety-four," she says. "That's not good. You don't have to be Einstein to figure out that's a bad situation."
Zoodsma says the females are dying young and they're having calves less often. 
Climate change may be having an impact on their food. 
On top of that, 17 right whales died last year. Several of those were hit by ships, or got caught in fishing gear. Another was found dead earlier this year, tangled in fishing gear off the coast of Virginia. 
"The rope can cut through their bodies and keep them from being able to feed. It creates drag, and they basically just waste away," says Clay George, a wildlife biologist with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources. 
George cuts the fishing gear off the whales when he can. He says more than 80 percent of the whales have scars from getting entangled at one point or another. 
A 9-year-old female right whale (left) and a smaller right whale spotted earlier this month off the coast of Jekyll Island.
Courtesy Sea to Shore Alliance/ NOAA Research Permit 20556
"The right whales are at a point where more are dying than are being born," George says. "That's just not sustainable long-term."
After hours searching from the air, Carolyn O'Connor from Sea to Shore Alliance finally spots something. "Bingo," she says. 
The plane veers into a tight circle. 
"I feel like there's a lot of whales here," White says.  
There are five adults. One of them breaches. It slaps its tail. The whales are socializing. But still no calves. 
O'Connor says it's exciting every time they see a whale, but "it's extremely disheartening and kind of scary to not have a calf yet this late in the season. It's not a good thing."
They'll keep looking for them, though, for another couple of weeks.
By MOLLY SAMUEL
NPR

December 12, 2017

We Are Loosing the Conservation Efforts to Protect Whales{Canberra Hides Japanese Whaling Video}




 Images of a Japanese whaling operation(above) have been released after a five-year legal battle.
Australian customs officials filmed the footage in 2008 but Canberra tried to suppress the pictures saying they could harm relations with Tokyo.
The Australian government was forced to release them after a prolonged Freedom of Information bid by anti-whaling group Sea Shepherd.
International Business Times

North Atlantic right whales are facing a severe threat of extinction after this year saw the death of 17 of the species, leaving their numbers dwindling at around 450 individuals in the wild.
Given the situation, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is set to watch their migration down south along the Atlantic coast and has cautioned fishermen and boats in the region to steer clear of them. 
But, NOAA scientists warned the species is already under severe threat and extinction could be a very real possibility.
In a November report, the organization said the deaths of right whales in American and Canadian waters was a blow to the already declining numbers; this prompted a meeting of officials on last Tuesday to discuss the future of the species.
The meeting of the regulatory New England Fishery Management Council saw officials discuss the possibility of extinction.
According to them, 2017 marked a year of high mortality and it also coincided with a year of poor reproduction, which left only about 100 breeding female North Atlantic right whales.
RightWhaleDaytonaBeachTangled_Dec2010_NOAA_2_take2A tangled right whale being released near Daytona Beach Photo: NOAA
"We are very concerned about the future of North Atlantic right whales," said Barb Zoodsma, a right whale biologist for NOAA Fisheries, in an NOAA media release in November.
"We lost 16 right whales in U.S. and Canadian waters this year. This is troubling for a population of about 450, particularly because we estimate that only about 105 of those are breeding females who are producing fewer calves.”
The meeting saw a reinforcement of the need to control vessel-strikes and entanglements in fishing gear, seen as a major cause of death in right whales.
Current restrictions include rules on where and how traps, pot gear, and gillnet gear can be set. These restrictions also include seasonal closures, said the report.
This is because the right whales travel more than 1,000 miles from their feeding grounds off Canada and New England to the warm coastal waters of South Carolina, Georgia and Florida's east coast every winter.
DeadRightWhale_Canada_webA dead whale in Canada found in 2017 Photo: NOAA
Tom Pitchford, the wildlife biologist for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, said in the report that "any disturbance could affect behaviors critical to the health and survival of the species.”
study published in the Endangered Species Journal in November said that stress hormone level in right whales is a major cause of death. Spike in stress hormones was seen in both whales that died from are entangled and those that died in swift vessel-strikes.
Even in whales that survived fishing accidents, the stress hormone levels eventually affect their numbers by impacting their ability to reproduce.  
"The current status of the right whales is a critical situation, and using our available resources to recover right whales is of high importance and high urgency," said Mark Murray-Brown, an Endangered Species Act consultant with NOAA, in the release.
According to an analysis by the Anderson Cabot Center in the same study, 83 percent of all North Atlantic right whales have been entangled at least once in fishing gear, with more than half of them experiencing more than one entangling.
NOAA Fisheries, the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the U.S. Coast Guard have issued collective reminders to boaters and coastal residents that North Atlantic right whale birthing season begins in mid-November and runs until mid-April and that boaters keep their vessels at a minimum 1,500 feet distance from the whales.
Vessels 65 feet or longer are required to slow to 10 knots or less in certain areas along the East Coast during this period.
Another study from the New England Aquarium has questioned current conservation efforts and their effectiveness. The paper says that there is no evidence that these regulations are reducing mortality rates of right whales.

BY 

March 19, 2014

Steve Irwin(Whale Saver) and the new Boat More Like a Destroyer…more to come

Photo of the day! The MY Steve Irwin powering through the rough southern oceans! WOW! #operationrelentless                                         

October 23, 2012

A Whale With a Human Voice


Beluga Whale with Boy
Long periods of human contact have led whales to mimic the vocal sounds of their caretakers. Click to enlarge this image. 
Corbis Images
Certain whales can imitate the voices of humans, according to a new paper that highlights the vocal mimicry skills of one whale in particular.
The marine mammal, a white whale named NOC, copied the sound of people so well that at first, researchers thought they were hearing humans conversing in the distance. A diver who worked with NOC once even left the water, wondering, "Who told me to get out?" The voice turned out to be that of NOC.
"They are highly vocal animals," lead author Sam Ridgway of the National Marine Mammal Foundation told Discovery News, adding that NOC was not the first to copy human speech.
"A major instance occurred at Vancouver Aquarium in 1979," he said. "In that case, people thought the whale uttered his name ("Lagosi") and other sounds that were like garbled German or Russian. Our whale was the second example, however, ours was the first solid demonstration using acoustic analysis including 'voice print' simultaneously with human speech.” 
The study, described in the latest issue of Current Biology, revealed an amplitude rhythm in NOC's vocalizations that was comparable to human speech. Fundamental frequencies in the whale's vocalizations were also in the same range of human speech and were several octaves lower than the whale's usual sounds.
Ridgway said NOC spent long periods in close contact with humans, listening to them from both above and below the surface.
"The whale often heard divers talking over underwater communication equipment," he continued. "I think that vocal animals like feedback. Perhaps this figured in his motivation."
NOC also went to a lot of trouble to make the sounds. The researchers explain that the whale had to vary the pressure in his nasal tract while making other muscular adjustments and inflating the vestibular sac in his blowhole.
NOC, who unfortunately passed away after 30 years at the National Marine Mammal Foundation, stopped making the human speech-like sounds after the age of 3 or 4 years old, Ridgway said. At the time, Ridgway presented the news at a scientific conference, but the work was not funded and became lost in the research shuffle until more recently, when colleagues encouraged him to publish the data.
There are a few possibilities as to why NOC stopped his human vocal mimicry while still a youngster.
The first is that hormonal changes related to sexual maturity may diminish a whale's urges to mimic. Another possible reason is that the novelty might have simply worn off for NOC.
Ridgway explained that "we trained the whale to interact with us acoustically for hearing test and for reaction time determinations, among other things. For this new work, the whale was responding to us vocally. These responses may have limited his interest in the human speech-like sounds."
William Schevill, now deceased, of Harvard University's Museum of Comparative Zoology, was the first to document spontaneous human voice mimicry in a white whale. Schevill and colleague Barbara Lawrence noted that "occasionally the calls would suggest a crowd of children shouting in the distance."
The findings open up the possibility of teaching white whales how to speak, but that effort might not be worthwhile, Ridgway suggests.
"They readily learn," he said. "I think they could be taught many sounds. I do not know that teaching speech would be scientifically worthwhile.”
By Jennifer Viegas 

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