FILE – In this file photo dated Saturday Aug. 23, 2003, Seagulls mill around in search of food as a whale is hauled onto a fishing boat after it was killed in the Atlantic Ocean off the west coast of Iceland. Iceland’s whaling industry will be allowed to hunt up to 2,130 whales over the next five years, it is revealed Saturday Feb. 23, 2019, under a new rule issued by the Nordic nation’s government. (AP Photo/Adam Butler,FILE)
REYKJAVIK, Iceland (AP) — Iceland’s whaling industry will be allowed to keep hunting whales for at least another five years, killing up to 2,130 baleen whales under a new quota issued by the government.
The five-year whaling policy was up for renewal when Fisheries Minister Kristjan Juliusson announced this week an annual quota of 209 fin whales and 217 minke whales for the next five years.
While many Icelanders support whale hunting, a growing number of businessmen and politicians are against it due to the North Atlantic island nation’s dependence on tourism.
Whaling, they say, is bad for business and poses a threat to the country’s reputation and the expanding international tourism that has become a mainstay of Iceland’s national economy.
“We risk damaging the tourism sector, our most important industry,” legislator Bjarkey Gunnarsdottir said, referring to the international criticism and diplomatic pressure that Iceland faces for allowing the commercial hunting of whales.
The Icelandic Travel Industry Association issued a statement Friday saying the government was damaging the nation’s “great interests” and the country’s reputation to benefit a small whaling sector that is struggling to sell its products.
“Their market for whale meat is Japan, Norway and the Republic of Palau,” the tourism statement said. “Our market is the entire globe.”
Iceland’s Statistics Agency says tourism accounts for 8.6 percent of Iceland’s economic production. In 2016, tourism produced more revenue than Iceland’s fishing industry for the first time.
Iceland has four harpoon-equipped vessels, owned by three shipping companies reported to be running them at a loss or small profit. Last year, the industry killed 5 minke whales and 145 fin whales, according to the Directorate of Fisheries.
Since commercial whale hunting resumed in Iceland in 2006, whaling companies have never killed their full quota. As a result, it’s considered unlikely that all 2,130 whales will be killed under this policy.
The International Whaling Commission imposed a ban on commercial whaling in the 1980s due to dwindling stocks. Japan in December said it was pulling out of the IWC due to its disagreement with that policy. Iceland is still a member of the IWC.
Peter Singer is an author and professor of bioethics at Princeton University, Laureate Professor at the University of Melbourne and founder of the non-profit organization The Life You Can Save.
On Dec. 26, Japan announced that it was leaving the International Whaling Commission (IWC). Yoshihide Suga, Japan’s chief cabinet secretary, emphasized the cultural significance of the whaling industry for local Japanese communities and said that the IWC had focused too much on conserving whales and not on its stated goal of developing a sustainable whaling industry.
That the IWC has ceased to act in accordance with its original purpose is difficult to deny. The IWC was set up by the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling, which was agreed to in 1946. The preamble of the convention describes whale stocks as “great natural resources” and indicates that the purpose of the convention is “to provide for the proper conservation of whale stocks and thus make possible the orderly development of the whaling industry.”
That is how the IWC operated for its first 25 years. From the 1970s on, however, attitudes toward whales began to change. Many governments that had previously been members of the IWC because they engaged in whaling and wanted to protect these “resources” from unsustainable overuse instead began to reflect the more positive attitudes to whales of their citizens. As a result, in 1986, the IWC passed a moratorium on commercial whaling, which has been maintained ever since, even though it is today difficult to argue that all stocks of all species of whales are so imperilled that no commercial hunting could be sustainable.
Japan has not openly breached the moratorium; instead, it has got around it by exploiting a loophole allowing the killing of whales for scientific research. Each year, Japanese whaling ships have killed about 300 whales, allegedly for this purpose. The carcasses of the whales were taken to Japan and their meat was sold to the dwindling minority of Japanese who continue to eat whale meat.
In 2010, Australia took Japan to the International Court of Justice, which found that Japan was in fact engaging in commercial whaling, in breach of IWC rules. But Japan simply tweaked the “research program” a little, and went back to killing the same number of whales it had been killing before.
The IWC’s change of purpose was made clear just last September, when at a meeting in Florianopolis, Brazil, member countries voted 40 to 27 for a Brazilian proposal to maintain the ban on commercial whaling, and assert that whaling is no longer a necessary economic activity. For Japan, which sees maintaining its whaling industry as a matter of national pride, that vote would have been the final straw that made continued membership of the IWC pointless.
What we cannot disregard, however, is the fact that the new attitude to whales that has led to the change in the IWC’s purpose is neither a purely emotional response to killing mysterious big animals nor the imposition of Western attitudes on other cultures. It has a solid basis in our improved scientific understanding of whales, and in the moral progress we are making in extending the circle of moral concern beyond our own species. That concern is very much in accord with Japan’s own Buddhist tradition, which teaches compassion for all sentient beings.
We have learned a lot about whales since 1946, We know that they are social mammals with big brains, capable of communicating with each other by various sounds. They bond with their children and with their social group. They live long lives – bowhead whales live much longer than any other mammal; some have been found with 200-year-old ivory spear tips embedded in their flesh. Many other whales live at least 40 years. They appear to be capable of both pleasure and pain – and not only physical pain, but very likely also distress at the loss of a child or one of their group.
Whales are therefore not stocks in the sense in which we as a country may have stocks of coal. Nor are they resources to be harvested like a field of wheat. They are individual beings, with lives of their own that may go well or badly.
In modern commercial whaling, whales are killed by an explosive harpoon fired from a moving vessel at a moving target. That makes it very difficult to hit the whale in the right spot for an instantaneous loss of consciousness. Nor are commercial whalers willing to use enough explosive to be sure of a quick kill, because they want an intact whale carcass, not one blown to bits. Hence harpooned whales typically die slowly and painfully. If we needed to eat whales to survive, inflicting that kind of death on a sensitive social mammal might be defensible. For well-fed people in Japan or other affluent countries, it is not.
Nor is the fact that there are areas of Japan in which whaling is an ancient cultural heritage a sufficient justification for killing whales. In China, the binding of girls’ feet was an ancient cultural heritage, but it maimed women. We should be glad that it is now firmly in the past. Whaling should go the same way.
And perhaps it will. Once Japan leaves the IWC, it will no longer be able to continue whaling in the Southern Ocean under the guise of “scientific research.” Recognizing this fact, Japan has said it will carry out commercial whaling only in its territorial waters and exclusive economic zone (EEZ), which means, roughly speaking, an area of 4.5-million square kilometres around its territory. That’s a large area, but it contains far fewer whales than the Southern Ocean, and if Japan wants to have a sustainable industry, that will place strict limits on the number of whales its ships can kill.
Perhaps instead of feeling dismay at Japan’s departure from the IWC, we should celebrate the fact that the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary, established by the IWC in 1994, will now be the true sanctuary for whales that it never could be while Japanese ships were conducting their brutal “scientific research.”
In leaving the IWC, Japan has put itself on the outside, as a nation that is oblivious to the legitimate moral concern of many countries and people, including, as polls in Japan show, its own people. The next generation of Japanese leaders will surely see this as a false step that they will want to reverse.
Japan is facing international condemnation after confirming it will resuming commercial whaling for the first time in more than 30 years.
The country’s fleet will resume commercial operations in July next 2019, the government’s chief spokesman, Yoshihide Suga, said of the decision to defy the 1986 global ban on commercial whaling.
Suga told reporters the country’s fleet would confine its hunts to Japanese territorial waters and exclusive economic zone, adding that its controversial annual expeditions to the Southern Ocean – a major source of diplomatic friction between Tokyo and Canberra – would end.
He said Japan would officially inform the IWC of its decision by the end of the year, which will mean the withdrawal comes into effect by 30 June.
Its decision prompted criticism from conservationists and other nations including the UK and Australia.
The UK’s environment secretary, Michael Gove, said he was “extremely disappointed” by Japan’s move.
He said in a tweet: “The UK is strongly opposed to commercial whaling and will continue to fight for the protection and welfare of these majestic mammals.”
Greenpeace disputed Japan‘s view that whale stocks have recovered, noting also that ocean life is being threatened by pollution as well as overfishing.
“The declaration today is out of step with the international community, let alone the protection needed to safeguard the future of our oceans and these majestic creatures,” Sam Annesley, executive director at Greenpeace Japan, said in a statement.
“The government of Japan must urgently act to conserve marine ecosystems, rather than resume commercial whaling.”
It also accused Japan of timing the announcement to avoid criticism.
“It’s clear that the government is trying to sneak in this announcement at the end of year, away from the spotlight of international media, but the world sees this for what it is,” Annesley, said.
“Most whale populations have not yet recovered, including larger whales such as blue whales, fin whales and sei whales.”
Backbench Conservative MP and former foreign secretary Boris Johnson said Japan’s decision was “appalling” and urged it think again.
Astrid Fuchs, programme lead at Whale and Dolphin Conservation, said it was “terrible decision” that could encourage other countries to quit the IWC.
She added: “The oversight that the IWC was having over Japan’s whaling will now be lost. We won’t know how many whales they are catching, we won’t know how they will report it. It might spell doom for some populations. There is an endangered population of Minke whales off Japan, which is already under threat.”
Erik Solheim, a Norwegian diplomat who was the head of the United Nations Environment Programme until earlier this year, said Japan’s decision to leave the international whaling commission was “dangerous”.
In a tweet he called for a global campaign to urge Japan to reconsider.
In a joint statement on Wednesday, Australia’s foreign minister Marise Payne and the environment minister, Melissa Price, said the Australian government was “extremely disappointed” that Japan was withdrawing from the commission and resuming commercial whaling.
“The International Whaling Commission plays a crucial role in international cooperation on whale conservation,” they said.
“The commission is the pre-eminent global body responsible for the conservation and management of whales and leads international efforts to tackle the growing range of threats to whales globally, including by-catch, ship strikes, entanglement, noise, and whaling.
“Their decision to withdraw is regrettable and Australia urges Japan to return to the Convention and Commission as a matter of priority.”
The Australian Marine Conservation Society said the decision to halt the Antarctic hunt would be “welcome and long overdue”. Its chief executive, Darren Kindleysides, called on the Australian government to demand the Japanese fleet left immediately rather than at the end of its normal hunting season in February or March.
“Australians have been fighting for decades to get the whalers out of the Antarctic,” Kindleysides said. “However, it would be a bittersweet victory if it comes with unchecked commercial whaling by Japan in their own waters, and their leaving could damage the future of the IWC itself.”
Wednesday’s announcement had been widely expected after Japan recently failed to win IWC support for a proposal to change the body’s decision-making process – a move that would have made it easier for Japan to secure enough votes to end the commercial whaling ban, which went into effect in 1986 to protect dwindling whale stocks.
Japan argues that the moratorium was supposed to be a temporary measure and has accused a “dysfunctional” IWC of abandoning its original purpose – managing the sustainable use of global whale stocks.
“I support the government’s decision” to withdraw, Itsunori Onodera, a former defence minister who advises the ruling Liberal Democratic Party on fisheries, told public broadcaster NHK. “I have attended IWC meetings several times in the past, and I was struck by their extremely biased views. The IWC has become a dysfunctional organisation.”
Japanese fisheries officials claim that populations of certain types of whale – such as the minke – have recovered sufficiently to allow the resumption of “sustainable” hunting.
It has used a loophole in the ban to hunt a certain number of whales for what it claims is scientific research. Byproduct from the hunts is sold on the domestic market, although Japan’s appetite for whale meat has declined dramatically since the postwar years, when it was an important source of protein.
The country ate 200,000 tons of whale meat a year in the 1960s, but consumption has plummeted to about 5,000 tons in recent years, according to government data.
Japan will join Iceland and Norway in openly defying the ban on commercial whale hunting.
Icelandic fishermen will resume their hunt for the endangered fin whale this year after a two-year pause and have set a target of 191 kills for the season.
An apparent loosening of Japanese regulations on Icelandic exports had made the resumption of the hunting commercially viable again, the country’s only fin whaling company, Hvalur, announced.
The firm also has plans to collaborate with researchers from the University of Iceland to develop medicinal products made of whale blubber and bones, aimed at combating iron deficiency.
Sigursteinn Masson, at the Icelandic branch of the International Fund for Animal Welfare (Ifaw), said: “I’m very disappointed. This decision is not based on real market needs and is not in line with public opinion polls on whaling, which doesn’t belong in modern times.”
Iceland and Norway are the only countries in the world to authorise whaling in defiance of the 1986 International Whaling Commission’s moratorium.
Iceland resumed whaling in 2006 on economic grounds and has defied threats of US sanctions to continue to do so. The US did not invite Iceland, one of the largest fishing nations in the north Atlantic, to the Our Ocean conference in 2014.
Japan hunts whales, but claims it does so for scientific research purposes, although a large share of the whale meat ends up being consumed.
Iceland’s whaling season opens on 10 June and the authorities have granted its whalers a quota of 161 fin whales in 2018, compared to 150 in 2017. In addition, Hvalur’s two ships are entitled to hunt 20% of its unused quota from last year, which means it will be allowed to hunt an 30 additional whales.
During its last hunt in 2015, Hvalur killed a record 155 fin whales, which are the planet’s second largest mammal after the blue whale.
The latest records from the Icelandic institute suggest there are about 40,000 in the north Atlantic ocean, up from 25,000 in 2006.
Iceland has only one other whaling company, IP-Utgerd Ltd, which specialises in hunting minke whales. The meat from the whales is served in Icelandic restaurants, but largely to cater to intrigued tourists.
A poll commissioned in October 2017 by the Ifaw suggested that 35.4% of Icelanders supported the fin whale hunt, compared to 42% in 2016.
The two-year suspension of hunting followed the claims from the Japanese authorities that the Icelandic company had not met Japanese health standards.
One thousand whales will die because of a vote amongst a group of arrogant humans today in Florianopolis, Brazil
The vote was on so called indigenous whaling. In other words a slaughter quota for the Inuit, the Yupik, possibly the Makah, some Greenlanders and a few bogus aboriginal groups in the Caribbean.
Well the Aboriginal people of the Caribbean were the Caribs and they were wiped out by the Spanish colonizers. Thus, the people wanting to kill Humpbacks and pilot whales in Bequi, St. Vincent and the Grenadines and St. Lucia have no indigenous “rights” to slaughter whales at all.
Not that anyone has a right to murder a highly intelligent, self-aware, socially complex sentient being like a whale.
The position of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society is that no one should have the “right” to kill whales anywhere for any reason.
Killing whales is plain and simply – murder!
The Japanese, Icelanders, Norwegians and Danes and Faroese are mass murderers and the killing of whales by indigenous cultures is also an act of murder.
I make no apologies for this position. We have been called racist for opposing the murder of whales but we are not motivated by racism. We don’t care what the color or the culture is of the hand that fires the harpoon. There is no justification for the mass murder of whales.
Racism is allowing one group to have special rights to commit murder based on culture and race.
We oppose whaling by the Japanese but also by the white Europeans of Iceland, Denmark and Norway.
Our passion and our loyalty is to the nation of whales and we will not betray them for any cultural justification.
I would like to salute the 7 nations that had the courage to vote against indigenous whaling.
58 nations voted to slaughter whales in a proposal led by the United States.
Brazil, Chile, Gabon, Mexico and Peru abstained.
Australia has little respect for Aboriginals but voted to allow the Inuit on a distant continent to kill whales.
Japan has denied the indigenous Ainu people the right to whale and hunt but they have no problem backing indigenous peoples in the USA, Canada and Greenland to kill whales.
Perhaps the United States believes they can absolve the guilt of genocide by allowing the slaughter of whales so that the whales must die for their colonial sins.
It all reeks of self-serving hypocrisy.
Denmark will now try to convince the world that the slaughter in the Faroes is indigenous.
Will the Makah once again try to kill whales just to prove then have the right to do so? They have no subsistence necessity and nothing in their culture justifies killing a whale with a .50 caliber recoilless rifle.
How many more Humpbacks must die in Greenland to provide fad foodie meals for bored tourists?
How many 100 to 200 year-old Bowheads must die in the Arctic by people using explosive harpoons, motor boats, and sonar?
Sea Shepherd’s position on Aboriginal whaling may be controversial but it is consistent. We have always opposed the murder of whales and we always will, by anyone, for any reason, anywhere.
North Atlantic whales are facing extinction, experts say, after observing no sign of newborns in the past year.
As the ocean water temperatures have risen, depleting their food supply, the whales have been migrating to cooler waters where new hazards and “nutritional stress” are taking a toll on their population size, a March study out of Cornell University said.
Whales are now venturing farther north into cooler Canadian waters where food is more plentiful, but where boats and fishing gear have proved dangerous.
In this Wednesday March 28, 2018 photo, a North Atlantic right whale feeds on the surface of Cape Cod bay off the coast of Plymouth, Mass. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)
“The fishing gear has not been specially designed to break away when whales are entangled, and there are no acoustic monitoring programs in place to force ships to slow down when whales are present,” said Charles Greene, professor of oceanography at Cornell University.
Researchers said 17 right whales died last year, totaling more than 3.5 percent of the population. Right whales refer to three types of Eubalaena whales – the North Atlantic right whale, North Pacific right whale and the Southern right whale.
“Most of the dead whales that have been examined have exhibited evidence of the blunt trauma associated with ship strikes,” Greene said.
Right whales eat Calanus finmarchicus, a species of copepods as their main form of nutrition. Scientists have tracked whale reproduction rates in correlation with the amount of available C. finmarchicus. Whale reproduction can vary greatly, Greene said, depending on the abundance of the copepods.
Recently, the researchers grew concerned with the spread of C. finmarchicus away from the Gulf of Maine as water temperatures rose, bringing the whales with them.
These northern waters are not safe for the whales, and the added “nutritional stress” has likely led to the decline in new calves.
“This elevated mortality in the population paints a bleak picture for this highly endangered species’ future,” he said.
In 2003, Sea Shepherd brought the issue of the dolphin slaughter to worldwide attention. In October of that year we sent photographer Brooke MacDonald to Taiji. Her pictures appeared on the cover of newspapers around the world and her video was aired on CNN.
Yet the killing continued.
In November two Sea Shepherd volunteers including Sea Shepherd Global Director dove into the Cove, cut the nets and freed 16 Pilot whales. They were both arrested and spent a month in prison and were fined $8,000.
And the killing continued.
In 2009 Louie Psihoyos and Ric O’Barry made a documentary film called The Cove. It won the Academy Award for best documentary film and exposed the horror of Taiji to hundreds of thousands of people.
Yet the killing continued.
Sea Shepherd’s Cove Guardians were on the ground every year since 2009. Seven years for six months, a total of 42 months on the ground, livestreaming, witnessing, filming, photographing, protesting, monitoring – watching dolphins die and unable to do anything to physically stop it.
During that time we sent in hundreds of volunteers.
After yet after 14 years the only dolphins saved were the 16 freed when Sea Shepherd cut the nets in 2003.
Since 2014 Japan has been denying entry to Sea Shepherd Cove Guardians eliminating 100% of our Cove Guardian leaders and most of the volunteers.
This year, Japan has made Sea Shepherd tactics subject to charges of terrorism. Under the new laws, 2 people with a camera may be charged with terrorism.
This is, to put it bluntly – insane!
These official decisions have convinced me that we are dealing with a psychopathic attitude where every single obstacle is being thrown into the path of anyone who opposes the mass slaughter of dolphins in Taiji.
Since September 1st, Sea Shepherd has received some criticism for not being in Taiji this season. This criticism is quite unfair. How can the Cove Guardians be in Taiji when they can’t even get into Japan? And how can they expect us to send inexperienced volunteers into a position where they will be charged with an act of terrorism just for being there?
Some critics say that the Dolphin Project is there, so why is Sea Shepherd not there?
It is true that Ric O’Barry has been banned from Japan but very few Dolphin Project Cove Monitors have been denied entry – yet. Sea Shepherd is happy that Dolphin Project people can be on the ground but I predict their freedom to do so will soon be greatly diminished.
The Japanese government wants to remove observers.
The thugs in Taiji are psychopaths completely lacking compassion and empathy for the dolphins. The attached image screams the word – psychopath!
The politicians enabling the mass slaughter are also psychopaths lacking empathy and compassion.
Being on the ground in Taiji now is a fruitless endeavor. Years of documentation and live-streaming have not made a difference. The killing continues and the killers become more entrenched in their ruthlessness to the point that their very identity as Japanese is equated with the merciless massacre of dolphins.
It has become painfully evident to me that they simply have a perverse lust for killing. They do it for money AND they do it because they enjoy it. We can see it in their eyes, this lust for inflicting gross suffering and death.
The Dolphin drives are an organized highly ruthless slave trade. Slavery is where the money is, the meat trade is minor by comparison. They could enslave dolphins without killing any and still make a huge profit. The reason they don’t do so is very simple – they like to kill.
What has been going down in Taiji can only be understood as a form of collective insanity. We cannot expect reason, compassion, pity, empathy and kindness will have any influence on the minds of psychopathic individuals and collectively Taiji has become a community of psychopaths backed up by the not surprising psychopathic politicians, passing laws against compassion, empathy, kindness and pity.
Because of this I came to the realization that continuing to be in Taiji, with the increasingly difficult possibilities of even being there, was becoming very unproductive.
We have achieved nothing since 2003, not a single dolphin saved since 2003. Yes, we have raised awareness throughout the world but Japan does not care what the rest of the world thinks or feels.
Sea Shepherd is not abandoning our opposition to the despicable cruelty and killings. We are simply changing strategies and developing new tactics.
We have 14 years of documentation so there is little that continues to happen that we have not already captured on film. We need to get these images out to the public – in Japan.
We need to develop a Japanese website and Japanese social media. We need to make the Japanese people at least as aware as the rest of the world. We need to develop economic strategies aimed at Japan with a special focus on the Olympics in 2020. We need to research legal options.
Unfortunately we’ve done all that we practically and strategically can accomplish on the ground in Taiji.
We are refocusing and planning for a new strategy.
The Cove Guardians were heroic, steadfast and I appreciate the efforts of each and every person who spent time on the ground there. They suffered harassment and abuse including numerous abuses from the police and fishermen and most importantly they had to endure the trauma of witnessing the monstrous acts of cruelty and murder.
They did all that could have been done within the context of having to do so within Japanese territory under the ever present watch of the police and rejection from border guards.
When I first organized the Cove Guardians I felt confident that it could have success but I did not take into account the one factor that makes it difficult to overcome such a heartless behavior and makes it impossible to deal with the situation in any meaningful way.
That factor is insanity. We can’t reason or appeal to the heart of a Psychopath because we have been looking for something that does not exist – their heart!
“Some of the dinosaurs were longer, but these big whales even outweighed the largest dinosaurs. And isn’t that surprising? People kind of think of gigantism as being a fact of the geologic past. But here we are, living in the time of giants on Planet Earth,” he told BBC News.
*Whales have been around for about 50 million years – a blink of the eye in the 4.6-billion-year history of the Earth.
It is based on a deep analysis of the Smithsonian’s extensive collection of cetacean bones, and in particular of whale skulls which are a good indicator of overall body size.
The team estimated the lengths of 63 extinct species, including some of the very earliest baleens that swam in the oceans more than 30 million years ago. And combined with data on modern whales, this investigation was then able to establish the evolutionary relationships between whales of different sizes.
What emerges from the research is a picture showing not only that gigantism is a recent phenomenon but that this bigness arises independently in the different baleen lineages.
The smaller whale species that had previously persisted start to go extinct within the last three million years, right at the same time as the giants begin to appear.
It all points to a major shift in the environment and the team suggests the best explanation is the onset of ice ages at the end of the warm Pliocene Epoch, the beginning of the Pleistocene.
The existence of major ice sheets would have restructured the oceans, changing the way water and nutrients were distributed.
“This period sees some dramatic changes, including the closure of the Panamanian isthmus, shutting off connection between the Atlantic and Pacific,” explained Dr Slater.
“Ice sheets in the north develop a lot of cold water that sinks and is then transported around the globe. And what you get are intense upwellings that bring that nutrient-rich cold water back to the surface. That allows algae to go crazy and that allows krill to feed and to form really dense aggregations.”
It is not the abundance of prey per se that favours large baleens, but rather the prey’s patchy, concentrated nature. And with their filter-feeding system of eating, the big whales are able to take maximum advantage.
“They can travel from one feeding zone to the next very efficiently because their big size means their ‘miles per gallon’, their MPG, is very high. And they seem to know precisely the right time to turn up at these feeding grounds,” Dr Slater added.
Two points are worth noting. First, commercial whaling in the last century decimated baleen populations and very probably removed most, if not all, of the ultra-giants out there. Few blues now exceed the 30m lengths that were often recorded at processing factories.
Thanks to the international moratorium on whaling, the true giants could yet return. But this raises the second issue: the changing climate.
If the experts are right, we are heading back towards the Pliocene. Increased carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere could well see global temperatures in the next century that are three or four degrees warmer than they are today. This would almost certainly trigger further ocean changes.
“We’re playing with the dials on ‘Spaceship Earth’,” commented Dr Pyenson.
“We don’t know how things are going turn out, especially for these food resources which may or may not be persistent in space and time. There are some baleens that we think might be more flexible. Gray whales, for example, appear to have a very broad feeding range; blue whales not so much – they really need their krill.”
Richard Sabin is the curator of marine mammals at London’s Natural History Museum.
He called the research “compelling and important” and also highlighted the ecological knife-edge on which some of these animals must live: “There are 90 or so cetacean species. They’re a very diverse group and some of them are very specialised.
“So, you have creatures like the river dolphins that use echo-location to find their prey and the blue whales that are very specialised feeders with their krill. These animals have evolved within systems that they now depend on remaining stable.”
The near-4.5-tonne specimen has been hung from the ceiling in a lunge-feeding pose, mouth open.
The display is under wraps for the moment, but a big unveiling is promised in the next few weeks.
“The visualisations that we released give you an idea, but they don’t really do it justice. She looks spectacular. You get so many different perspectives from the different angles, and you get a real sense not just of her size but of her dynamism as well.”
A dead whale calf was examined by researchers on May 4 after being towed to an island in the Columbia estuary.
LONG BEACH, Wash. — An entangled gray whale calf died after being caught in crab pot lines, Olympia-based science group Cascadia Research Collective reported following an examination.
The whale, a 20-foot-7-inch male born this calving season, was initially reported dead in late April, anchored in place half a mile off of the Seaview beach approach. On May 1, it was discovered the whale was entangled in apparent commercial crab pot gear, researchers said.
The whale was towed to a remote island inside the mouth of the Columbia River.
A necropsy last week showed the whale was at the age when mothers with calves migrate north from their winter breeding and calving grounds in Baja to feeding areas primarily in Arctic waters. This migration is often close to shore and through commercial crabbing grounds.
“The whale was entangled in numerous areas including through the mouth and showed bruising around these areas indicating it was alive when it became entangled (and) had died as a result of the entanglement,” researchers said. “The whale was in excellent body condition with a large and oily blubber layer and even fat reserves around the heart all indicating it had been in good health prior to experiencing a more sudden death. Many of the internal organs were decomposed likely as a result of rapid decomposition due to the insulating blubber layer.”
Whale entanglements have increased in recent years along the West Coast, most dramatically with humpback whales off California, and have been of growing concern, according to Cascadia Research. Authorities are on the lookout for another gray whale first spotted off California that has its head stuck in a metal framework.
These incidents have prompted increased efforts to identify solutions as well as help disentangle whales when encountered still alive, the scientists said. Another threat to whales was highlighted by a boat strike on a well-known adult gray whale in Puget Sound, caught on video in April. Fortunately, that whale survived, though the full extent of its injuries are not yet known, researchers said.
There are an estimated 26,000 gray whales that migrate off the West Coast, according to the World Wildlife Fund, which calls their recovery “a great conservation success story.”
Gray whales were removed from the Endangered Species List in 1994.
Humpback whales have been dying in extraordinary numbers along the Eastern Seaboard since the beginning of last year. Marine biologists have a term for it — an “unusual mortality event” — but they have no firm idea why it is happening.
Forty-one whales have died in the past 15 months along the Atlantic coast from North Carolina to Maine. In a news conference on Thursday, officials from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries said that they had not identified the underlying reason for the mass death, but that 10 of the whales are known to have been killed by collisions with ships.
The agency is starting a broad inquiry into the deaths.
These whales “have evidence of blunt force trauma, or large propeller cuts,” said Deborah Fauquier, a veterinary medical officer at the agency’s Office of Protected Resources. These collisions with ships were “acute events,” Dr. Fauquier said, and were being treated as the “proximate cause of death.”
Dr. Fauquier said that the number of whale strandings was “alarming,” and that she hoped the investigation might give a sense of what kind of threat this presents to this population of humpback whales and those around the world.
COn average, eight humpback whales are stranded each year from Maine to Virginia, and fewer than two are hit by ships, according to data from NOAA.
Whale or other marine mammal die-offs are often poorly understood by scientists, and this case is no exception. Officials from NOAA Fisheries could not explain why the animals were coming into greater contact with vessels, or if there were any human-caused or climate-related disturbances that had changed their behavior.
Gregory Silber, marine resources manager in the agency’s Office of Protected Resources, said that there had not been any increase in ship traffic in the region, and that the whales might be following their prey — they mostly eat krill and small fish — to areas where there could be more shipping.
Ten whales other than those killed by ships have been examined, but officials have not yet determined the cause of death. There is no indication that they were killed by disease.
Humpback whales — which can be as long as 60 feet, weigh as much as 40 tons and can live for 50 years — are found in all of the world’s oceans. There are 14 distinct population segments — groups that follow certain migration and breeding patterns — of humpback whales, some of which are classified as endangered or threatened. The population along the Atlantic coast, which winters in the Caribbean and summers in the North Atlantic or Arctic regions, is not now considered threatened under the Endangered Species Act.
Around the world, there are an estimated 30,000 to 40,000 humpback whales, about a third of its original population. The Atlantic population is around 10,000.
Scientists have suggested that some whale deaths could be a result of marine noise, often a result of military activity, offshore drilling or exploration, which can disorient the animals and send them in the wrong direction, possibly toward beaches where they get stuck instead of into the deeper ocean. Mr. Silber, the NOAA manager, said he was not aware of a connection between ocean noise and these strandings.
A recent study has shown that dolphins, when escaping predators or the source of marine noise, might shoot up from a dive more quickly than they otherwise would, switching from slow, deliberate strokes to faster, longer ones, which can cause them to use double the energy they normally do, and exhaust them.
Among humpback whales, there was an unusual mortality event in 2006, following others in 2005, which involved other large whales, and 2003, which was primarily humpback whales. In each investigation, the cause was undetermined, officials said.