Archive for the ‘Whales’ Category

Brett Vercoe and his wife were on a diving trip yesterday morning when they came across the whale carcass. He said he saw at least five large sharks feeding on the dead whale.

“In a short period, we saw a number of sharks circling around [the whale],” he said. “After 10 or 15 minutes it was quite obvious there were at least five sharks – three white pointers, up to about 4.5 metres in length, and two tigers, the biggest being about 4.2 [metres long].

“[It was] a very impressive display as they casually moved in and just took large bites out of the dead sperm whale.”

Mr Vercoe said it was a rewarding experience. “It was incredible to find that happening just five or 10 kilometres from Coffs Harbour. Unbelievable. It was a really exciting time,” he said.

The whale carcass later washed up on shore.

“She had obviously drifted over quite a distance,” Mr Vercoe said. “Normally their habitat’s about 40 kilometres off-shore. So, to find her only 500 metres off the beach, she’d obviously been adrift for quite some time. She’d been dead for at least a week I imagine for her state.”

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ENCOUNTERING a mighty sperm whale is a magical experience. But in this case, it was tempered somewhat by a rarely seen defence mechanism: emergency defecation.

Sperm whales are the largest toothed predators in the world, so what have they got to be scared of? Here it was pesky divers buzzing around them, taking photos.

Canadian photographer Keri Wilk was sailing off the island of Dominica in the Caribbean, hoping to film these gargantuan creatures, when he spotted one and jumped in for some close-ups. The whale approached Wilk and his three colleagues, pointed downwards, and began to evacuate its bowels. To make matters worse, it then started to churn up the water. “Like a bus-sized blender, it very quickly and effectively dispersed its faecal matter into a cloud,” says Wilk.

Defensive defecation has been recorded in pygmy and dwarf sperm whales, which, as their names suggest, are diminutive compared with their cousins. But this is perhaps less surprising, given that they have natural predators. Wilk is unaware of any other reports of sperm whales’ emergency excretion.

Despite what you might think of being enveloped in what Wilk describes as a “poonado”, he cherishes the moment. “I’ve experienced lots of interesting natural phenomenon underwater, all over the world, but this is near the top of the list,” he says. “As long as you didn’t take your mask off, you couldn’t really smell anything. Taste is another matter…”

http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg22530064.700-sperm-whales-emergency-evacuation-of-its-bowels.html#.VMtpm4dRGng

by Rebecca Cooper

Brewers have pulled yeast from pretty much everywhere to experiment with new strains — one West Coast brewery even brewed a beer using samples from the head brewer’s beard (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/09/26/beard-beer-rogue-ales-yeast-john-maier_n_1917119.html) — but Lost Rhino in Ashburn may be breaking into new territory with its BoneDusters amber ale.

BoneDusters was brewed with a yeast that Lost Rhino’s Jasper Akerboom collected off a fossilized whale skeleton at the Calvert Marine Museum in Solomons, Maryland.

The collaboration came about because Akerboom, a bit of a yeast nut who handles quality assurance for Lost Rhino, is friends with Jason Osborne, a paleontologist who has donated fossilized whale skeletons to the museum.

Osborne asked Akerboom if there might be yeast present on those fossils that could be used to brew beer. Usually, yeast would not live on bone, given that it needs a sugary food source, but Akerboom decided to indulge his friend anyway.

They found a number of yeast strains on the bones, although Akerboom is pretty sure they’re more likely from the swamp where the bones were found rather than the bones themselves.

Several of the wild yeast strains flourished in Akerboom’s lab, but only one of the strains made any decent beer. The others didn’t ferment fully, making for “nasty-tasting” brews, he said.

The strain they ended up using, combined with some darker malts to create an amber ale, have yielded what Akerboom considers a tasty, well-balanced brew. The beer wasn’t made in the Belgian style, but it is “Belgian-esque,” he said, because the yeast has a slightly fruity flavor profile common in Belgian beers.

Lost Rhino plans to launch the beer June 18 at the brewery and begin distributing it to its networks after that, so it could be appearing at D.C. area bars in the next couple of weeks. A portion of the proceeds from the beer will go to Osborne’s nonprofit, Paleo Quest, which runs educational programs in the sciences.

For his part, Akerboom will keep experimenting with yeast in the lab he runs at Lost Rhino. It’s not necessarily common for a small microbrewery to have a quality assurance scientist with a Ph.D. in microbiology on staff. The Netherlands native previously isolated wild yeast from the air in Ashburn for Wild Farmwell Wheat, an “All-Virginia” beer Lost Rhino made in 2012. He now runs a yeast business on the side, and believes that focus on quality control is a big part of Lost Rhino’s consistently good beers.

“I think it adds a lot to the brewery. You have to make sure what you put in those cans is actually clean,” he said. “And you can do these kinds of projects, which keeps it fun.”

Thanks to Dr. Rajadhyaksha for bringing this to the attention of the It’s Interesting community.

http://www.bizjournals.com/washington/blog/top-shelf/2014/06/whats-the-key-ingredient-in-lost-rhino-s-newest.html?page=2

When Dutch restorers started to peel away centuries of varnish and grime from ‘View of Scheveningen Sands’ by Hendrick van Anthonissen, left, they discovered that a whale that had been painted over, right.

By M. Alex Johnson

For centuries, art historians have wondered about an otherwise unremarkable seaside painting by the 17th-century Dutch master Hendrick van Anthonissen: Why are clusters of people gathered on the beach and on the nearby cliffs in obviously unpleasant winter weather looking at nothing?

The answer, British art conservators announced Thursday, is that they are looking at an enormous beached whale, which was later painted out of the picture.

When and by whom — and most important, why, since curators say it's evident the whale is supposed to be the focal point of the painting — still aren't known.

The painting, titled "View of Scheveningen Sands," is one of a series of seaside paintings by Anthonissen (1605-56), a lesser master of the Dutch Golden Age.

It had been under restoration at Fitzwilliam Museum at Cambridge University since early this year, the museum said Thursday, and as varnish and heavily daubed overpaint were painstakingly scraped away over the months, its true subject slowly emerged.

"Sometimes as conservators, while working on a painting, we are lucky enough to make a surprising discovery," Shan Kuang, the postdoctoral student at the Fitzwilliams' Hamilton Kerr Institute who led the project, said in a video the museum published describing the work's restoration.

Kuang said her interest was piqued by the people on the beach who appeared to be intently looking at nothing in particular.

As she slowly removed protective varnish that had badly discolored over more than four centuries, "a figure started appearing standing directly over the horizon line," she said.

That was "extremely unexpected and peculiar," she said,as the figure looked as though he or she were magically hovering several feet over the water.

"We spent a good deal of time speculating about what it could be, and then the fin started appearing," Kuang said.

Eventually the head began to emerge as layers of heavy paint were removed, and it became clear that a whale on the beach had been painted out of the painting, probably well after Anthonissen completed it around 1641.

"At the end of the treatment, the whale had returned as a key component of the composition, just as the artist had intended,” she said.

The museum said the discovery might not be as surprising as it would first seem.

"Contemporary records show many instances of whale beaching on the coastline of the Netherlands in the first half of the 17th century," it said.

Kuang said the crude overpaint, which filled in the sea and shore where the whale had been, could have been added "because the presence of a dead animal was considered offensive" in the 18th or early 19th centuries.

Removing it could have made the painting more marketable at a time in history when paintings were more commonly seen as commodities, not precious works of art, she said.

"View of Scheveningen Sands" is now back on permanent display in Fitzwilliam — whale and all, just as Anthonissen wanted it.

http://www.nbcnews.com/news/world/whale-discovery-hidden-dutch-masterpiece-n123971

Fin whales are the world’s second-largest whale species and can measure 80-plus feet and weigh as much as 70 tons. Because of their immense size, they rarely breach, which makes the photo accompanying this story all the more striking.

The image was captured May 22 in the Strait of Gibraltar from aboard a vessel operated by the Spanish conservation group CIRCÉ (Conservation, Information et Recherche sur les Cétacés).

CIRCÉ posted the image and video to its Facebook page last week. The video footage shows two of three breaches—the first at 3 seconds and the second at 1:15—and reveals a cetacean that is leaping almost completely free of the water.

Fin whales, second in size only to blue whales, are incredibly sleek and can swim at bursts of up to 23 mph, which helps explain how this particular whale was able to make like a surface-to-air missile in the Strait of Gibraltar.

It’s unclear why the whale jumped, just as nobody is 100 percent certain why any of the smaller species of whales sometimes breach.

Humpback whales are famous for breaching, along with other surface behavior that could possibly represent a form of communication. Some scientists theorize that gray whales breach in an attempt to shake lice from their skin.

But fin whales, like blue whales, typically do not break the surface in a breaching behavior.

“It’s a very rare behavior,” said Alisa Schulman-Janiger, a California-based whale researcher. “It’s rarely observed and even more rarely captured on camera. If one does happen to breach, what are the chances that you’re going to be ready with a camera?”

Schulman-Janiger runs the ACS-L.A. Gray Whale Census and Behavior Project from the Palos Verdes Peninsula in Los Angeles County.

Fin whales, for the past several years, have been spotted feeding in nearshore waters off Southern California. In the project’s 31 years, volunteers have seen only a handful of fin whale breaches. That includes a phenomenal display last month, when one or possibly two fin whales breached 20-plus times.

The fin whale, named because of a prominent dorsal fin far back on its body, feeds predominantly on shrimp-like krill and schooling bait fish. The whales are found worldwide but are considered an endangered species, numbering about 40,000 in the Northern Hemisphere and 15,000 to 20,000 in the Southern Hemisphere.

The amazing photo of the Strait of Gibraltar breach inspired many comments on the CIRCÉ Facebook page, mostly in Spanish, but with some English-language commentary such as “Good grief. Imagine the splash!” and “Raw power… totally impressive.”

Another commenter asked, “Is this for real?,” and others also thought it might have been Photoshopped. Were it not for the supporting video footage, these would have been valid observations.

Thanks to Pete Cuomo for bringing this to the attention of the It’s Interesting community.

http://www.grindtv.com/outdoor/nature/post/spectacular-fin-whale-breach-a-rare-sight/

More than 1000 people took part in forming the “humungous human humpback” to mark the official start of whale-watching season.

Now in its third year, the event also celebrated the end of Japanese whaling in the Southern Ocean.

“It’s a good trick for the area,” local couple Ellie and Ian Jackson said. “It’s the biggest it’s been.”

Like hundreds of other families, they brought their three children Lilia, 4, Evie, 2, and five-month-old Rafe, who patiently waited in position until a helicopter flew overhead capturing the 100m-long whale for posterity.

Destination Port Stephens chairman Michael Aylmer said more than 50,000 visitors came to Nelsons Bay each year for the whales, putting $10 million into the local economy.

”Around 17,000 whales are expected to be seen off Port Stephens … as they migrate for the winter,” he said.

http://www.dailytelegraph.com.au/news/nsw/whale-of-a-figure-at-shoal-bay-kicks-off-the-watching-season/story-fni0cx12-1226939198306

A dead blue whale washed up on the shore of a small fishing town in Newfoundland last week. A bloated, beached, blubbery bomb of a blue whale. As of 3:30 pm Eastern Time today, the carcass is still intact, but onlookers are worried that it might soon explode.

The concerned marine science communicators at Upwell and Southern Fried Science have created a website devoted to monitoring this situation:

HasTheWhaleExplodedYet.com

Blue whales are the largest animals on earth. This one has reportedly ballooned to twice its original size. In the process of decomposition, methane and other gases accumulate in the body of the whale. The buildup of pressure, plus the disintegration of the whale’s flesh, could cause the whole body to burst.

The town of Trout River, on whose rocky shore the carcass rests, is bracing for what will come next—explosion or not, the 81-foot-long corpse is just plain gross, and it cannot remain out in the open indefinitely. Emily Butler, the clerk of Trout River, says the town is at a loss as to how to deal with the problem. “It’s only going to be a matter of time before it warms up and the smell becomes unbearable,” she told reporters on Monday.

Jack Lawson, a scientist affiliated with the Canadian fisheries department, told the media that his main concern was neither the stench nor the possibility of an explosion. He warned that the worst thing would be for a person to get too close to the whale and fall inside it: “The [whale] skin is starting to lose its integrity and if someone were to walk along, say, the chin — that is full of all that gas — they could fall in the whale. The insides will be liquefied. Retrieving them would be very difficult.”

“I have fallen through the side of a whale up to my chest,” he added. “It’s not very nice.”

It’s not exactly uncommon for whales to wash up on land, but the disruptiveness of such an event depends on how populated that land is by humans. In the case of Trout River, which only has 600 residents but swells with tourists at this time of year, it’s very disruptive.

According to Canadian news, the whale is one of nine that died earlier this month after becoming trapped by offshore ice floes. Three of these whales have washed up on Newfoundland beaches.

Sometimes beached whales erupt on their own, but sometimes humans blow them up first—as was the case in Florence, Oregon, in 1970. The town of Florence may have been the first to confront the dilemma that faces Trout River today.

Oregon officials thought their whale was too big to cut up or burn; they ended up hiring a highway engineer named Paul Thornton, from the state’s transportation department, to devise a plan. Thornton decided on using dynamite to blast the whale to bits. He figured that the blown-up pieces of blubber would scatter into the sea and whatever remained would be scavenged by birds and crabs.

What he did not figure was that the Oregon whale explosion of 1970 would generate one of the most-watched Internet videos in history and become the highlight of his career.

In an obituary for Thornton, who died in October 2013, Elizabeth Chuck of NBC News describes what happened that day:

Bystanders were moved back a quarter of a mile before the blast, but were forced to flee as blubber and huge chunks of whale came raining down on them. Parked cars even further from the scene got smashed by pieces of dead whale. No one was hurt, but the small pieces of whale remains were flecked onto anyone in the area.

To make matters worse, a large section of whale carcass never moved from the blast site at all. In the end, highway crews buried all the pieces and particles of the whale.

Broadcast journalist Paul Linnman, who had been on the scene, recalls that “the piece that flattened the car was about coffee-table size.”

Today, Oregon’s policy for dealing with dead beached whales is to bury them in the sand.

The world now knows that blowing up whales on purpose is best avoided. However, dead whales can still detonate on their own. In 2004, for example, the carcass of a sperm whale was being towed through the streets of Tainan City, Taiwan, when its belly burst, splattering blood and guts on nearby people, cars, and storefronts.

A similar, albeit less messy, mishap occurred with a beached sperm whale in the Faroe Islands last November. The marine biologist who probed the carcass was dressed for the occasion; he later told reporters that the explosion, which was triggered when he tried to cut the whale open, “wasn’t a shock.” Still, as the video below shows, the whale spewed furiously.

And here’s a video of what happened in Uruguay a few months ago, when a dead whale fell as it was being hoisted by a crane onto a truck bed: