Posts Tagged ‘whale’

by MICHAEL D’ESTRIES

It’s a moment neither whale nor human are likely to forget.

Photographer and dive operator Rainer Schimpf was recently documenting a sardine run off the coast of South Africa when he almost became part of the food chain.

“I was trying to get a shot of a shark going through the bait ball,” Schimpf recalled in a video, “… the next moment, it got dark and I felt some pressure on my hip.”

Based on the kind of pressure, Schimpf says he instantly knew that a whale had grabbed him. As shown in the dramatic footage below, the giant Bryde’s whale got nearly all of the diver into its mouth.

“There is not time for fear in a situation like that,” he said. “You have to use your instincts.”

Fearful that the whale would dive and release him well below the surface, Schimpf says he took a deep breath and waited.

“The next moment I felt the whale was turning either way, and the pressure was released, and I was washed out of the mouth,” he said. “I came back up onto the surface where surely I wasn’t looking too clever.”

Case of mistaken identity

Sardine runs like the kind Schimpf was documenting are a frenzied confluence of various species — gannets, penguins, seals, dolphins, whales and sharks, all working together to round up prey into massive bait balls. When massive marine species like the Bryde’s whale, which average nearly 45 feet in length, soar through the middle of these corralled sardines, anything in their path can accidentally get scooped up.

“As they come up with their mouths open, they can’t see what is in front of them, and I guess the whale thought it was a dolphin,” diver Claudia Weber-Gebert said. “Whales are not man-eaters. This was no attack, it was not the fault of the whale, and they are really sensitive. They are gentle giants, and it was just an accident.”

Schimpf says getting that close to a whale isn’t necessarily something he would recommend.

“It was an interesting experience for me, but surely nothing I want to do again,” he said. “I don’t think I had ‘a whale of a time.’ I now have an inside knowledge of a whale which nobody else has.”

https://www.mnn.com/earth-matters/animals/blogs/diver-makes-lucky-escape-after-whale-swallows-him-whole?utm_source=Weekly+Newsletter&utm_campaign=ba9502706d-RSS_EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_WED0313_2019&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_fcbff2e256-ba9502706d-40844241

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by David Nield

Since the 1980s scientists have spotted a link between naval sonar systems and beaked whales seemingly killing themselves – by deliberately getting stranded on beaches. Now, researchers might have revealed the horrifying reason why.

In short, the sound pulses appear to scare the whales to death, acting like a shot of adrenaline might in a human, and causing deadly changes in their otherwise perfectly calibrated diving techniques.

By studying mass stranding events (MSEs) from recent history, the team found that beaked whales bring a sort of decompression sickness (also known as ‘the bends’ or ‘divers’ disease’) on themselves when they sense sonar. When panicked, their veins fill up with nitrogen gas bubbles, their brains suffer severe haemorrhaging, and other organs get damaged.

“In the presence of sonar they are stressed and swim vigorously away from the sound source, changing their diving pattern,” one of the researchers, Yara Bernaldo de Quiros from the University of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria in Spain, told AFP.

“The stress response, in other words, overrides the diving response, which makes the animals accumulate nitrogen.”

The end result is these poor creatures die in agony after getting the whale version of the bends – not something you would normally expect from whales that are so adept at navigating deep underwater.

Typically, these animals naturally lower their heart rate to reduce oxygen use and prevent nitrogen build-up when they plunge far below the surface. Tragically, it appears that a burst of sonar actually overrides these precautions.

The researchers weighed up the evidence from some 121 MSEs between the years 1960 and 2004, and particularly focussed on the autopsies of 10 dead whales stranded in the Canary Islands in 2002 after a nearby naval exercise.

It’s here that the decompression sickness effects were noticed, as they have been in other stranding events that the researchers looked at.

While the team notes that the effects of sonar on whales seem to “vary among individuals or populations”, and “predisposing factors may contribute to individual outcomes”, there does seem to be a common thread in terms of what happens to these unsuspecting mammals.

That’s especially true for Cuvier’s beaked whale (Ziphius cavirostris) – of the 121 MSEs we’ve mentioned, 61 involved Cuvier’s beaked whales, and the researchers say they appear particularly vulnerable to sonar.

There’s also a particular kind of sonar to be worried about: mid-frequency active sonar (MFAS), in the range of about 5 kilohertz.

Now the researchers behind the new report want to see the use of such sonar technology banned in areas where whales are known to live – such a ban has been in place in the Canary Islands since the 2002 incident.

“Up until then, the Canaries were a hotspot for this kind of atypical stranding,” de Quiros told AFP. “Since the moratorium, none have occurred.”

The research has been published in the Royal Society Journal Proceedings B.

https://www.sciencealert.com/this-is-the-horrifying-reason-why-sonar-makes-beaked-whales-beach-themselves

By Ayana Archie and Jay Croft

A female orca whale is still apparently grieving her dead calf and still swimming with its body after more than two weeks, authorities say.

“It’s heartbreaking to watch,” said Michael Milstein of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s West Coast Region. “This kind of behavior is like a period of mourning and has been seen before. What’s extraordinary about this is the length of time.”

The adult — Tahlequah, or J35 as the whale has come to be known by researchers — and corpse were last seen definitively Thursday afternoon, 17 days after the baby’s birth. The female calf died after a few hours.

The mother, preventing the body from sinking to the ocean floor, has been carrying it and nudging it toward the surface of the Pacific off the coast of Canada and the northwestern US.
Orcas, also called killer whales, are highly social, and this pod was spotted Friday afternoon near Vancouver, British Columbia.

Another struggling female in the same pod — J50, also known as Scarlet — was shot with antibiotics to fight an infection, since scientists worry that she has been losing a frightening amount of weight.

These are grim signs. The Southern Resident population the females belong to has about 75 members, and has not had a successful birth in three years. In the last 20 years, only 25% of the babies have survived.

‘Deep feelings’ not uncommon

Scientists says grieving is common among mammals such as whales, dolphins, elephants and deer. Evidence shows the orca brain is large, complex and highly developed in areas dealing with emotions, said Lori Marino, president of the Whale Sanctuary Project.

“It’s not surprising they’re capable of deep feelings, and that’s what (Tahlequah) is showing,” Marino said. “What exactly she’s feeling we’ll never know. But the bonds between mothers and calves are extremely strong. Everything we know about them says this is grieving.”

Center for Whale Research founder Ken Balcomb said it’s “unprecedented” for an orca to keep this going for so long. He said the mother has traveled more than 1,000 miles with the corpse, which has begun to decompose.

“It is a grief, a genuine mourning,” he said.

Dwindling food source

The problem for this group of killer whales is a dwindling food supply, scientists say. Most killer whales eat a wider diet, but this particular group of about 75 resident orcas eats just salmon, which have been overfished in the area for commercial consumption. Manmade contraptions, like hydroelectric power sources, block the salmons’ path to release eggs.

Exacerbating the problem is that orcas do not have babies often or in large numbers, and when they do, it is a long process. It takes a calf a little under a year and a half to fully develop in the womb, and they nurse for another year. They must learn to swim right away, Balcomb said, and rely on their mothers for food for several years — first through nursing, then through providing fish.

“Extinction is looming,” Balcomb told CNN last month, but it is not inevitable if humans restore salmon populations and river systems in time.

https://www.cnn.com/2018/08/10/us/orca-whale-still-carrying-dead-baby-trnd/index.html


Researchers found the first known hybrid between a rough-toothed dolphin and a melon-headed whale near Kauai, Hawaii.


Rough-toothed dolphins.


Melon-headed whales.

By Jessie Yeung

Scientists from the Cascadia Research Collective have discovered a rare dolphin-whale hybrid off the coast of Kauai, Hawaii, according to a report published last week.

The marine mammal monitoring program, funded by the US Navy, first spotted the animal in August 2017. The team tagged various species, including commonly seen rough-toothed dolphins and rarer melon-headed whales.
However, researchers soon noticed that one tagged animal that looked a little odd. Although it had a typical melon-headed whale’s dorsal fin shape and dorsal cape, it was also blotchy in pigmentation and had a sloping forehead, more reminiscent of a rough-toothed dolphin.

A genetic sample soon confirmed their suspicions: it was a hybrid of the two species, the first to ever be found.The cross-species hybridization may seem bizarre, but is made possible by the fact that melon-headed whales aren’t actually whales. They belong to the Delphinidae family, otherwise known as oceanic dolphins, which also includes orcas and two species of pilot whales.

It also isn’t the first discovery of hybridization in the family
— there have also been cases of bottlenose dolphin/false killer whale (Pseudorca crassidens) hybrids, known as Wolphins, and common/bottlenose dolphin hybrids.

This is the first confirmed hybrid between rough-toothed dolphins and melon-headed whales. However, though it’s an exciting discovery, researchers point out it is not, as commonly thought, a new species.

“While hybridization can at times lead to new species, most of the time this does not happen,” Cascadia researcher Robin Baird told CNN, pointing that there was only a single hybrid found this time.

Some hybrid animals, such as the mule — a hybrid of a male donkey and female horse — are mostly sterile and therefore cannot propagate easily.

The dolphin-whale hybridization is especially surprising in this region, as a sighting of melon-headed whales had never before been confirmed near the Pacific Missile Range Facility (PMRF) navy base.

The hybrid was only traveling with one companion — a melon-headed whale. This, too was unusual, given that melon-headed whales typically travel in groups of 200-300. The solitary pair were “found associating with rough-toothed dolphins,” the report read.

The odd pair and their closeness to the other dolphins have led the researchers to speculate that the accompanying melon-headed whale is the hybrid’s mother.
The research team will return to Kauai next week, hoping to confirm their theory.

“If we were lucky enough to find the pair again, we would try to get a biopsy sample of the accompanying melon-headed whale, to see whether it might be the mother of the hybrid, as well as get underwater images of the hybrid to better assess morphological differences from the parent species,” said Baird.

The US Navy is required to monitor these species as part of the Marine Mammal Protection Act and the Endangered Species Act.

They do so through the Cascadia Research Collective, which conducts photo identification, genetic analyzes, and acoustic monitoring to determine the abundance of odontocetes, also known as toothed whales.

https://www.cnn.com/2018/07/30/us/dolphin-whale-hybrid-intl/index.html


Joe Howlett and his son, Tyler

A Canadian lobster fisherman lost his life after freeing a whale which had become tangled up in fishing gear.

Joe Howlett, from Campobello Island, New Brunswick, has saved dozens of endangered whales after they became entangled in fishing nets.

The 59-year-old had boarded a vessel off the province’s eastern coast to help rescue a north Atlantic whale which had become entangled in heavy rope.

Soon after cutting the last piece of rope from the massive whale, Mr Howlett was struck by the mammal, Mackie Green, of the Campobello Whale Rescue Team said.

“They got the whale totally disentangled and then some kind of freak thing happened and the whale made a big flip,” Mr Green, who was not on the vessel at the time, told the Toronto Star.

Mr Howlett has helped rescue around two dozen whales over the past 15 years, his family and friends said.

Days before his death, he had rescued another North Atlantic right whale in the same region.

“Joe definitely would not want us to stop because of this,” Mr Green, who co-founded the Campobello Whale Rescue Team with Mr Howlett in 2012, added.

“This is something he loved and there’s no better feeling than getting a whale untangled, and I know how good he was feeling after cutting that whale clear.”

Federal Fisheries Minister Dominic LeBlanc offered his sympathies to Mr Howlett’s family and friends.

In a statement, he said: “We have lost an irreplaceable member of the whale rescue community. His expertise and dedication will be greatly missed.”

By Drake Baer

Everybody knows that humpback whales make excellent professional wrestlers: With zero hesitation, these gentle giants will leap out of the sea, corkscrew their bodies, and then slam back into the water with 66,000 pounds of fury.

It turns out that these cetaceans aren’t just doing this to show off: According to a recent paper in Marine Mammal Science, the breaching serves as an acoustic telegram, communicating with far-off pods. It’s like how European or African peoples would send sonic signals from village to village via drum, or how wolves howl at the moon. Make a big enough splash, and the percussion speaks for itself.

As noted in the marine-life publication Hakai magazine, University of Queensland marine biologist Ailbhe S. Kavanagh and colleagues observed 76 humpback groups off the coast of Australia for 200 hours between 2010 and 2011. They found that breaching is way more common when pods are at least 2.5 miles apart, with fin- or fluke-slapping deployed when fellow whales are nearby.

The breaching probably carries better than whales’ signature songs: “They’re potentially using [these behaviors] when background noise levels are higher,” Kavanagh tells Hakai, “as the acoustic signal possibly travels better than a vocal signal would.” Given that whale songs have regional accents, you have to wonder if their aerial gymnastics have a certain patois, too.

http://nymag.com/scienceofus/2017/02/why-whales-jump-into-the-air.html

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


In 2004 Reid Brewer of the University of Alaska Southeast measured an unusual beaked whale that turned up dead in Alaska’s Aleutian Islands. A tissue sample from the carcass later showed that the whale was one of the newly identified species.

by MERRIT KENNEDY

For decades, Japanese fishermen have told stories about the existence of a dark, rare beaked whale that they called karasu — the “raven.”

But now, scientists say they have genetic proof to back up these tales. Long mistaken for its relative, the Baird’s beaked whale, scientists say it represents an entirely new species.

“There have been a lot of people out there surveying whales for a long time and never come across this in scientific research,” Phillip Morin, research molecular geneticist at the NOAA Southwest Fisheries Science Center, tells The Two-Way. “So it is a huge thing to discover this; it’s kind of baffling that we haven’t seen it before.” The team’s research was published Tuesday in Marine Mammal Science.

Japanese scientists published a paper in 2013 suggesting that three whales that washed ashore in Japan might represent a different species but concluding that the sample size was too small — that further research was needed. This got Morin’s attention.

What followed was an effort that involved people all over the world to find more samples of the mysterious new whale. It was “like a mystery, sleuthing out what these samples are and where they were,” he says.

Some samples were hidden in plain sight. A whale skull from the new species was on display at the Smithsonian, incorrectly identified as a Baird’s beaked whale. A Japanese scientist spotted it on a visit to the museum, Morin says. Also, a skeleton was found on display at an Alaska high school.


The only skeleton of the new species in the United States hangs on display in Unalaska High School, in Alaska’s Aleutian Islands. The whale was found dead in 2004, and recent tests on stored tissue samples revealed that it is one of the few known specimens of the new species.

Two others were found at the NOAA Southwest Fisheries Science Center’s collection, incorrectly labeled as Baird’s whales.

And fortuitously, a dead whale washed ashore on a remote island of St. George in Alaska’s Bering Sea after the search for new samples had already begun. National Geographic described that discovery, which happened in June 2014:

“A young biology teacher spotted the carcass half-buried in sand on a desolate windswept beach. He alerted a former fur seal researcher who presumed, at first, that she knew what they’d found: a Baird’s beaked whale, a large, gray, deep-diving creature that occasionally washes in dead with the tide.

“But a closer examination later showed that the flesh was too dark, the dorsal fin too big and floppy. The animal was too short to be an adult, but its teeth were worn and yellowed with age.”

Molin says the St. George specimen proved important because “the number of samples we have are very small.” And because it was a full-grown animal, it gave the researchers an idea about its length: only two-thirds the size of a Baird’s beaked whale as an adult.

Other differences: “It reportedly has a different shaped skull and maybe a shorter beak than a Baird’s beaked whale, relative to the shape of its head. And the dorsal fin is reported to be placed slightly differently, and differently shaped,” Morin says. They’re also “pretty cryptic” and spend a lot of time in very deep waters, he adds.


Illustration by Uko Gorter of the newly identified species of beaked whale, which is about two-thirds the size of and darker in color than the more common Baird’s beaked whale.

The mysterious whale has never been spotted alive by scientists. Traditionally, species identification involves “detailed measurements and description of a physical specimen,” Morin says. “But with whales, that’s a really difficult thing to do. And with a whale as rare as this, it’s even more difficult because we just don’t have those materials.” He explains that they’re using “genetics as a line of evidence” to prove the existence of a new species.

There were two previously known types of beaked whale — Baird’s, which resides in the Northern Hemisphere, and Arnoux’s, which lives in the Southern Hemisphere. The scientists said in their article that the two known species “share a common ancestor more recently than they do with the black form.”

And while it’s “pretty incredible” to be discovering a new animal that’s 24 feet long, it also hints at how much more in the deep ocean is left to be discovered, Morin says:

“We’re using more and more technologies to get us there — but as some people have said, we know more about the surface of the moon than we do about the bottom of the ocean. That’s a huge amount of space to investigate. … There’s all sorts of different ways we can use technologies to explore the oceans, but it’s still going to be a long process and we’re going to continue to discover things. Probably not a lot of large whales, but who knows? It wouldn’t surprise me if there were more whales that we’ve never documented before.”

http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2016/07/27/487665728/mysterious-and-known-as-the-raven-scientists-identify-new-whale-species