Posts Tagged ‘whale’


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.”

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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

While passing the west side of Juneau’s Shelter Island on Wednesday, an 18-passenger tour vessel saw more than just whales.

Audrey Benson, a naturalist with Gastineau Guiding Co., was on the tour when the crew got some news over the radio.

“We heard that there were two deer that were swimming across in the water,” Benson said. “So after we watched the whales for a bit our passengers were curious and wanted to see the deer, and so we motored over to them and it turns out there was only one.”

And it was struggling to stay above water. After a larger tour boat tried to rescue the animal a few times, it gave up. But Benson, along with the passengers and crew, decided to keep trying. They were eventually able to lasso the deer and pull it onto the boat.

“The deer was immediately bewildered and disoriented and it was shaking a lot, it was shivering a lot,” she said. “Its teeth were chattering. It tried to stand up but collapsed because it was so weak.”
The crew was able to drop the deer off at Shelter Island—but not before it tried to swim back into the water again.

“It was the craziest thing I’ve ever seen on any of my tours,” Benson said. “I mean, you never know what’s going to happen but for a deer rescue—I’ve never even been that close to a deer, I’ve never touched one—and to have an opportunity to assist this struggling animal, it was very intense.”
The other deer disappeared before the group reached it, and is presumed to have drowned.

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game said it’s very uncommon for deer to drown, adding that deer regularly swim from island to island.

With a lasso and tourists, boat saves drowning deer


This humpback whale protected a Weddell seal from killer whales by carrying it on its belly.

By Erik Stockstad

At first it seemed like the usual, deviously clever attack. Several killer whales were trying to catch a Weddell seal that had taken refuge atop a drifting patch of Antarctic ice. The orcas swam alongside each other, creating a wave that knocked the hapless pinniped into the water. Death seemed certain.

Then something amazing happened: A pair of humpback whales turned up. As the panicked seal swam toward them, a lucky wave tossed it onto the chest of the closer, upturned whale. The whale arched its chest out of the water, which kept the seal away from the charging killer whales. And when the seal started to fall off, the whale carefully pushed it back onto its chest with a flipper. Soon after that, the seal scrambled to safety on another ice floe.

“I was shocked,” recalls marine ecologist Robert Pitman, who witnessed the episode in 2009 and described it and another example in Natural History magazine that year. “It looked like they were trying to protect the seal.”

Humpback whales will vigorously defend their own calves when attacked by killer whales, of course. But after analyzing other encounters between the two species, Pitman and his colleagues conclude that humpback whales will also launch preemptive attacks on their predators. Sometimes the intent seemed to be protecting another whale’s calf. But more often, like with the Weddell seal, the humpbacks for some reason helped a different species.

When prey gang up and harass a predator, it’s known as mobbing. A flock of crows, for example, can drive away a hawk by repeatedly dive-bombing. The behavior is also known among fishes, insects, and terrestrial mammals, but it hadn’t been studied in marine mammals. Because of their large size, humpback whales don’t have to worry about many predators. Killer whales are the only species known to attack, and they target small calves. The mothers will try to scare them off with thunderous bellows. If that fails, they defend their young by smacking their massive tails or swinging their 5-meter-long, barnacle-encrusted fins.

To find out whether the seal rescue in Antarctica was unusual behavior for humpbacks, Pitman, who works for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA’s) Southwest Fisheries Science Center in San Diego, California, posted a request for information on a marine mammal listserv. He received 115 descriptions of encounters, many from commercial whale-watching trips, which sometimes included photos and videos. In 31 cases of mobbing, humpbacks approached killer whales that were already engaged in a fight. They would chase the killer whales, often bellow, and slap their fins and tails. “The humpbacks were definitely on the offense,” Pitman says. He and colleagues published their findings online this week in Marine Mammal Science.

The conclusions have convinced Phillip Clapham, a NOAA marine biologist in Seattle, Washington, who was not involved in the research. “They make a very good case that it’s a proactive response to killer whales,” he says. “I think they’re absolutely right.”

It’s not hard to imagine why humpbacks would rush to the rescue when another humpback whale is under attack. Because they migrate to and from the same breeding grounds where they were born, humpbacks are likely to encounter relatives. So a threatened calf might share some genes with a rescuer, making the apparently altruistic act of saving it somewhat self-interested.

But what about protecting other species? This happened in nearly 90% of attacks where the killer whales’ prey could be identified. “It’s pretty mysterious,” says Trevor Branch, a fisheries scientist at the University of Washington, Seattle, who has studied populations of large whales. “We tend to think of altruism as being reciprocal, but there’s no way these other species would come back and help the humpback whales.”

Pitman suspects that it is inadvertent altruism. The humpbacks might simply rush to the scene of a fight whenever they hear killer whales fighting. “I think they just have a simple rule,” Pitman says. “When you hear a killer whale attack, go break it up.” Clapham adds that the confrontations may teach the killer whales a lesson, making them think twice about messing with humpbacks.

http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2016/07/humpbacks-protect-seals-and-other-animals-killer-whales-why

By JOHN ANTCZAK

The reeking carcass of a dead humpback whale was towed back out to sea some 24 hours after washing up at a popular Los Angeles County beach Friday.

Authorities used boats pulling ropes attached to the tail to pull it off the sand during the evening high tide, taking the whale far out to sea and avoiding a foul stench and grim scene on the beach as Fourth of July weekend crowds began arriving.

Authorities had earlier attempted the procedure at midday, with a bulldozer pushing, but it was unsuccessful because of the low tide.

The huge whale washed onto Dockweiler Beach, a long stretch of sand near the west end of Los Angeles International Airport, just before 8 p.m. Thursday and holiday beachgoers began arriving in the morning.

Lifeguards posted yellow caution tape to keep people away and biologists took samples to determine what caused the death of the humpback, an endangered species. Beachgoers watching from a distance covered their noses.

Tail markings were compared with a photo database and found that the same whale had been spotted three times previously off Southern California between June and August of last year by whale watchers who gave it the nickname Wally, said Alisa Schulman-Janiger, a whale research associate with the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County.

At the time of the prior sightings the humpback was covered with whale lice, which usually means a whale is in poor physical condition, but it was also actively feeding and breaching, she said.

Schulman-Janiger said she noticed healed entanglement scars on its tail indicating that in the past it been snarled in some sort of fishing line. The carcass was in relatively good condition which meant the whale could have died as recently as Thursday morning, she said.

The whale was about 46 feet long and at least 15 years old, meaning it had reached maturity, said Justin Greenman, stranding coordinator for the National Marine Fisheries Service.

Skin and blubber samples were taken for DNA testing along with fecal matter to be tested for biotoxins.

The experts had hoped to more extensively open up the whale but due to the holiday weekend authorities decided to get it off the beach as soon as possible, Greenman said.

North Pacific humpbacks feed along the West Coast from California to Alaska during summer, according to the Marine Mammal Center, a Sausalito-based ocean conservation organization. Although the species’ numbers are extensively depleted, humpbacks have been seen with increasing frequency off California in recent years, the center’s website said.

Humpbacks, familiar to whale watchers for their habits of breaching and slapping the water, are filter feeders that consume up to 3,000 pounds of krill, plankton and tiny fish per day, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The whale that washed up is not the same one spotted earlier in the week off Southern California tangled in crab pot lines. That animal was identified as a blue whale. Efforts by a rescue crew in a small boat to cut away the line failed, and it disappeared.

California has seen a number of whales on beaches this year. A humpback carcass that appeared off Santa Cruz in May had to be towed out to sea, while a massive gray whale that ended up on San Onofre State Beach in April had to be chopped up and hauled to a landfill.

The same month, a distressed humpback was freed from crabbing gear in Monterey Bay. In March, a dead gray was removed from Torrey Pines State Beach.

http://bigstory.ap.org/1c05823a4b8445e8802662e2b9b52c67

A fifth sperm whale has been washed up on the east coast of England.

It follows the death of a beached whale in Hunstanton, Norfolk, on Friday and the discovery of three carcasses near Skegness over the weekend.

The sperm whales are believed from a pod spotted off the Norfolk coast.

The fifth whale was found at Wainfleet, Lincolnshire, on Monday afternoon, the Maritime and Coastguard Agency reported.

It was found on the site of a former bombing range, and warnings have been issued for people to stay away.

The Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust tweeted: “There is no public access to the area and it is extremely dangerous with tidal creeks and the potential for unexploded ordinance. Many of the lanes to the marshes are private and not accessible.”

Marine biologists were using a probe to examine one of the Skegness whales earlier on Monday when there was a “huge blast of air”, said BBC reporter David Sykes.

The letters CND had also been spray-painted by someone on the whale’s tail.

CND (Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament) said the action was not carried out by the organisation at a national level.

The word “fukushima” – presumably a reference to the stricken Japanese nuclear power station – was also written on the side of the whale’s body.

http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-lincolnshire-35400884