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Monday, December 14, 2009

Earthquake Kills Sperm Whales

An earthquake in the Ionian Sea occurred on Nov 3 and possibly ruptured the sinuses of a pod of sperm whales. These air sacs are necessary for echolocation and therefore the animals could not dive, feed, or navigate causing them to become disorientated and wind up in the Adriatic Sea. As a result the family group, of seven sperm whales, became too weak and were washed ashore between December 10th and 11th on the coast of Italy in the Southern Adriatic Sea. Mass strandings of sperm whales are extremely rare in the Mediterranean, and limited to ancient times. These include a stranding of 16 near Sicily in 1734, and a stranding of six occurred in the northern Adriatic Sea in 1853.

BBC

Photos

Film

Sunday, November 15, 2009

A Star is Born!

Enlarged breach
polaris

Southern resident killer whale Star/J46 was born to 16 year old Polaris/J28 on November 11th. Five babies have been born to this population this year L112, L113, J45, J44, and J46 with zero losses, good news for this Endangered species of now 87 members. Gestation takes 17 months and calves are often born in the fall and winter due to a spring and summer mating season. A firstborn calf can be stillborn due to the toxic offload of PCBs and fire retardants from their mothers, succinct offspring have a better chance at survival. Polaris' mother J17 has the newborn J45 and will assist in the raising of Star.

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Polaris J28 female b.1977

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5 calves
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Monday, November 02, 2009

New killer whale photo-ID catalog

It is the first photo-identification catalog of tropical pelagic killer whales. 195 individual killer were identified in the eastern tropical Pacific between 1986 and 2006. The catalog yields information on the geographic movement and external morphology of this little known population of killer whales.

Catalog Link

Friday, October 09, 2009

Offshore Killer Whale Consultations

Offshore Killer Whale Ecotype

In April 2009, COSEWIC re-assessed the status of the Offshore Killer Whale, changing it from special concern to threatened; it will now enter the legal listing process for potentially changing its status under SARA. At this stage, it is important for the public to learn more about the species being considered for re-listing, and to provide input before a decision is finalized.

Survey

Offshores

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Proposed Offshore Killer Whale Management Plan

Offshore Killer Whale Teeth

The offshore killer whale is a marine mammal and is under the responsibility of the federal government. The Species at Risk Act (SARA, Section 65) requires the competent minister to prepare management plans for species listed as special concern. The offshore killer whale was listed as a species of special concern under SARA in 2003. The development of this management plan was led by Fisheries and Oceans Canada – Pacific Region, in cooperation and consultation with many individuals, organizations and government agencies, as indicated below. The plan meets SARA requirements in terms of content and process (SARA sections 65-68). Success in the conservation of this species depends on the commitment and cooperation of many different constituencies that will be involved in implementing the directions set out in this plan and will not be achieved by Fisheries and Oceans Canada or any other party alone. This plan provides advice to jurisdictions and organizations that may be involved or wish to become involved in activities to conserve this species. In the spirit of the Accord for the Protection of Species at Risk, the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans invites all responsible jurisdictions and Canadians to join Fisheries and Oceans Canada in supporting and implementing this plan for the benefit of the offshore killer whale and Canadian society as a whole. The Minister will report on progress within five years.

Link - Offshore Recovery Plan

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Bere Point Eagles



The bald eagle historically ranged throughout North America and are now only found in Alaska, Canada, Florida, and the Northwest America. The bald eagle mates for life and breeds in old growth forests. During the winter these animals disperse inland to forage in rivers upon salmon. The Bald Eagle has a maximum 8-foot wingspan. Bald eagles are piebald animals, lacking pigment, resulting in a white head and tail feathers. Their beak, feet, and irises are yellow, legs are not feathered and they have short powerful toes with long talons. The front 2-hold their prey and the 3rd hind toe has the largest talon used for piercing. The body of the bald eagle is black and juveniles are brown, mottled with white.

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Threats to the eagle include noise pollution, industrial contaminates (decreasing egg shell thickness), decreased food availability, and habitat destruction. Encroaching civilization decreases these bird populations. Land development and logging also threaten the survival of salmon streams, a major food source for both birds and humans. Maintaining healthy green spaces near coastal habitats can protect these species. Using organic, biodegradable products, recycling, and decreasing our carbon footprint can all decease pollutants, thereby producing a cleaner, healthier, and more productive environment.

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the gods
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Monday, August 10, 2009

BC Summer Resident Humpbacks

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Cascadia Research SPLASH program photo-identification of BC summer resident humback whales.
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mother

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calf

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Proposed Vessel Regulations for Killer Whales

Enlarged breach

As part of the recovery program for endangered Southern Resident killer whales, NOAA Fisheries Service is proposing new rules for vessel traffic aimed at further protecting the whales in navigable waters of Washington State. The proposed rules would prohibit vessels from approaching any killer whale closer than 200 yards and forbid vessels from intercepting or parking in the path of a whale. In addition, the proposed regulations would set up a half-mile-wide no-go zone along the west side of San Juan Island from May 1 through the end of September, where generally no vessels would be allowed. There would be exemptions to the rules for some vessels, including those actively fishing commercially, cargo vessels traveling in established shipping lanes, and government and research vessels. The no-go zone would also have exemptions for treaty Indian fishing vessels, and limited exceptions for land owners accessing private property adjacent to it. The news release, proposed rule, draft environmental assessment, and other supporting documents are available, along with instructions for submitting comments. There is a 90 day public comment period and we will hold public hearings Sept. 30 in Seattle, and Oct. 5 in Friday Harbor to provide additional information on the proposed rule. Thank you for your interest.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Sonar-induced temporary hearing loss in dolphins

T. Aran Mooney, Paul E. Nachtigall1, and Stephanie Vlachos

There is increasing concern that human-produced ocean noise is adversely affecting marine mammals, as several recent cetacean mass strandings may have been caused by animals' interactions with naval ‘mid-frequency’ sonar. However, it has yet to be empirically demonstrated how sonar could induce these strandings or cause physiological effects. In controlled experimental studies, we show that mid-frequency sonar can induce temporary hearing loss in a bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus). Mild-behavioural alterations were also associated with the exposures. The auditory effects were induced only by repeated exposures to intense sonar pings with total sound exposure levels of 214 dB re: 1 ╬╝Pa2  s. Data support an increasing energy model to predict temporary noise-induced hearing loss and indicate that odontocete noise exposure effects bear trends similar to terrestrial mammals. Thus, sonar can induce physiological and behavioural effects in at least one species of odontocete; however, exposures must be of prolonged, high sound exposures levels to generate these effects.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

IWC 2009

Humpback Whales

Hi everyone,

Here is a story about the last day of this year's IWC meeting. Please use it in any way you may wish. It will be posted on our web site (www.orcalab.org) soon, along with some photos.

IWC 2009 June 23

Greenland humpbacks: to kill or not

The morning session of IWC 61 (’09) Day Two was taken up by discussion of the “future” of the IWC, and the need to continue Chairman Hogarth’s efforts to resolve the deadlock that has arisen in negotiations, i.e. the failure of wishful thinking. The meeting was presented with a draft document titled “Consensus resolution on the extension of Small Working Group on the Future of the IWC until the 62nd Annual Meeting of the Commission” and asked to approve it. Getting the issue softly out of the way would have allowed the meeting to move on to other matters, and apparently this is what Chairman Hogarth expected to happen. After all, he had virtually been assured of consensus agreement at a private (read secret) Commissioners-only meeting on Sunday. Possibly some delegates weren’t paying attention, or else second thoughts had occurred in the interim, because many voices suddenly wanted to be heard. Predictable positions emerged as plainly as ever, making it quite clear that consensus was absent in the room. India contributed its belief that the 21st century should be dedicated to the recovery of whale populations after centuries of exploitation, a sentiment shared by many. Sadly and ominously, a dour note was sounded when a proposal to delete the reference to “a strong belief in maintaining healthy populations of whales and especially in the restoration of severely reduced populations” from the resolution. If not this, what, opined one observer, is the IWC about? Fortunately, Russia provided a light moment, amiably describing the establishment of a small smoking group with some Pacific Islanders, with the intention of studying the effects of the rain on this activity.

After lunch, things became far darker. The agenda item was the report of the Aboriginal Subsistence sub-committee, but the meat of the afternoon session was in Greenland’s request to add the deaths of 10 humpback whales to the long list of cetaceans if kills annually to feed its people, and incidentally create profits for supermarket retailers and whale product wholesalers. Yes, Greenland’s aboriginal whalers are partly commercial whalers. Aboriginal subsistence needs are generally regarded sympathetically by IWC members, but humpbacks have been a much beloved iconic species for decades. Virtually anyone, including Greenlanders, who propose making humpbacks gush their life’s blood as they experience agonizing death, can expect opposition. This must have been Greenland’s expectation, because until last night, during a fun-filled reception hosted by Madeira’s government, no one (apart from the proponents) knew what was about to happen. Greenland had submitted its proposal to the Secretariat at the last possible moment yesterday, and it had not been reviewed, as is customary, by the Aboriginal Subsistence sub-committee.

Last year, when Greenland (Denmark) proposed killing humpbacks, the IWC refused permission. This time round, though the proposal is the same, i.e. 10 humpbacks to be killed each year, the outcome is far less clear. The problem lies in the decision by the group of IWC members who belong to the European Union. Even though the EU is not a member of the IWC, the group of 24 EU countries that are members decided to vote as a bloc before this year’s meeting started. Suddenly, they are immersed in a nightmare. One of them, Denmark, is the proposer; others (e.g. Sweden) want EU members to abstain, knowing perfectly well that if they do so, Greenland’s wish will be granted. Getting consensus about a common position among the EU members in this room suddenly looks about as likely as Chairman Hogarth’s prospects for getting consensus about the future direction this chaotic organization will go in.

Tomorrow, the NGOs will have a chance to speak, 3 on each side of the barrier, for 5 minutes each. Perhaps rays of light, or pearls of wisdom will descend on this room under the volcanoe. We can only hope.

With thanks to WDCS bloggers

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IWC 2009 June 24, 2009

On the edge

It became clear today that this 61st meeting of the IWC has only one substantive item on its agenda, Greenland’s attempt to obtain the Commission’s approval for killing humpback whales. Just before the afternoon session closed (it was running an hour late) Denmark announced that its request on behalf of Greenland was being reduced from 10 humpbacks per year for 3 years, to 10 humpbacks for “just” one year. Denmark seemed very pleased with the change, and expressed confidence that consensus would now occur. Possibly wanting to avoid an open dog fight, Chairman Hogarth put off debate until tomorrow morning, urging delegates to talk about it over night, and enjoy the wine at the NGO reception, being careful not to get lost on the way home. It’s not difficult to see what’s afoot here. Reliable sources say that the US has been strong arming (or charming) delegates all day, no doubt at the behest of Chairman Hogarth, who is also the head of the US delegation, telling (or asking) them to agree to Greenland’s modest proposal when it comes to the floor tomorrow morning. There seems to be a vague if not explicit threat in the message, i.e. that unless Greenland (read, whalers, aboriginal or not) gets its way, the delicate state of “future” negotiations could be in jeopardy. Well. In the first instance, everyone knows that once Greenland’s toe is in the door, the door will remain open; and beyond that, the floodgates that hide the “cultural” coastal whaling that Chairman Hogarth dreams of solving the entire IWC puzzle stand ready.

The tactics being employed are a combination of stealth and brute (or subtle) force. As noted yesterday, Denmark waited until the last possible moment to submit its resolution, and it didn’t give the Aboriginal Whaling sub-committee any clues, so the plot wasn’t even visible to most delegates until they came into the room yesterday. Just the same, wily pro-whale NGO’s, accustomed to the underhanded ways of its opposition, were ready, and immediately set about changing minds and (possible) votes. Recognising that US policy is in flux, and that President Obama has promised to base decisions on science, WDCS set up a page on its web site aimed at flooding the White House with ‘save Greenland humpbacks’ messages, hoping the US delegation would receive orders from Washington to back off. We’ll see what tomorrow brings; in the meantime, Greenland humpbacks stand at a (flensing) knife’s edge.

Speaking of NGOs, the highlight of this day occurred early on, when 6 NGOs, 3 on each side representing their respective communities, spoke to the assembled delegates. The pro-whaling speeches, from indigenous and commercial whalers, were full of heart, need, and fear. It was impossible to resist the charm of a Maori blessing, and the urgency of a Chukotka plea for understanding; nor was it easy to evade the concern felt by whalers’ families as their loved ones headed into Antarctic waters inhabited by fearsome enemies. But the combination of history, knowledge, science, logic and heartfelt concern for the dangers the oceans, the whales and our world are facing now that was provided by the pro-whale NGOs, though understated in tone, was forceful and utterly convincing. Dr. Sidney Holt, who has certainly been involved in the whaling debate far longer than anyone else in the room, announced his conclusion that the only possible way “forward” is to phase out and close down commercial and “scientific” whaling, forever. No more moratoriums or limited opportunities, just stop, period, and within 3 years of the decision being made. Given that Dr. Holt had been an ardent advocate of setting in place a system that would provide limited opportunity for whaling, while protecting vulnerable whale populations, his view provided a clean and welcome counterpoint to the messy manipulations of Chairman Hogarth. Should it be accepted, it would enable “us” to get on with what is critically important, saving endangered oceans and our precious planet.

It is interesting to note things that get the room going, united or divided. Whale watching is one such issue. It is enthusiastically endorsed by numerous IWC members, including former whaling nations who sing its praises. By one account, it is now a 2 billion dollar industry, a sum close enough to bank bailout numbers to raise interest among even die hard holdouts who cling to the belief that the only sustainable “use” whales of lies in their dead bodies. For a while this morning, it seemed possible that complaints about the benefits of whale watching flowing only to rich countries might translate into an initiative, suggested by Monaco & others, that might see whale watching know-how transferred to poorer nations which would directly benefit (and which Japan finds easy to persuade). It hasn’t happened yet, but perhaps a seed has been planted. The one thing that rocked the room and rolled everyone into the same corner, scrambling to be heard, was the issue of safety at sea, which translates into the issue of Sea Shepherd’s anti-whaling activism in the Antarctic. A video shot from the mast of a Japanese whaler, accompanied by panicky shouts from the crew, was universally accepted as evidence of blatant aggression, which soon became evidence of piracy equivalent to that now happening off Somalia; and the utter gall of the pirates’ leader, observed lounging by the pool in the hotel next door, was beyond belief. It took an hour before the steam was spent, and though in the end it was acknowledged that after 30 years of outrage, Paul Watson would probably be back for more, it was also acknowledged that the IWC was probably powerless to prevent him from returning to the Antarctic.

And so the show goes on. Surprisingly, tomorrow will probably be the last day. This belief, encouraged by Chairman Hogarth, does however rely on his expectation that consensus will occur around Greenland’s humpback goal. If he is wrong, the road ahead to the end of this meeting could be long.

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IWC 2009 June 26, 2009

So the band plays on

This 61st meeting of the International Whaling Commission began with a wonderful medley from Madeira’s Mandolin Orchestra, the oldest such in Europe. It brought back memories of a former time when families sat around the radio, imagining themselves stepping off a train into a crowded street where music played and people danced in each others arms, waltzing, round and round. What primal pleasure it evoked, entrancing the room. If only the mood had remained. Chairman Hogarth, to his credit, was choked and practically in tears at the end when he said farewell, telling everyone “I consider y’all my family” as he handed the baton on to Chile’s Commissioner, confessing that he didn’t know whether to sing or dance, and wishing him and everyone luck in the task ahead. Sadly, he forgot to mention that the task ahead is precisely that which he had in front of him when his tenure began 3 years ago; with one foot mired in mud and the other stepping onto quicksand. No-one could doubt the sincerity of Chairman Hogarth’s intentions, or his gratitude for being allowed to hold onto his job when the new US Administration took over, but the simple truth is, like so much else that came with the Bush era, and despite the standing ovation that accompanied his exit, he failed.

The morning of the last day of this shortened week provided a perfect example of the delusional state Chairman Hogarth has been in. Last night, as you’ll recall, he ducked debate over Denmark’s modified proposal to kill humpback whales, deferring the issue until today in the belief that he could wrangle consensus in a private Commissioners-only meeting first thing this morning. Not a chance. The only thing that came out of the secret confab was a decision to tell the Secretariat to spend at least £60,000 on an intercessional meeting, to be held somewhere (Santiago, it turns out) before the start of Greenland’s next harpoon season, to settle that sole issue. The £60k is just the cost to the Secretariat, and you’d have to calculate the cost of bringing representatives from scores of countries scattered around the world to Chile (because just about everyone will want to be there) to come close to the cash that will be squandered on what is quite possibly going to be a fruitless exercise. And to get anywhere near the real cost, you’d have to add in the carbon footprint, certainly huge, that will nudge the jewel that is this planet we inhabit, in the direction of Mars. As Chairman Hogarth himself might have said, it’s enough to make a grown man cry.

So all we have from this annual exercise in futility is a vague promise to keep holding hands as we wend our way towards a Shangri-la that lies in the distance as ephemeral as a desert mirage, a perfect conclusion perhaps, to a forced vacation in paradise. After all, the next stop is Morocco. As the Russian Commissioner remarked, there at least, we’ll get to see Casablanca (quite possibly humming “as time goes by”.

None of this is to say that there are not encouraging signs popping up here and there amidst the debris. Climate change is now a big deal in deliberations of the Scientific Committee, and is increasingly mentioned in debates on the floor. Moreover, the initiative of Australia to undertake a systematic programme of non-lethal research in the southern oceans, is not only endorsed by the “like-minded” community of nations, it has stated goals that have the blessing, without dissent, of the Scientific Committee. These developments clearly represent a significant step forward. Australia, bless her, is clearly willing to back the intent (to show there is a different way to do whale science than counting bodies) with serious funding. Two major research cruises, in collaboration with New Zealand and other partners are already planned for this year, and more will follow. A new path is being opened, and (dare one say it) through that path a way to the future may be found.

As Chairman Hogarth said in his last words to this fractious and fragmented body, there’s hope, hope, hope.

The live stream has ended, but you can get more information about this year's meeting from:
http://www2.wdcs.org/blog/
http://www.earthisland.org/marinemammal/index.php/eco2009

As ever, this comes with our best wishes to you all,

Paul & Helena

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Monday, May 18, 2009

BC Resident Grey Whales and Sea Otters

The following photos were taken near Flores Island, Clayoquot Sound on May 13, 2009. We encountered the same whale on two different occasions and is easily recognized by the local tour boat captains as a regular summer resident grey whale though its light coloured head and unique markings. There were other grey whales in the large outer swells and foraging in the bays off the west coast of the island but this individual seemed to prefer the more sheltered east and south sides that day.

1st Encounter (11:56)
Whale Watching
Whale Watching
Whale Watching

2nd Encounter (17:06)
Grey Whale
Grey Whale
Grey Whale


Sea otters were spotted near the area and are a successful 1960s translocation experiment from the Aleutian Islands after being hunted to extinction in British Columbia during the fur trade 1700-1800s. In 1911, an international treaty protected the sea otters allowing existing populations in Alaska to grow.

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Sea Otter
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Sea Otter

Fish farms and active heli-logging were present in Clayoquot Sound.

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Heli Logging

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Oyster Catcher

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Robson Bight salvage set to begin

Breach

At long last, the salvage of the diesel fuel tanker that fell to the bottom of Robson Bight, on August 20th 2007 is set to begin. A barge laden with salvage equipment is anchored over the site, and a 30 person crew from Mammoet Salvage, a Dutch company, and Seattle based Global Diving & Salvage, has been busily getting everything ready for the operation over the past few days. Local First Nations and NGOs are also involved, helping to monitor the sensitive environment surrounding the Ecological Reserve that was created in 1982 to protect vital orca habitat. The salvage will probably begin tomorrow (May 13th). Giant anchors have already been deployed to keep the barge in place. Today, a small remotely operated vehicle (ROV) equipped with cameras is inspecting the underwater site. Hopefully, this inspection will ensure that the tanker truck and other debris are located exactly where they were when last seen in December 2007.

Rubbing Beach

Hopefully, too, the inspection will determine that the condition of the diesel tanker truck has not deteriorated to the point where it will break apart when moved. To help avoid the possibility of a spill of diesel oil during the tricky lifting part of the operation, a metal box (yellow in the photo at http://www.orcalab.org) will first be lowered over the tanker truck, which will then be secured inside the box. A huge crane on the barge will lift the box and its deadly cargo to the surface. When the load reaches 10m below the surface, divers will inspect the box and tanker, to determine whether any diesel has leaked during the lift. If there are no leaks, the box and tanker will be hoisted onto the deck of the barge. At that point, the diesel will be pumped out of the fuel tanker into another storage tank, and everyone involved will breathe a collective sigh of relief. Weather permitting; the job of lifting will start tomorrow, beginning with a container filled with dozens of pails of hydraulic oil. If all goes well with this initial lift, the fuel truck will be hoisted to the surface the following day (Thursday) or perhaps a day later. On the surface at least, the plan is a sound one, though the operation is still complicated and unknowns may lie in the way. To guard against the possibility of an inadvertent spill of oil, booms will be deployed around the site. Everyone involved hopes they won’t be needed, and that the weather cooperates. We will let you know what happens once the salvage operation is completed. In the meanwhile, our fingers are crossed.

As ever, this comes with our best wishes to you all, Paul & Helena

Main Beach

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Grey Whale - Ship Strikes

Gray Whale Heart
Gray Whale
Gray Whale

Preliminary findings were that the 41.5' adult male
Gray whale had good body condition and had a stomach full of food (ghost shrimp and other inverebrates from a quick glance). Evidence of bruising and internal bleeding lead biologists to believe this whale likely died from blunt force trauma, such as a large ship strike.

Cascadia Research will be providing a summary of their findings on both this whale and the whale necropsied Tuesday near Birch Bay, WA which we will post in our next whale report.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Healthy Oceans

Granny / J2 & Ruffels /J1

A credible, long-term plan for any ocean region must include an increase in protected areas where specific types of industrial activity are limited. Canada has the longest coastline of any nation on Earth, and 40 per cent of our jurisdictional area is ocean, yet the federal government has set aside less than one per cent of that as marine protected areas. - Dr. David Suzuki


Steller Sea Lion

Healthy Oceans

Pizza Point