Minke whales in the North Sea


This video from Australia is called MEET The MINKE WHALES.

Ecomare museum on Texel island in the Netherlands reports about minke whales, photographed near the Dogger Bank in the North Sea.

Biologists estimate there are about 9,000 minke whales in the North Sea, especially its northern parts.

Whale-watching in Australia, war in the Falklands


This video from Australia is called Migaloo the White Whale Encounter.

By Peter Frost in Britain:

How to start a war and win an election

Friday 4th July 2014

Whale-watching in Australia leads PETER FROST to a forgotten story of a deception that led to the Falkland’s war

A year or so ago Ann and I spent time in Australia driving down the east coast in a motor-home. Highlight of the trip was watching the many whales from the headlands and beaches.

It was there we heard tales of a pure white humpback whale. It was a hard story to swallow, but the rumours of this great white whale had gone up and down the coast for over 25 years.

Now, it seems, the stories are proved true. Migaloo — his aboriginal name means White Fella — has been spotted and photographed close to Sydney and this has enabled whale scientists to discover a lot more about this amazing animal.

Migaloo is one of the few albino humpbacks in the world. Sadly as an albino he is more susceptible to UV damage in the bright Australian sunshine than darker humpbacks.

Indeed Migaloo watchers are worried about the 28-year-old whale’s health. Healthy humpbacks can live for 50 years but yellow and red patches on Migaloo’s skin suggest he may have skin disease or even cancer.

Humpbacks do bump into each other at play or when jostling for position when mating and it may be this that has caused the whale’s skin damage.

Meanwhile Migaloo is being studied and looked after. Watercraft are not allowed within 500 metres, aircraft no closer than 2,000 feet.

Watching these monarchs of the ocean prompted us to take a look at the history of British and Australian whaling.

We visited the old whaling station ports of Ballina and Byron Bay to learn a little about this huge, if cruel, industry.

The need for food fats in post-war Europe was critical. In the 1950s and 1960s Australia built a huge fleet of ex-wartime wooden Fairmile motor torpedo boats to hunt and kill thousands of whales. The whale oil was almost entirely used for the British margarine trade.

Scottish “Ten pound Pom” Harry Robertson recorded this hard life in song and story and on an amazing website brings this history alive — www.harryrobertson.net.

The Australian whaling fleet also ventured into Antarctic waters as competitors to the vast Scottish whaling company Christian Salvesen which built several hugely profitable whaling stations in the southern oceans — the first in the Falklands in 1907 and then another on the island of South Georgia. Their station at Leith Harbour, South Georgia, was named after the company’s home port in Scotland.

It was to South Georgia that Constantino Davidoff — an Argentinian scrap dealer — came in March 1982. He had a £180,000 contract from Christian Salvesen to dismantle the company’s derelict whaling station.

At the end of 1981 Davidoff had sought approval from the British ambassador in Buenos Aires. He had also spoken to the Falkland Island authorities.

Margaret Thatcher in London thought this might make a great excuse to flex her muscles in the South Atlantic. She declared the scrap metal workers were the advance party of an Argentinian invasion of South Georgia and told the press that the scrap-men had planted the Argentinian flag and were singing the Argentinian national anthem.

Thatcher despatched marines from the Falkland Islands and 39 scrap metal workers were detained. Argentina sent its troops to rescue them and landed in the Falkland Islands.

Two previously friendly countries were at war over a scrap of unwanted land 8,000 miles from London and 900 people would die before Argentina surrendered on June 14 1982.

Thatcher and the Tories would storm home in the 1983 general election and that, of course, was the whole point of the exercise.

In an ultimate irony, British forces contracted Argentinian scrap dealers to clear away the post-war debris of the many Falkland battles.

Kangaroos need their tails, new research


This video is called Kangaroo Walking.

From Wildlife Extra:

A fifth leg helps kangaroos walk

Red kangaroos may be one of nature’s best hoppers, able to lope along at speeds of up to 12 miles an hour on their hind legs, while their two front legs seem to dangle obsolete.

But when they are grazing or walking, which is actually most of the time, not only do they need those front legs but also their tail, which a new study has dubbed their fifth limb.

“We found that when a kangaroo is walking, it uses its tail just like a leg,” said study author Associate Professor Maxwell Donelan of Simon Fraser University in Canada.

“They use it to support, propel and power their motion. In fact, they perform as much mechanical work with their tails as we do with one of our legs.”

When grazing on grass red kangaroos, which are the largest of the kangaroo species in Australia, move both hind feet forward “paired limb” style, while working their tails and front limbs together to support and move their bodies.

“They appear to be awkward and ungainly walkers when one watches them moseying around in their mobs looking for something to eat,” said co-author Associate Professor Rodger Kram.

“But it turns out it is not really that awkward, just weird. We went into this thinking the tail was primarily used like a strut, a balancing pole, or a one-legged milking stool.

“What we didn’t expect to find was how much power the tails of the kangaroos were producing.

“It was pretty darn surprising.”

However when the roos are in their faster, hopping gait the tail returns to being a dynamic, springy counterbalance.

Australian armed forces bishop charged with child abuse


This video is called Australia: bishop charged with abuse.

From the Australian Broadcasting Corporation:

Catholic Bishop Max Davis charged with sex offence dating back to 1969

Updated Mon 30 Jun 2014, 2:24pm AEST

The Bishop of the Australian Defence Force has been charged with a sex offence dating back to 1969.

Bishop Max Davis is believed to be the most senior clergyman in the Catholic Church, and the first bishop, to be charged with a child sex offence.

The 68-year-old is due to appear in Perth Magistrate’s Court on July 25, charged with three counts of indecent treatment of a child under 14.

The alleged incident took place when Bishop Davis was teaching at St Benedict’s College in New Norcia, north-east of Perth. …

According to The Catholic Weekly, Bishop Davis grew up in Perth and was ordained in 1971.

He is one of a long line of military bishops to have served the Defence Forces.

He was in the Navy in the early 60s, according to the weekly. He has been Australia’s military bishop since 2003.

Lionfish hunt together, share food equally


This video is called Zebra Lionfish (Dendrochirus zebra).

From New Scientist:

Zoologger: The fish that kill with special-ops signals

25 June 2014 by Michael Slezak

Species: Dendrochirus zebra

Habitat: Hanging out in the Great Barrier Reef and Indonesia; waging war in Caribbean reefs

It is night-time on the reef. With its Fu Manchu moustache and weed-like fins a lionfish blends into the swaying seaweed.

Spotting a school of little fish swimming slowly through the coral, the lionfish quickly scans around for hungry accomplices. Swimming to them one-by-one it gives a quick wiggle of its tail fin and then a slow undulating wave of its pectoral fins. The accomplices respond with a simple wave of their pectoral fins. The hunt is on.

Together the gang approach the fish, which don’t seem to see the lionfish even from up close. Using their fan-like fins they herd the prey into a corner before taking it in turns to dart into the school, each time swallowing their meal whole. Their bellies full, the conspirators part ways into the tropical night.

Invisible fish

Lionfish are venemous, and have few natural predators. They are also so adept at camouflage that Oona Lönnstedt at James Cook University in Townsville, Australia, and colleagues recently showed that they seem to be invisible to their prey. In fact, when hunting alone, they convince their prey to swim into their mouths by blowing a stream of water towards them.

But it turns out that they have another trick up their sleeves: very good communication skills.

Studying lionfish both in the lab and on the Great Barrier Reef, Lönnstedt and colleagues found that the fish sometimes conducted a distinctive fin display. Whenever there was another lionfish nearby, the fish that spotted the prey used this signal and up to four other lionfish responded and joined in the hunt.

The signal was only seen prior to a group hunt, which suggests it is a method of communication – a kind of special operations signalling with their fins. “As an intentional signal, it’s very rare. It implies that there’s a complex cognitive ability in fish,” Lönnstedt says.

All fish are equal

Lönnstedt also found that group hunts were more fruitful than solo efforts. The lionfish also shared the food completely evenly. “That blew our minds,” she says. “That’s the first time that’s been proven in animals. Usually lions or hyenas will catch prey and share it hierarchically. The top animal takes the lion’s share, so to speak.”

Group foraging and hunting have been seen in all sorts of animals, from chimpanzees to bees and eels. But very little has been done into how it is triggered, says Amanda Ridley from the University in Western Australia in Perth. “We have scores of papers about cooperation, but we don’t know how they do it,” she says. “This paper has nicely encapsulated the fin display. It goes to the other and says ‘hey how about it, let’s go fish together’.”

Journal reference: Biology Letters, DOI: 10.1098/rsbl.2014.0281

Correction, 26 June 2014: When this article was first published, we mistakenly described Dendrochirus zebra as an invasive species.

See also here. And here.

Fish’s intelligence and feelings of pain, new research


This 2010 video from the USA is called Dr. Jonathan Balcombe on Individuality in Fish.

From Wildlife Extra:

Researcher finds that fish are intelligent and feel pain like humans

New research suggests that fish are, in fact, far more intelligent than many previously believed.

They have very good memories, live in complex social communities where they keep track of individuals, and can learn from one another. This helps to develop stable cultural traditions.

Fish even recognise themselves and others. They also cooperate with one another and show signs of Machiavellian intelligence, such as cooperation and reconciliation. They build complex structures, are capable of using tools, and use the same methods for keeping track of quantities as humans do.

These findings, published by Culum Brown of Macquarie University in Australia in the journal Animal Cognition, argue that more consideration should be given to fish welfare and anti-cruelty issues.

For the most part the primary senses of fish are just as good, says Brown, and in many cases better than those of humans.

Their behaviour is very much the same as that of primates, except that fish do not have the ability to imitate.

The Australian researcher believes that most people rarely think about fish other than as food, or as pets.

However, they are second only to mice in terms of the numbers used in scientific research, and more than 32,000 known species of fish far outweigh the diversity of all other vertebrates combined.

Very little public concern – which is so important to inform policy – is ever noted about fish welfare issues.

Brown says this relates to incorrect perceptions about the intelligence of fish, and ultimately of whether they are conscious. Such attitudes are also influenced because humans rarely come into contact with fish in their natural environments.

Brown’s review focused especially on bony fish. The level of mental complexity they displayed he found to be on a par with most other vertebrates, and there is mounting evidence that they can feel pain in a manner similar to humans.

While the brains of fish differ from other vertebrates, they have many analogous structures that perform similar functions. Brown concludes that if any animals are sentient, fish must be considered to be so, too.

“Although scientists cannot provide a definitive answer on the level of consciousness for any non-human vertebrate, the extensive evidence of fish behavioural and cognitive sophistication and pain perception suggests that best practice would be to lend fish the same level of protection as any other vertebrate,” concludes Brown, who acknowledges that such a move has implications for the fishing industry, among others.

“We should therefore include fish in our ‘moral circle’ and afford them the protection they deserve.”

This video is called Orange-Dotted Tuskfish Uses Tool.

Cichlid fish memory lasts for days, not seconds: here.