North Pacific right whale seen near Canada


This video says about itself:

Sep 2, 2010

A compilation of the Earth’s most endangered species, from the North Pacific Right Whale (Eubalaena japonica) to Lonesome George, the last surviving Pinta Island Tortoise.

From Wildlife Extra:

North Pacific right whale spotted off British Columbia for the first time for 60 years

Rare whale sighted off British Columbia coast

June 2013. For the first time in more 60 years, a North Pacific right whale has been spotted in British Columbia waters. Fisheries and Oceans Canada biologist James Pilkington made the discovery while surveying for whales off the west coast of Haida Gwaii on June 9, 2013. Pilkington and fellow Fisheries and Oceans Canada whale biologists John Ford and Graeme Ellis observed the whale for a total of 17 hours over the next few days as it foraged on zooplankton at the surface.

Only 6 sightings, and all were killed by whalers

Sightings of these whales are extremely rare – there are only six records of the species in Canadian waters over the past century, and all were killed by whalers; the last in 1951. Fewer than 50 individuals are thought to currently exist in the eastern North Pacific Ocean. North Pacific right whales are listed as Endangered in Canada.

Disbelief

“When we realized what we were looking at, we were in a state of disbelief” said Pilkington. “I never thought I’d see a North Pacific right whale in my lifetime, let alone have the opportunity to study it over several days. I was ecstatic!”

Nearly extinct

North Pacific right whales are large baleen whales that were once commonly found in British Columbia waters, most likely for feeding on their preferred prey, tiny copepods (zooplankton). They were abundant from the British Columbia coast north to the Gulf of Alaska and Bering Sea before being decimated by whaling. Nineteenth-century whalers preferred this species because they were large, slow swimming, and floated when killed. They were hunted to near extinction before 1900. Most remaining individuals were killed by illegal whaling in the 1960s. Today, the North Pacific right whale is one of the most critically endangered whale species in the world. It is estimated that there may only be a few hundred alive today, mostly in the western North Pacific.

“This is a very exciting discovery. Our research group has conducted over 50,000 km of whale surveys off the BC coast over the past 10 years and have sighted thousands of whales, but this is the first North Pacific right whale. It was wonderful to see it and to confirm that the species still exists in Canadian waters” said Dr. John Ford, head of the Cetacean Research Program at DFO’s Pacific Biological Station in Nanaimo, BC.

The North Pacific right whale is protected by the federal Species at Risk Act (SARA). It is also protected under the Marine Mammals Regulations, which fall under the Fisheries Act. A Recovery Strategy for the North Pacific right whale was prepared by DFO in 2011, and an Action Plan to implement the recommendations in the Recovery Strategy is currently in preparation.

Considered the rarest whale population in the world, the North Pacific right whale is not often spotted. But for the second time since 1951, the majestic creature was seen in B.C. waters: here.

Fin whale killed by ship strike off Washington: here.

Sperm whales off Scotland


This video says about itself:

A baby sperm whale learns to swim alone while its mother hunts deep below.

From Wildlife Extra:

A pod of five sperm whales sighted inshore off North West Scotland

Giants of the sea enjoy Scotland’s warming waters

February 2013. An extraordinary winter sighting of five Sperm whales off the coast of North West Scotland this week could be a reflection of climate change and warming sea temperatures, says a leading marine scientist.

The Sperm whales – one of the true giants of the oceans – were first seen by creel fishermen between Loch Torridon and South Rona on Monday. They initially thought they were Humpback whales and alerted boat operator Nick Davies from Hebridean Whale Cruises, based at Gairloch, who is involved in a project collecting cetacean (whale, dolphin and porpoise) data for Sea Watch.

First sighting

He went out to the location, and when he arrived was astonished to recognise Sperm whales diving together for food – the first time he has ever seen them.

Dr Peter Evans, director of marine conservation research charity Sea Watch, was able to confirm the sighting from his photographs and says: ” In past decades, most records of Sperm whales in British waters have been of lone adult males around Scotland mainly off the Northern Isles and the Hebrides. Increasingly, however, adolescent males have occurred in our waters, sometimes in groups of 5-10 individuals.

Inshore

“Sightings of groups of Sperm whales have tended to occur mainly in summer so this winter sighting of a group is notable not just for the time of year but for its inshore location. The species normally lives in waters of 1,000 metres or more depth, beyond the continental shelf edge. Here they have sought out the deepest area of NW Scotland – the Inner Sound.”

“The increased occurrence of winter sightings in Scottish waters could be a reflection of climate change, with their main prey, squid, becoming more abundant locally in recent years, resulting in animals staying through the winter to feed rather than travelling into lower warmer latitudes.”

Sperm whales

Sperm whales are amongst the largest mammal species in the world. Adult males can weigh in at up to 45 tonnes – the iconic London Routemaster double decker bus weighs less than 8 tons, unladen!

Nick Davies explains: “I was excited at the prospect of Humpback whales, but never expected to see Sperm whales.

“When I was about 8-9 miles away I could see their spouts – it looked like a flotilla of yachts and as I got nearer it was obvious from their flukes (tails), that they were Sperm whales. There was one enormous animal and four smaller ones, and they were synchronised diving, going down for 30 minutes or so at a time.

“Fishermen have been telling me that for the past four or five years they have been seeing increasing amounts of squid in their nets, and it seems that this was perfect for the Sperm whale.”

The sightings, made on Monday February 18th were in waters one mile east of Caol Rona in the Inner Sound between the islands of Rona and Raasay – close to an area where the in-shore waters are at their deepest at 1,000 ft.

Sperm whale ID

Sea Watch is now analysing Nick’s photographs to see if they can be match the tail fluke markings in the trailing edge to any individuals included in a North Atlantic catalogue of individuals photographed from locations as far apart as the Azores and Madeira to Iceland and Norway. Matching of individuals between locations gives us a better idea of the movements of this wide-ranging species. Individuals have already been matched between the Azores and Norway (Andenes and Tromsø). And in 1997, a photo image from Andenes matched a male stranded on the west coast of Ireland.

According to Sea Watch’s national database, there have been just 94 separate sightings in British waters since 1974, with the largest group on record being of 20 animals seen off Mousa in the Shetland Islands in 2007.

Sperm whale facts

Length: Newborn calves are 3.5-4.0m long. Adult females are 8.3-11.0(15.0)m 27.4- 36.3(49.5)ft and can weigh up to 14 tons. Males grow to around 11.0-15.8(20.5) m / 36.3-52.1(67.6) ft (adult male) and can weigh 35-45 tonnes.
Head: The sperm whale has a huge square head (up to one-third total length in male), and under-slung lower jaw.
Fin and Markings: No fin but distinct triangular or dorsal hump two-thirds along body, followed by spinal ridge. Corrugations on skin gives the sperm whale a shrivelled appearance. Dark brown or grey in colour.
ID: The bushy blow of a sperm whale is directed forwards and to left – 1.5-5.0m high; the species may lie log-like on the surface; broad, triangular and deeply notched tail flukes thrown into air.
Lives: up to 70 years.
Feeds: on squid, octopus and other fish.

February 2013. The ships of the Sea Shepherd Society, currently in the southern ocean doing their best to disrupt and halt the Japanese whalers, have clashed with the Japanese whaling factory ship, the Nisshin Maru: here.

Scientists are delving deep into the travels of whales – thanks to high-tech tracking devices – to try to help protect them: here.

Humpback whales, new research


This video is called Humpback Whale Song.

From Wildlife Extra:

How many Humpback whales were there before whaling?

How many Humpbacks are “enough” for the North Atlantic?

February 2013. Building on previous genetic analyses to estimate the pre-whaling population of North Atlantic Humpback whales, a research team has found that Humpbacks used to exist in numbers of more than 100,000 individuals. The new, more accurate estimate is lower than previously calculated but still two to three times higher than pre-whaling estimates based on catch data from whaling records.

Humpbacks are widespread across the world

Known for its distinctively long pectoral fins, acrobatics, and haunting songs, the Humpback whale occurs in all the world’s oceans. Current estimates for Humpback whale numbers are widely debated, but some have called for the level of their international protection to be dropped.

“We’re certain that Humpback whales in the North Atlantic have significantly recovered from commercial whaling over the past several decades of protection, but without an accurate size estimate of the pre-whaling population, the threshold of recovery remains unknown,” said Dr. Kristen Ruegg of Stanford University and the lead author of the study. “We now have a solid, genetically generated estimate upon which future work on this important issue can be based.”

“Our current challenge is to explain the remaining discrepancy between the historical catch data and the population estimate generated by genetic analyses,” said Dr. Howard Rosenbaum, study co-author and Director of the Wildlife Conservation Society‘s Ocean Giants Program. “The gap highlights the need for continued evaluations of whale populations, and how this latest information could be considered in management objectives.”

“We have spent a great deal of effort refining the techniques and approaches that give us this pre-whaling number,” said Dr. Steve Palumbi of Stanford. “It’s worth the trouble because genetic tools give one of the only glimpses into the past we have for whales.”

Humpbacks reduced to just a few hundred animals in North Atlantic

Reaching some 50 feet in length, the Humpback whale was hunted for centuries by commercial whaling fleets in all the world’s oceans. Humpbacks had predictable migration routes and were reduced to several hundred whales in the North Atlantic. The global population was reduced by possibly 90 percent of its original size. The species received protection from the International Whaling Commission in North Atlantic waters in 1955 due to the severity of its decline.

Remarkable comeback

Since that time, the Humpback whales of the North Atlantic have made a remarkable comeback; experts estimate the current size of the North Atlantic’s Humpback whale population to be more than 17,000 animals. North Atlantic Humpback whales are now one of the best-studied populations of great whales in the world and the mainstay of a multi-million dollar whale-watching industry.

Pre-whaling esimates

But estimating the number of whales that existed prior to commercial whaling is a far more difficult problem, critical in determining when the total population has recovered. Historical catch data from the logs of whaling vessels suggest a population size between 20,000-46,000 whales, but the current genetic analysis indicates a much larger pre-whaling population. The results of the genetic analysis indicate that the North Atlantic once held between 45,000-235,000 Humpback whales (with an average estimate of 112,000 animals).

A previous study using the mitochondrial DNA of Humpbacks in the North Atlantic suggested a higher pre-whaling population size; an average of 240,000 individuals. To increase the accuracy of the current analysis, the team measured nine segments in the DNA sequences throughout the genome (as opposed to just one DNA segment used in the previous study).

Palumbi, who participated in the first Humpback genetic analysis, added: “The International Whaling Commission reviewed the results of the first study and recommended we improve the method in six specific ways. We’ve done that now and have the best-ever estimate of ancient Humpback populations.”

Scott Baker, Associate Director of Oregon State University‘s Marine Mammal Institute and a co-author said: “These genetic estimates greatly improve our understanding of the genetic diversity of Humpback whales, something we need to understand the impact of past hunting and to manage whales in the uncertain future.”

Genetic analysis

The research team analyzed genetic samples from whales in the North Atlantic as well as the Southern Hemisphere. Southern Atlantic whales were used to answer one of the six IWC questions: was there intermixing of whale populations across the equator? The samples were analyzed by sequencing specific regions of DNA in known genes. By comparing the genetic diversity of today’s population to the genetic mutation rate, Ruegg and colleagues could estimate the long-term population size of Humpbacks. They also showed no substantial migration of Humpbacks whales across the Equator between the Southern and Northern Atlantic, and no movement from the Pacific to the Atlantic.

The team recently used the same techniques to estimate pre-whaling numbers for the Pacific Gray whale and the Antarctic Minke whale. A difference of two to three times also was recorded between the genetic and catch estimates for the grey whale population, but were exactly on target for the Antarctic Minke whale, which has not been extensively hunted.

Scientists from Stanford University, the Wildlife Conservation Society, the American Museum of Natural History, and others worked on the study: How many Humpbacks are “enough” for the North Atlantic?

The study appears in the recently published edition of Conservation Genetics. The authors include: Kristen Ruegg and Stephen Palumbi of Stanford University; Howard C. Rosenbaum of the Wildlife Conservation Society and the American Museum of Natural History; Eric C. Anderson of the National Marine Fisheries Service and University of California-Santa Cruz; Marcia Engel of the Instituto Baleia Jubarte/Humpback Whale Institute, Brazil; Anna Rothschild of AMNH’s Sackler Institute for Comparative Genomics; and C. Scott Baker of Oregon State University.

Whales benefit from action on ocean noise: here.