Identifying individual humpback whales


This 6 January 2020 video says about itself:

How to Identify Individual Whales

Through a number of clues, wildlife filmmaker Tom Mustill is determined to find the whale that breached on his kayak in a viral moment.

How prehistoric whales fed, new research


This 2014 video says about itself:

Morphed: When Whales had Legs

Examine the environmental pressures that turned a wolflike creature that hunted in shallow waters into a leviathan of the seas. We witness the ancient turning points in the whales’ evolutionary journey, and how the ice age became its unlikely savior.

From Nagoya University in Japan:

A ‘pivotal’ moment for understanding whale evolution

January 9, 2020

Scientists could soon better investigate the feeding behaviors of extinct dolphin and whale species. A third-year student at Japan’s Nagoya University has found that the range of motion offered by the joint between the head and neck in modern-day cetaceans, a group of marine mammals that also includes porpoises, accurately reflects how they feed. The authors of the study, published in the Journal of Anatomy, suggest this method could help overcome current limitations in extrapolating the feeding behaviors of extinct cetaceans.

Taro Okamura of Nagoya University and Shin-ichi Fujiwara of the Nagoya University Museum examined the skulls and cervical skeletons of 56 cetaceans that are still in existence, representing 30 different species. They assessed the range of motion of the ‘atlanto-occipital joint’ in each skeleton, a joint that forms between the base of the skull and the first cervical vertebra. They then categorized each cetacean according to their well-studied feeding behaviors, including how they approach their prey, move it within their oral cavities, and swallow it.

“We found that the range of neck-head flexibility strongly reflects the difference of feeding strategies among whales and dolphins,” says Okamura. “This index can be easily applied to reconstruct the feeding strategies of extinct whales and dolphins,” he adds.

Cetaceans are known for their diverse behaviors, physiologies, ecologies and diets. Some cetaceans feed on organisms in the open water, while others feed on those found near the ocean floor. Some whales are ram feeders, widely opening their mouths to gather zooplankton and other actively swimming organisms into their mouths while moving forward. Other whales, like the sperm whale, suction their prey into their oral cavities. The orca whale and some dolphins bite the fish they catch into smaller segments, a process that may require head movement. Other dolphins swallow their prey whole.

Until now, scientists have used the structures of teeth, throat bones and lower jaws in cetacean fossils to develop an idea of what their feeding behaviors might have looked like. But these individual features can’t accurately predict the behaviors of extinct cetaceans. For example, the teeth of some suction feeders, like those of the sperm whale, aren’t suggestive of this kind of feeding. Okamura and Fujiwara propose that using a combination of features, which include the range of motion of the atlanto-occipital joint, could help to develop more accurate descriptions of extinct cetacean feeding behaviors.

In prehistoric times, many different types of cetaceans existed, including ones with walrus-like tusks, extremely long snouts, and an ancient sperm whale with huge predatory teeth. The ancient baleen whale had teeth, whereas modern-day baleen whales have ‘baleen’, or fringed plates, in their place. This has created much interest in how baleen whale feeding, for example, has evolved from catching prey with teeth to filtering it with baleen.

The two researchers next plan to determine the atlanto-occipital joint range of motion in some of these cetacean fossils to attempt to develop reconstructions of how they used to feed. Answering these questions could help reveal the evolutionary process of the diverse feeding behaviors among cetaceans.

Beached whales saved by New Zealanders


This 3 January 2020 New Zealand TV video says about itself:

Hundreds of beachgoers race to save pilot whales stranded in Coromandel

Seven of the pilot whales were successfully re-floated and four died.

Translated from Dutch NOS radio today:

Rescue workers and hundreds of residents and vacationers kept the whales wet until they could be led back to deeper water when the tide was high.

A total of ten [eleven] pilot whales washed ashore on the beach of the Coromandel peninsula of the North Island. Three [no, four] animals did not survive that. They were buried on the beach.

Prehistoric whales, new discovery


This 2014 video is called Evolution of Whales Animation.

From PLOS:

A new early whale, Aegicetus gehennae, and the evolution of modern whale locomotion

New whale represents an intermediate stage between foot-powered and tail-powered swimming

December 11, 2019

A newly discovered fossil whale represents a new species and an important step in the evolution of whale locomotion, according to a study published December 11, 2019 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Philip Gingerich of the University of Michigan and colleagues.

The fossil record of whale evolution tracks the transition from land-dwelling ancestors to ocean-dwelling cetaceans. Protocetids are a group of early whales known from the Eocene Epoch of Africa, Asia, and the Americas. While modern whales are fully aquatic and use their tails to propel themselves through the water, most protocetids are thought to have been semi-aquatic and swam mainly with their limbs. In this study, Gingerich and colleagues describe a new genus and species of protocetid, Aegicetus gehennae.

The new whale was discovered in 2007 in the Wadi Al Hitan World Heritage Site in the Western Desert of Egypt. It is the youngest-known protocetid, dating to around 35 million years ago, and is known from one exceptionally complete skeleton and a partial second specimen, making it among the best-preserved ancient whales. Compared with earlier whales, it has a more elongated body and tail, smaller back legs, and lacks a firm connection between the hind legs and the spinal column. These adaptations indicate an animal that was more fully aquatic and less of a foot-powered swimmer than its ancestors.

The body shape of Aegicetus is similar to that of other ancient whales of its time, such as the famous Basilosaurus. These animals appear to be well-adapted for swimming through undulation of the mid-body and the tail, somewhat as crocodiles swim today. The authors suggest that an undulatory swimming style might represent a transitional stage between the foot-powered swimming of early whales and the tail-powered swimming of modern whales.

The authors add: “Early protocetid whales living 47 to 41 million years ago were foot-powered swimmers, and later basilosaurid and modern whales — starting about 37 million years ago — were tail-powered swimmers. The late protocetid Aegicetus was intermediate in time and form, and transitional functionally in having the larger and more powerful vertebral column of a tail-powered swimmer.”

See also here.

Blue whales’ hearts, new research


This 25 November 2019 video from the USA says about itself:

Stanford researchers report first recording of blue whale heart rate.

From Stanford University in the USA:

First recording of a blue whale’s heart rate

November 25, 2019

Summary: With a lot of ingenuity and a little luck, researchers monitored the heart rate of a blue whale in the wild. The measurement suggests that blue whale hearts are operating at extremes — and may limit the whale’s size.

Encased in a neon orange plastic shell, a collection of electronic sensors bobbed along the surface of the Monterey Bay, waiting to be retrieved by Stanford University researchers. A lunchbox-sized speck in the vast waters, it held cargo of outsized importance: the first-ever recording of a blue whale‘s heart rate.

This device was fresh off a daylong ride on Earth’s largest species — a blue whale. Four suction cups had secured the sensor-packed tag near the whale’s left flipper, where it recorded the animal’s heart rate through electrodes embedded in the center of two of the suction feet. The details of this tag’s journey and the heart rate it delivered were published Nov. 25 in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“We had no idea that this would work and we were skeptical even when we saw the initial data. With a very keen eye, Paul Ponganis — our collaborator from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography — found the first heart beats in the data,” said Jeremy Goldbogen, assistant professor of biology in the School of Humanities Sciences at Stanford and lead author of the paper. “There were a lot of high fives and victory laps around the lab.”

Analysis of the data suggests that a blue whale’s heart is already working at its limit, which may explain why blue whales have never evolved to be bigger. The data also suggest that some unusual features of the whale’s heart might help it perform at these extremes. Studies like this add to our fundamental knowledge of biology and can also inform conservation efforts.

“Animals that are operating at physiological extremes can help us understand biological limits to size,” said Goldbogen. “They may also be particularly susceptible to changes in their environment that could affect their food supply. Therefore, these studies may have important implications for the conservation and management of endangered species like blue whales.”

Penguins to whales

A decade ago, Goldbogen and Ponganis measured the heart rates of diving emperor penguins in Antarctica’s McMurdo Sound. For years after, they wondered whether a similar task could be accomplished with whales.

“I honestly thought it was a long shot because we had to get so many things right: finding a blue whale, getting the tag in just the right location on the whale, good contact with the whale’s skin and, of course, making sure the tag is working and recording data,” said Goldbogen.

The tag performed well on smaller, captive whales, but getting it near a wild blue whale’s heart is a different task. For one thing, wild whales aren’t trained to flip belly-up. For another, blue whales have accordion-like skin on their underside that expands during feeding, and one such gulp could pop the tag right off.

“We had to put these tags out without really knowing whether or not they were going to work,” recalled David Cade, a recent graduate of the Goldbogen Lab who is a co-author of the paper and who placed the tag on the whale. “The only way to do it was to try it. So we did our best.”

Cade stuck the tag on his first attempt and, over time, it slid into a position near the flipper where it could pick up the heart’s signals. The data it captured showed striking extremes.

When the whale dove, its heart rate slowed, reaching an average minimum of about four to eight beats per minute — with a low of two beats per minute. At the bottom of a foraging dive, where the whale lunged and consumed prey, the heart rate increased about 2.5 times the minimum, then slowly decreased again. Once the whale got its fill and began to surface, the heart rate increased. The highest heart rate — 25 to 37 beats per minutes — occurred at the surface, where the whale was breathing and restoring its oxygen levels.

An elastic heart

This data was intriguing because the whale’s highest heart rate almost outpaced predictions while the lowest heart rate was about 30 to 50 percent lower than predicted. The researchers think that the surprisingly low heart rate may be explained by a stretchy aortic arch — part of the heart that moves blood out to the body — which, in the blue whale, slowly contracts to maintain some additional blood flow in between beats. Meanwhile, the impressively high rates may depend on subtleties in the heart’s movement and shape that prevent the pressure waves of each beat from disrupting blood flow.

Looking at the big picture, the researchers think the whale’s heart is performing near its limits. This may help explain why no animal has ever been larger than a blue whale — because the energy needs of a larger body would outpace what the heart can sustain.

Now, the researchers are hard at work adding more capabilities to the tag, including an accelerometer, which could help them better understand how different activities affect heart rate. They also want to try their tag on other members of the rorqual whale group, such as fin whales, humpbacks and minke whales.

“A lot of what we do involves new technology and a lot of it relies on new ideas, new methods and new approaches,” said Cade. “We’re always looking to push the boundaries of how we can learn about these animals.”

Additional Stanford co-authors include graduate students Max Czapanskiy, James Fahlbusch, William Gough and Shirel Kahane-Rapport and postdoctoral fellow Matt Savoca. Ponganis is senior author of the paper and additional co-authors are from Cascadia Research Collective; the University of California, Santa Cruz; and Scripps Institution of Oceanography. Goldbogen is also a member of Stanford Bio-X.

This research was funded by the Office of Naval Research, a Terman Fellowship from Stanford University and the John B. McKee Fund at Scripps Institution of Oceanography.

Humpback whales, orcas off Russia


This 19 November 2019 video says about itself:

In the sea of Okhotsk, off Russia’s eastern coast, two types of whales are making a comeback: humpback whales and orcas. Both are drawn here in the summer to feast on the plentiful herring.

Humpback whales in the South Atlantic have recovered from near-extinction. A new count shows the population off Brazil went from about 450 in the 1950s to 25,000 now: here.

NATO kills 18 Baltic Sea porpoises


This 6 July 2018 video says about itself:

With only 500 animals left, the Baltic harbor porpoises have been declared critically endangered. Being killed as bycatch in fishing nets is the major threat for the animals, yet fishing is still permitted, even in Marine Protected Areas. In Sea Shepherd’s Perkunas campaign, the crew of the M/V Emanuel Bronner documented and monitored deadly gillnets in protected areas of the Baltic Sea. But accidental death in fishing nets is not the only human-caused threat for these animals.

Eutrophication, underwater noise, marine debris, overfishing, and bottom trawling are also damaging the Baltic Sea ecosystem, affecting both harbor porpoises and the local populations that depend on it.

Read the full commentary by Perkunas campaign leader, Reinhard Grabler here.

Translated from Dutch NOS TV:

’18 porpoises dead after naval exercise in Germany’

A German environmental organization says that eighteen porpoises were killed during a military war game in the Baltic Sea. That, they say, have happened during a NATO war game in September. As part of that mission, the German navy blew up 42 British mines, German media report. Porpoises are regarded as a protected species in Europe.

The war game was training to defuse sea mines. In addition, real ground mines from the First World War, left behind by the British, were blown up.

An analysis of that action shows that every explosion left a crater 5 by 1.5 meters deep and that animals and plants were destroyed in a radius of 10 to 30 meters.

Nature destroyed

According to the environmental organization NABU and the political party The Greens, the Ministry of Defense has ignored nature conservation law. The Greens estimate that up to 110,000 square meters of nature have been destroyed.

According to Nabu, NATO blew up the mines right in the nursery grounds for young porpoises.

NABU map of porpoises killed by the war game

More than forty ships from 18 countries, including the Netherlands, took part in the exercise. …

Tunnel to Denmark

The NATO mission took place at an area where there are plans for the construction of a tunnel. The connection to be made must connect the German island of Fehmarn with the Danish Lolland. The construction of the tunnel costs around € 7.4 billion and is largely paid for by Denmark.

Critics point out that there is more ammunition in the Fehmarnbelt strait. After the Second World War, hundreds of thousands of tons of bombs, rockets and mines were dumped in the Baltic Sea and North Sea. Environmental organizations have been pointing out for some time that rust-causing substances end up in seawater. According to environmental organization Nabu there is a total of 1.6 million tons of ammunition in the North Sea and Baltic Sea.