Mysterious whale beached in Massachusetts, USA


This 26 July 2015 video is called Sowerby’s beaked whale: Reclusive deep-water whale washes up on US beach.

From CNN in the USA:

Beached beaked whale has marine biologists scratching their heads

By Lorenzo Ferrigno and Pilar Melendez, CNN

Updated 2154 GMT (0454 HKT) July 26, 2015

The carcass of a deep-sea beaked whale found washed up on a Plymouth, Massachusetts, beach is so rare that it has marine experts confounded: What is its exact species, and how did it get to shore?

The 17-foot toothed female whale, which weighs nearly 1 ton and has dark purplish skin with a long slender snout, was found washed up on a stone jetty.

It is believed to be a Sowerby’s beaked whale, but its type is so rarely seen that New England Aquarium biologists “have been conferring to determine the exact species,” aquarium officials said in a statement released Saturday.

“The beaked whale carcass is fairly fresh and in good condition,” the statement said. “At first inspection, the long, streamlined whale did not have any obvious entanglement gear or scars or obvious trauma from a vessel strike.”

The deep diving Sowerby’s whales are usually found on the continental shelf, hundreds of miles out to sea, the statement said.

Marine biologists with the New England Aquarium performed an animal autopsy Saturday at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and are investigating what caused the whale to wash ashore, according to the statement.

An employee with Plymouth Marine and Environmental Affairs staff called in the whale at 10 a.m. Friday, Plymouth harbormaster Chad Hunter told CNN.

“The best way to describe it, it looked like a dolphin,” Hunter said. “But much bigger.”

Plymouth natural resource officers anchored it to avoid it washing out, he said. Because of the whale’s enormity, the staff had to wait until high tide, around 5 p.m. Friday evening, to remove the carcass from the rocks.

The whale was then towed it to the pier and lifted it by crane onto an aquarium trailer, Hunter said.

“Deep diving whales you generally don’t see near the coast, so it is very unique for it to wash up on the beach,” Hunter said. “We have had a number of whales and dolphins end up on shore over the years, but never this species to my knowledge.”

New England Aquarium staff last handled a beaked whale in 2006 in Duxbury, Massachusetts.

Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution could not be reached for comment or necropsy results.

Pacific orca babies born


This video says about itself:

Orca Baby Boom Hits Pacific Northwest

2 April 2015

New optimism emerges for an endangered group of killer whales after the fourth orca baby this season is spotted off the coast of British Columbia.

From the Christian Science Monitor in the USA:

Orca baby boom: Enough to save the endangered whales?

Kelsey Warner

July 20, 2015

Orcas in the Pacific Northwest are experiencing a baby boom – and not a moment too soon, say experts.

The population off the coast of Washington and British Columbia hit a 40-year low in December, when a pregnant orca died in the Georgia Strait, near Vancouver. Area experts feared it was the beginning of the end for the killer whale population there, reported The Toronto Star.

“Not only did we not have the baby coming that we needed, but we also lost a breeding-age female,” said Michael Harris, executive director of the Pacific Whale Watch Association. “We thought we were on an irreversible slide to extinction.”

In an area famous for its orca pods, the population had dropped from a high of 98 in the mid-90s to just 78 whales in the summer of 2014. The death of the pregnant whale dropped the population to a low of 77.

Following the death of the orca mother in December, local experts believe the pod delivered the next baby together, to ensure its successful arrival. Ken Balcomb of the Center for Whale Research and his colleagues noted bite marks on the newborn’s fin, indicating other whales may have served as midwives, pulling the baby from the womb. The researchers then observed the calf in the care of its grandmother for the first few days, while its mother recovered.

“They made very sure that the birth was going to go well this time,” said Mr. Harris. “Literally the baby was just pulled out by other members of the pod.”

He added, “That started the baby boom.”

By the end of the spring, four calves had been born, bringing the total population total to 81. About 35 to 45 percent of newborn orcas don’t make it past their first year, according to NOAA. If these babies survive, they will be the first successful newborns in the Puget Sound population in about two and a half years.

Eric Ward, who tracks the whale population for NOAA Fisheries, told the Star that the pods are still a long way from the 120 whales necessary to remove them from the endangered list.

“There’s reasons to be optimistic for this population, and there’s reasons to be concerned,” said Dr. Ward.

He attributes their initial decline in part to depleted populations of prey, including the pods’ favored Chinook salmon. He also says contaminants from fish that spawn near urban areas may have been a factor.

In 2014, the Chinook salmon population spiked, and that may have turned things around, combined with a demographic shift with more orca females of reproductive age.

This baby boom “will continue as long as there’s available prey,” said Ward.

Still uncertain is the effect of warmer ocean temperatures on the Pacific fish stock, who generally prefer colder waters. This past winter, tides shifted and warmer sea temps were recorded.

“We don’t know the implications this giant blob of warm water will have on marine life and the killer whales,” Ward said.

Pilot and killer whale songs


Killer whale

November 2011: Scientists enlist the public’s help in identifying pilot and killer whale songs: here. See their site here.

Translated from Dutch NOS TV:

Off the coast of Stellendam [a Dutch lifeboat] has succeeded in pushing a stranded sperm whale back into the sea. The animal of more than 12 meters long was swimming towards the shore this morning, and had beached on a sandbank.

See also here.

Humpback whale off Scotland


This video is called Humpback Whales – BBC documentary excerpt.

From the Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust in Scotland:

Humpback Whale in the Clyde

An adult humpback whale, possibly greater than 12 metres in length, has been sighted in the Firth of Clyde this week – the fifth such whale to be seen off western Scotland in the past month, compared with a usual total of just one or two per year.

The whale was sighted off Tighnabruaich in the Kyles of Bute on 6 July. On 8 July it surfaced alongside the Scottish Ocean Youth Trust’s yacht, spouting and swimmingly strongly in a northward direction into Loch Fyne. The whale was observed breaching out of the water and lob-tailing – a dramatic manoeuvre in which the animal throws its massive tail, up to five metres across, out of the water, creating a huge splash visible for miles. This behaviour could be used for communication, display or perhaps to ward off other animals.

Humpback whales were once hunted to the brink of extinction in Scottish waters, but in recent years Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust has noticed an increase in the number of sightings reported to its online sightings database (www.hwdt.org). It is unknown whether this represents a genuine increase in population size, a range shift into Scottish waters, or more vigilant reporting from members of the public. Researchers in Ireland believe that humpback whales there are increasing in numbers.

Over the past month, there have been at least five different humpback whales documented off Scotland’s west coast, from the Isle of Lewis to the Firth of Clyde.

“Usually we expect just one or two sightings of humpback whales per year, so to have five in a month is very encouraging and exciting”, said Dr Conor Ryan, Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust’s Sightings and Strandings Officer.

“Although humpbacks can put on a spectacular show and are humbling to watch, we appeal to people not to stress the whale by approaching in boats. This individual is not in its typical environment and may be lost in the sea loch. Besides, there are strict laws in place to protect this species from harassment”.

The trust encourages members of the public to become citizen scientists – both by reporting sightings of cetaceans and basking sharks online and by joining a research expedition aboard its sailing vessel Silurian. Participants are trained in scientific methods and assist in data collection to better understand the distribution of whales, dolphins and porpoises around the Hebrides. Information on entanglement risk in ropes and lines is also collected.

Morven Russell, Volunteer Coordinator, said: “By joining us aboard, volunteers will have the opportunity to witness first-hand the wealth of the Hebridean marine environment, whilst contributing to a better understanding and consequently more effective management of cetacean populations off Scotland’s west coast.”

This week’s sighting is the third confirmed humpback whale in the Firth of Clyde in recent years. On previous occasions, the whales apparently navigated their way out to the open sea. However, this is the first time that Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust has documented a humpback so far north in the Clyde. Humpback whales are at high risk of entanglement in ropes and lines in the water and there have been at least two fatal entanglements in Scotland in the past 12 months.

Humpback whales have the largest forelimbs in the animal kingdom – leading to their scientific name Megaptera, meaning “giant winged”. They have 6m long flippers which make them prone to snagging ropes. Given that they cannot swim backwards, a simple entanglement can be fatal or lead to prolonged suffering.

“At the moment, the whale is swimming freely with no signs of distress or entanglement. Hopefully it will make it’s own way back to deeper water and come to no harm”, said Karl Hurd, Southwest Scotland Regional Coordinator of British Divers Marine Life Rescue, which is the competent organisation in the UK for rescuing stranded and entangled whales.

New Zealand: The annual winter humpback whale count is under way in Cook Strait, but it may be the last for a group of former whalers: here.