Fin whale in North Sea, video


This 18 October 2018 video shows a fin whale near a wind farm in the North Sea, 23 kilometer off the Dutch coast. Probably, it was still a young animal.

This whale species is rare in the North Sea.

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What sperm whales can teach about humanity


This 15 October 2018 video says about itself:

What Sperm Whales Can Teach Us About Humanity | National Geographic

Sperm whales are only at the surface for about 15 or 20 minutes at a time, yet photographer Brian Skerry is able to capture beautiful moments of these giant undersea predators.

Baby humpback whale saved from shark net


This ABC News video from Australia says about itself:

Humpback whale calf rescued off Gold Coast while mother watches on

8 October 2018

A whale calf has been freed after becoming caught in a shark net off Queensland’s Gold Coast. Rescuers said they believed the calf’s mother, who was swimming close by during the rescue, realised they were helping the calf and stayed calm.

Read more here.

Navy war games killing whales?


This video says about itself:

Almost 200 Pilot Whales Beached in New Zealand! Is Navy Testing to Blame?

13 February 2015

Almost 200 pilot whales stranded themselves Friday on a New Zealand beach renowned as a deathtrap for the marine mammals. Is past nuclear testing to blame?

By Peter Frost in Britain:

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Are submarine war games killing whales?

PETER FROST investigates many mysterious whale corpses turning up on Scottish and Irish beaches

LAST week I told the remarkable tale of an Arctic beluga whale which turned up at Tilbury on the Thames. It is still living there as I write this, seven days later. And it shows no signs of moving on at any time soon.

Should the animal manage to make its way from the Thames, it will need to avoid being hit by passing shipping both in the busy Thames itself and the Channel, which has some of the busiest shipping lanes in the world.

Getting back to its home in the Arctic will not be easy, but it did manage exactly the same thousands of miles journey in the other direction to get here.

While we were all smiling at the whale in the Thames, marine mammal scientists had something much more serious to investigate.

Why had 75 deep-water whales washed up on Scottish and Irish coasts during August and September? Most are Cuvier’s beaked whales, which are among the deepest-diving whales on the planet.

Nearly 50 badly decomposed beaked whales were washed up on Hebridean islands such as North and South Uist and Tiree. Twenty-two more ended up on beaches on the west coast of Ireland and one in Northern Ireland.

It seems highly unlikely that the whales died of any infectious disease. More and more evidence points to increased military activity in the east Atlantic as the cause of death.

Undersea war games use loud sonar to trace submarines. These may frighten whales to the surface too quickly.

Some will have dived to as much as two miles beneath the surface. Any too rapid rise to the surface can cause decompression sickness, or the bends, just as it can human divers.

There are concerns that the whales being washed up are just a small part of a huge number of whale deaths. The whales that reached land were very badly decomposed, often no more than skin and bones with not enough flesh for meaningful diagnosis.

Without blood or blood vessels there was no way to check for the characteristic bubbles in the blood that are the certain sign of decompression sickness.

Cuvier’s beaked whales are much less well-known than other whales. They can grow to five or six metres long and weigh up to two tons.

They live very secretively off the edge of the continental shelf and dive down to great depths, up to two miles, and can spend more than two hours at those great depths.

At the beginning of August pilots flying above remote Irish beaches were reporting large mystery mounds of dark rotting matter.

Irish researchers on the west coast of Donegal and Mayo investigated these reports and discovered those mystery mounds were in fact badly decomposed beaked whales that had been washed ashore. Then the same thing started to happen on remote Scottish beaches, including Hebridean islands such as the Uists and Tiree.

In just the few weeks since this August at least 50 were discovered on the Scottish coast and at least a score in Ireland. This was more than the entire total of beached whales in all of Britain over the last decade.

So why is it happening? Sadly most corpses have been washed up in an extremely decomposed state, often just bones, so it is difficult to carry out a detailed post-mortem. However the pattern of the stranding seems to suggest infectious disease was not a likely cause.

Whales have evolved in a quiet environment, using sound to forage for food, to communicate and for sometimes very sophisticated navigation.

Now oceans are really noisy places with underwater prospecting for oil, gas and valuable minerals as well as shipping noises. War games in particular use loud active sonar to locate submarines.

The whales are sensitive to mid-range sonar, which is used quite extensively by the military both to navigate and search out other craft.

Have there been war games in the east Atlantic recently? Almost certainly, but strangely neither Britain’s Royal Navy, the Nato fleet, the Russian navy, the Chinese navy, nor High Admiral of the US Fleet Donald Trump send this humble Morning Star columnist a full list of top secret military exercises regularly. I’ve asked, I’ve asked.

A spokeswoman for the British MoD stated: “The Royal Navy takes its responsibilities in safeguarding the environment very seriously and, when at all possible, operators take avoidance actions should animals be detected before or during sonar operations.

“Our precautionary practices are similar to those used in other marine industries and are regularly reviewed by statutory bodies to ensure they reflect the latest understanding of the marine environment and the effects of sound on it.

“To remain effective elements of UK defence, Royal Navy units need to operate flexibly in locations around the UK and the world.”

I guess the Whitehall wordsmiths would say that, wouldn’t they?

A similar incident has happened before, this time in the Canaries where a whale washed ashore about a week or two after a sonar exercise. The whale showed signs of decompression sickness.

The response of this stranding was for the Spanish government to ban sonar within 50 nautical miles of the coast. Result? No more beached whales.

Meanwhile, as more and more decomposing whales are found on our beaches, the Scottish and Westminster governments have ordered a full investigation, but I don’t think even a whale that can dive two miles down for two hours should hold its breath for the results.

Beluga whale in England, whaling in Iceland


This 25 August 2018 video gtom England says about itself:

Beluga Whale is spotted in the River Thames leaving Londoners stunned

A beluga whale was spotted in the River Thames near London today, in what is believed to be the most southerly sighting ever recorded in Britain. Ecologist and ornithologist Dave Andrews could not hide his surprise as he tweeted videos of the mammal in the Thames off Coalhouse Fort in Tilbury, Essex.

By Peter Frost in Britain:

Friday, September 28, 2018

A whale in the Windrush’s wake

PETER FROST sees the whale in the Thames as just part of a much bigger issue

SEVENTY years ago in June 1948 at Tilbury the steamship Empire Windrush landed some 500 hopeful settlers from Kingston, Jamaica.

This week Tilbury, now one of London’s busiest docks, welcomed yet another exotic visitor.

A large white whale, an Arctic beluga, was seen feeding around barges on the Thames between Gravesend and Tilbury. After the whale was spotted by an early morning bird watcher, experts soon decided that the white body, absence of dorsal fin and bulbous forehead indicated that it was a beluga whale (Delphinapterus leucas).

These sea mammals, which can grow up to 5.5m (18ft) long and weigh up to 1,600kg (3,530lb), normally live in Arctic and sub-Arctic waters, so this beluga was a long way from home, which is usually the waters around Russia, Alaska, Canada, west Greenland and Svalbard.

In these Arctic waters the whales live in estuaries, on continental shelves, as well as in deep open water. They do sometimes swim up rivers in shallow waters, but they tend to stay in social groups.

That huge domed forehead has two main purposes — one brain, one brawn. It houses a sophisticated echo navigation system to find a way though the ice and, if the animal is trapped under sheet ice, it uses its head as a battering ram to open a breathing hole.

This whale was obviously way off course and experts wondered if it was in ill health or distressed. There have only been around 20 sightings of beluga whales off the UK coast previously, but these have occurred off Northumberland, Northern Ireland and Scotland.

There has never been a beluga sighting in the Thames before.

This isn’t the first whale to visit London’s river, however. Ten years ago a six-metre-long female northern bottlenose whale (Hyperoodon ampullatus) swam into the river Thames and drew thousands to watch the dramatic rescue attempt. She too had ventured a long way from home in the deep waters of the north Atlantic. Tragically that Thames visitor died.

Initial excitement at the beluga sighting turned to worry and concern that the animal appeared unable to find its way back out to sea. Instead it headed upriver towards the capital but was reported to be swimming and eating well.

Whales aren’t adapted to life in fresh water so healthy whales normally stay in our rivers for a short period of time before returning to the sea.

They eat about 100 different kinds of primarily bottom-dwelling animals including octopus, squid, crabs, snails, sandworms and fishes such as capelin, cod, herring, smelt and flounder, swallowing the fish whole.

Only a few of these foods will be found in the Thames around Tilbury and the beluga will need between 40 and 60 pounds (18-27kg) of fish a day.

River authorities and conservationists have asked people not to approach the whale in small boats or by swimming. Most took the advice, but some large ships found it hard to avoid the animal.

The last British beluga sightings were off the Northumberland and Northern Irish coasts in 2015, and the mammals are usually only spotted in the North Sea off Scotland or the Northern Isles.

Whales in the Thames are rare. In 1456 William Caxton sighted a “grete fish” very near where this year’s beluga was first seen; in 1788, 17 sperm whales came ashore on the lower reaches; 1791 saw sailors from Greenwich chasing and killing a killer whale at Deptford; a 58-foot fin whale was dragged ashore at Gravesend in 1849.

Belugas are one of only four species of mammal that experience the menopause. Three are whales and the fourth humans.

Belugas in Canada’s Saint Lawrence River are so contaminated by hydrocarbons from aluminium smelting plants that they suffer more cancer than any other wild animal. Dead whales’ bodies there must be disposed of as toxic waste.

Belugas are a distinctive species, with flexible necks, a huge forehead, no dorsal fin and, unlike most cetaceans, they can also swim backwards. They are highly social species, living in pods of between two and 25, and communicating with high-frequency sounds.

They have even been known to mimic human language. They sometimes sing so sweetly that whaling crews once called them canaries of the sea.

While we worry about the fate of a single whale in the Thames, the Icelandic government and the Left-Green Prime Minister Katrin Jakobsdottir are considering legislation to stop the mass slaughter of whales being carried out every year by the Icelandic whaling company Hvalur hf, led and kept alive by the company’s owner and boss Kristjan Loftsson.

Nobody knows why he carries on. Hardly any Icelanders eat whale meat any more. Consumption seems to be almost entirely by curious holidaymakers visiting Iceland. Much of the other whale meat is sold to Japan at a loss.

An arrogant Loftsson seems to enjoy the angry reactions to his bloody slaughter. As I reported earlier this summer, his ships illegally killed a fully protected blue whale.

By the time experts got around to testing the DNA of the whale, Loftsson’s staff had mixed the meat of the blue whale with that of previously slaughtered fin whales. The whale was then declared a rare fin-blue hybrid — legal to kill.

In 2015, Iceland’s business newspaper Vidskiptabladid dug into the financial records for Hvalur hf.

While the company reported a profit of three billion Icelandic kroner (ISK), up about half a billion from the year previous, a closer look told a different story.

The paper found that, when operational costs such as maintaining ships, running the whaling centre and export costs were deducted from the company’s revenue from whale meat, the difference amounted to a loss of 72.5 million ISK.

It seems that the majority of Hvalur hf’s profits came from shares in the company Vogun hf, the largest shareholder of the fishing company HB Grandi. Vogun is 99.8 per cent owned by Hvalur hf. So profitable fishing actually pays for the loss-making whaling.

An international online Avaaz petition demanding the Hvalur hf company specifically, and Iceland in general, stop whaling has almost reached a million and a half signatures.

It is hard to discover just when, or indeed if, the Iceland parliament will debate the future of this bloody industry.

The Left-Green Movement and Prime Minister Katrin Jakobsdottir have both said they are against whaling but so far have not said they will take any action to stop it.

It is just as important to do all we can to save all whales as well as helping the single beluga fighting for its life in the Thames. Let’s stop the killing forever.

Beaked whales threatened by mining


This 19 March 2018 video says about itself:

This is What Gervais’ Beaked Whales Look Like From Above | National Geographic

This mysterious whale is so elusive that it wasn’t seen alive in the wild until 1998. Gervais’ beaked whales live in the waters of the central and north Atlantic Ocean.

By Carolyn Gramling, 7:05pm, August 21, 2018:

Beaked whales may frequent a seabed spot marked for mining

A series of seafloor grooves look a lot like those made by the deep-diving marine mammals

Whales may have made their mark on the seafloor in a part of the Pacific Ocean designated for future deep-sea mining.

Thousands of grooves found carved into the seabed could be the first evidence that large marine mammals visit this little-explored region, researchers report August 22 in Royal Society Open Science. If deep-diving whales are indeed using the region for foraging or other activities, scientists say, authorities must take that into account when planning how to manage future mining activities.

The Clarion-Clipperton Fracture Zone, or CCZ, is a vast plain on the deep seafloor that spans about 4.5 million square kilometers between Hawaii and Mexico. The region is littered with trillions of small but potentially valuable rocky nodules containing manganese, copper, cobalt and rare earth elements.

Little is known of the seafloor ecosystems in this region that might be disturbed by mining of the nodules. So several research cruises have visited the area since 2013 to conduct baseline assessments of what creatures might live on or near the seafloor.

A 2015 cruise led by Daniel Jones of the National Oceanography Centre Southampton in England is the first to find evidence that suggests that whales may have dived down to visit the seafloor in the region. Using an autonomous underwater vehicle to scan the seafloor at depths from 3,999 meters to 4,258 meters, Jones’ team found 3,539 grooves in all. These depressions tended to be arranged into sequences of as many as 21 grooves, spaced six to 13 meters apart.

It’s difficult to determine exactly when the marks were made, because sediment settles very slowly through the deep water to fill in seafloor depressions. The oldest marks were made within the last 28,000 years, the team estimates. But some newer tracks appear to overlap older tracks.

No known geologic mechanism could produce the grooves, report Jones and his National Oceanography Centre colleagues, deep-sea ecologist Leigh Marsh and marine geoscientist Veerle Huvenne. But living creatures might: Some scientists, including biologist Les Watling of the University of Hawaii at Manoa and marine ecologist Peter Auster of the University of Connecticut at Avery Point, previously suggested that certain deep-diving whales, known as beaked whales, can make such markings as they use their beaks to forage for food hiding in the seafloor.

The new research is intriguing, Watling says, but adds that the biggest question mark is whether a beaked whale could really dive so deep. “When we published our paper, we were extending the probable depth of diving of the whale by several hundred meters”, he says. “These authors are doubling the depth that we talked about.” But, he adds, the new paper also points out that some anatomical studies suggest that a Cuvier’s beaked whale (Ziphius cavirostris), at least, may be able to survive a 5,000-meter dive.

Auster adds that the researchers were careful to consider other possibilities for what might have made the markings and systematically eliminate those options, leaving only the whales. And that’s definitely a matter that prospective miners will have to pay attention to, he says. Before mining proceeds, he says, future seafloors studies in the region should include efforts to detect whales, using passive acoustic monitoring, for instance.

“This is a huge finding”, says Diva Amon, a deep-sea biologist at the Natural History Museum in London. She has previously cataloged a wealth of seafloor life in the CCZ, including new genera of jellyfish, starfish and sponges. That abundance may be attributable to the variety of sediment types in the region, she adds: Soft seafloor sediment and hard rocky nodules offer numerous places for life to get a foothold.

But whales can be a game changer, because large, charismatic marine mammals can garner public attention in a way that smaller seafloor-dwellers don’t, she says. Although the new study can’t pinpoint when the grooves were made, she says, “this is why more work needs to be done.” Even if the observed grooves were made by whales thousands of years ago, the whales’ behavior may not have changed significantly in the ensuing years, given the stability of the deep-sea environment.

“I would expect that if they were [making the depressions] a couple of thousand years ago, they’re probably still doing it now,” she says.

To date, the International Seabed Authority, the organization that oversees both mining licenses in international waters and environmental regulation of those regions, has issued 16 exploration contracts within the CCZ. Contractors working in the area must record marine mammal sightings within surface waters, as well as sightings of migratory birds, Amon says.

But, she adds, “the fact that these whales may be diving about a thousand meters deeper than was previously known” — and using seafloor that could be irreparably altered [by mining] — has the potential to change the way we manage the CCZ.”

Beluga whales’, narwhals’ menopause


This 27 August 2018 video says about itself:

Beluga whales and narwhals go through the menopause

From the University of Exeter in England:

Beluga whales and narwhals go through menopause

August 27, 2018

Scientists have discovered that beluga whales and narwhals go through the menopause — taking the total number of species known to experience this to five.

Aside from humans, the species now known to experience menopause are all toothed whales — belugas, narwhals, killer whales and short-finned pilot whales.

Almost all animals continue reproducing throughout their lives, and scientists have long been puzzled about why some have evolved to stop.

The new study, by the universities of Exeter and York and the Center for Whale Research, suggests menopause has evolved independently in three whale species (it may have evolved in a common ancestor of belugas and narwhals).

“For menopause to make sense in evolutionary terms, a species needs both a reason to stop reproducing and a reason to live on afterwards”, said first author Dr Sam Ellis, of the University of Exeter.

“In killer whales, the reason to stop comes because both male and female offspring stay with their mothers for life — so as a female ages, her group contains more and more of her children and grandchildren.

“This increasing relatedness means that, if she keeps having young, they compete with her own direct descendants for resources such as food.

“The reason to continue living is that older females are of great benefit to their offspring and grand-offspring. For example, their knowledge of where to find food helps groups survive.”

The existence of menopause in killer whales is well documented due to more than four decades of detailed study.

Such information on the lives of belugas and narwhals is not available, but the study used data on dead whales from 16 species and found dormant ovaries in older beluga and narwhal females.

Based on the findings, the researchers predict that these species have social structures which — as with killer whales — mean females find themselves living among more and more close relatives as they age.

Research on ancestral humans suggests this was also the case for our ancestors. This, combined with the benefits of “late-life helping” — where older females benefit the social group but do not reproduce — may explain why menopause has evolved.

Senior author Professor Darren Croft said: “It’s hard to study human behaviour in the modern world because it’s so far removed from the conditions our ancestors lived in.

“Looking at other species like these toothed whales can help us establish how this unusual reproductive strategy has evolved.”

Although individuals of many species may fail to reproduce late in life, the researchers looked for evidence of an “evolved strategy” where females had a significant post-reproductive lifespan.

The study was funded by the Natural Environment Research Council, and the team included researchers from the University of York and the Center for Whale Research.