Whales in Britain


This video says about itself:

Two Beautiful Humpback Whales Dance – Animal Attraction – BBC

6 January 2016

Male humpback whales repeat each others’ songs and add to them so they become ever more complex and beautiful, showing off their memory and sheer volume.

By Peter Frost in England:

When the whales came to town

Friday 15th July 2016

PETER FROST fell in love with whales when, as a tiny nipper, his dad took him to London’s Natural History Museum. He is still fascinated by these wonderful, but threatened beasts today

Yet again whales are in the headlines. A 40-foot female sperm whale has been stranded on Perranporth beach in Cornwall and has died on the shore.

Crowds of visitors came to the beach to marvel at the sad sight of the magnificent creature. Just as they did a few months ago when a series of whales were stranded on various English beaches fringing the North Sea.

So what is the fascination with these behemoths of the oceans? They are of course the biggest animals ever to inhabit the Earth. A fully grown blue whale (Balaenoptera musculus) can grow up to 100 feet in length and weigh up to 175 tons, making it far larger and heavier than any dinosaur.

When I was a tiny nipper in the 1950s my dad would take me to the Natural History Museum (NHM) in London where I could marvel at the full-size models and giant skeletons hanging high up in the Whale Hall.

Hence they became a lifelong fascination and love affair. I have watched them in Iceland, Norway, New England, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Shetland and Orkney. I’ve written about them and campaigned to stop the cruel and unnecessary slaughter still practiced by some nations.

I’ve never watched them in captivity. Whales have no place in a marine zoo or so-called sea-life display. I also try to keep away from whale-watching cruises which in most popular places mean a ring of noisy boats surrounding and disturbing these quiet and gentle creatures.

Watch them from the coast if you possibly can has always been my advice.

I still return occasionally to South Kensington and the NHM where the affair started. The Whale Hall was built in 1938 when Britain was still a major whaling nation and its fleets, mainly in the Antarctic, were a major industry until the 1950s.

About that time whalers decided that the museum’s whales were so popular they wanted to make a few bob from the public’s fascination with these ocean giants for themselves.

In what must have been one of the most macabre travelling shows ever, three dead fin whales, Goliath, Jonah and Hercules, were once on an almost permanent tour of Britain right up until the 1970s. The whales were harpooned in Norway in 1952 and Jonah — the largest at 70 tons — was mounted in a 76-foot purpose-built trailer.

Thousands visited the preserved whales for both education and entertainment. Punters would pay an entrance fee to clamber through the huge whale carcasses strapped on the back of a lorry and parked in car parks and racecourses. The curious show visited The South Bank in London and then York, Coventry, Worcester, Bristol and Plymouth.

Each whale had a doorway cut behind its head. Exit was through a more natural orifice at the other end of the body.

Harpoons and other whaling tools were displayed next to and inside the whales. These almost unbelievable exhibits were initially driven around Europe to promote the whaling industry and the sale of whale meat after WWII.

Later they were purchased by showmen, who gave them their Biblical names.

The whales were crudely preserved, hollowed out and sprayed with formaldehyde and equipped with an internal refrigeration plant. Their insides were illuminated with lanterns.

So where did the three whales end up? Hercules made it as far as Spain before the smell became too overpowering and he had to be disposed of. Goliath finished his days in Italy, and Jonah ended up in long-term cold storage in Belgium.

Even today there are rumours that he is legally owned by a British showman who has plans to resurrect him.

The NHM’s 82 foot female blue whale skeleton is much older as it comes from a animal beached off Wexford, Ireland, in 1891. It was already injured by a whaler before it was washed up. The museum paid £250 for the whale carcass and extracted 630 gallons of oil which helped towards the cost.

The huge decomposing corpse was dumped in the long-established whale pit in the museum grounds at South Kensington and allowed to rot down until the bones could be extracted, cleaned and reassembled as a complete skeleton.

The slow, stinking process of rotting down whales in the pit continued until the 1940s when complaints from locals finally halted the process.

Today the museum has a large whale collection with many remains stored in a London warehouse — a recent addition is the northern bottlenose whale that swam up the Thames in 2006.

The museum still conducts necropsies on the many whale carcasses stranded on Britain’s shores.

Now it has decided to update its whale collection and the massive blue whale skeleton that so impressed me as a kid will be moved to the main entrance hall and from summer 2017 — welcoming visitors as they arrive — and will be rearticulated to a more active pose to look as if it is diving.

It will act as a reminder and a memorial to the 360,000 blue whales that were hunted and killed in the 20th century. Best estimates suggest as few as 15,000 survive, and as these big whales found it hard to recover from whaling because the gene pool was so reduced, the survival of the species is still sadly uncertain.

It will also function as a fitting tribute to the diversity of species with who we share this fragile planet of ours and as a timely reminder of our duty as the supposedly most intelligent species to preserve the rest.

Finding Dory movie, fiction and science


This video from the USA says about itself:

8 July 2016

While Disney/Pixar has produced a wonderful story with “Finding Dory” they have made some rather large mistakes in marine biology and Jonathan is here to discuss his top 3.

1. Destiny is a whale shark, not a whale. How can a whale shark speak whale? Can a Tiger shark speak Tiger?

2. A Beluga‘s echolocation doesn’t work in air and certainly can’t see what is inside a truck on the other side of a mountain.

3. Marine fish (i.e. salt water fish) cannot live in fresh water!

Pilot whales beached in Indonesia


This video says about itself:

16 June 2016

At least eight pilot whales have died after around 32 whales were found stranded on the coast of Randu village in the Bojonegoro Regency of Indonesia’s main island of Java, Thursday, reportedly due to extreme weather patterns occurring over the previous few days.

The stranded whales, discovered on Wednesday, prompted a rescue-attempt by hundreds of locals in the East Java province, including fishermen and local officers, who attempted to push the whales back to sea using their vessels.

Some locals took to the water using their boats to drive other whales in the area further out of the area in fear of further whales being stranded, while rescuers used tarpaulins to wrap around the beached sea mammals and pull them back out to sea.

A total of 23 whales were successfully pushed out to sea, however despite their best efforts, at least eight of the whales had died by Thursday morning with several left extremely weak.

The situation is thought to have been caused by recent changes in sea temperature. Local residents are preparing the deceased whales for burial, as part of a local tradition grounded in the belief that whales purposely come ashore to end their journey.

From the International Business Times:

Dozens Of Pilot Whales Stranded On Indonesia Beach, Several Feared Dead

By Mary Pascaline On 06/16/16 AT 7:55 AM

Over 30 whales were stranded on a beach in Java, Indonesia an official said Thursday. At least eight of those are reportedly feared dead.

The whales are most likely short-finned pilot whales that live in tropical and subtropical waters. At least 32 of them came ashore during high tide early Wednesday in Probolinggo, East Java province, Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported.

“At first there were just one or two whales swimming near the shore, and the nature of whales is that if they are sick they will come near the shore,” a spokesman for the local maritime and fisheries office told AFP. “But whales have such high social interaction – when one fell ill, they approached the sick one to swim back to sea… When the tide fell, all of them were trapped.”

A mass rescue operation involving hundreds of fishermen and local officials managed to pull most of the stranded whales into deep sea. Rescuers used tarps to wrap around the stranded whales and pull them out to sea while swimmers dove into the water to drive others out of the area.

The number of whales feared dead is unclear with some reports saying at least eight whales have died while others report numbers as high as 15.

Beached narwhal investigated in Belgium


This 2012 video says about itself:

A narwhal‘s tusk makes it weird among whales. It’s actually a tooth that can reach 10 feet in length, and scientists have numerous theories about its powers and purpose.

From the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences:

Narwhal in the River Scheldt Probably Died of Starvation

03/05/2016

by Sigrid Maebe

On 27 April 2016, a dead narwhal was found in the river Scheldt, near the sluice of Wintam (Bornem). The autopsy revealed that the animal probably died of starvation. The narwhal is an arctic species that has never before been observed in Belgium.

An autopsy was carried out on the stranded narwhal in a joint effort by scientists of the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences (RBINS), the University of Ghent and the University of Liège.

The advanced state of decomposition makes establishing a cause of death difficult. However, no traces of a ship collision were present. The emaciated condition and the out of range position (more than 100 km away from the sea, and many thousands of km from its home range), indicates a natural process of starvation. Narwhal normally eat fish, crustaceans and cephalopods.

No food remains were found in its stomach or intestine, but, in the stomach, a number of small plastic items and small pieces of eroded driftwood were found. These items are very common in the river Scheldt and are concentrated in certain areas. Their presence in the stomach of the narwhal would indicate that the dying animal had swallowed them in the river and not at sea. We speculate therefore that it had swum up the river, and had died there shortly afterwards. The autopsy also revealed a heart condition and possibly also a thyroid problem. Several examinations and tests have started, including genetic and parasite analyses.

The stranded narwhal was a juvenile male with a (body) length 3,04 m long and a girth of 1,81 m. The tusk protruded 0,7 m out of its body (it can be 3 m long in adult males). The narwhal weighed 290 kg which is more than 150 kg too light for an animal of this length.

This is the first record of a narwhal in Belgium. Only a handful of observations and strandings are known in Europe, including an animal that was killed in the (former) Zuiderzee (The Netherlands) in 1912. Narwhals usually stay north of the 70° North latitude, and their home range includes arctic waters of Russia, Greenland and Canada. This is probably the most southerly record from Europe.

The skeleton of the narwhal will be prepared, and will be taken up in the collection of RBINS. RBINS would like to thank all persons involved in the discovery, securing, transportation and study of this exceptional animal that was discovered in a very unusual location.

Narwhal found, first for Belgium


Narwhal found in Belgium, photo by Bornem local authority

Translated from NOS TV in the Belgium:

Unique find: Arctic narwhal washed ashore in Belgium

Today, 12:59

Two Belgian hikers have made a unique discovery at a lock in the Scheldt: a narwhal. Never before an individual of this arctic marine mammal species had been found in Belgium.

Normally, this toothed whale with its distinctive tusk lives only in the polar seas around Canada and Greenland. There is only one known case in the Netherlands, in 1912.

Belgian experts say that this specimen also has a Dutch side, as he must have swum through Dutch waters to Belgium.

Puzzle

The animal, a young male 2 meters long and 290 kilos, had, given the state of decomposition, probably been dead for two or three weeks. The skeleton will be included in the collection of the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences.

An expert of the museum believes that the persistent north wind may have blown the animal, also called sea unicorn, off course. “The day before yesterday there was already a bottlenose dolphin washed ashore in Ostend. That had not happened since 1990.”

How the animal progressed so far on the Scheldt river (even beyond Antwerp) is still a mystery. The experts call it unlikely that the animal drifted upstream while dead, but there were no reported sightings of a living narwhal in the busy shipping area.

Extinct whale’s tooth discovery on Australian beach


This video says about itself:

19 January 2015

In this short animation, produced for primary school children by Green.TV, supported by the Wellcome Trust, we look at the remarkable evolution of the whale from a land-based dog-like animal to the marine mammal that became the world’s largest ever creature.

From the Times of India:

Extinct whale’s 1 foot long tooth found on Australian beach

Subodh Varma | TNN | Apr 22, 2016, 04.21 PM IST

NEW DELHI: An Australian fossil enthusiast discovered a giant tooth of an ancient sperm whale that used to roam the seas five million years ago, munching up fish and even other whales. Murray Orr discovered the tooth at a beach at Beaumaris Bay near Melbourne, known for its vast trove of fossils. Orr immediately donated the fossil to Museum Victoria for further study.

The fossilised tooth is 30 centimetres (one foot) long and weighs three kilograms. This makes it larger than that of a Tyrannosaurus rex.

“After I found the tooth I just sat down and stared at it in disbelief,” Murray Orr said after the find was announced on Thursday by Museum Victoria, reports AFP.

“I knew this was an important find that needed to be shared with everyone.”

After studying the giant tooth, Museum Victoria said that it came from an extinct species of “killer sperm whale” which would have measured up to 18 metres (60 feet) in length and weighed some 40,000 kilograms.

“Until this find at Beaumaris all fossils of giant killer sperm whales were found on the west coast of South and North America,” Erich Fitzgerald, a paleontologist at the museum, told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

The museum said the tooth dates from the Pliocene epoch of some five million years ago and it was larger than those of sperm whales living today.

It is thought that these extict killer sperm whales deployed their massive teeth to munch on large animals, including fellow whales, unlike today’s sperm whales that eat a diet of squid and fish.

“If we only had today’s deep-diving, squid-sucking sperm whales to go on, we could not predict that just five million years ago there were giant predatory sperm whales with immense teeth that hunted other whales,” Fitzgerald said in a statement, AFP reported.

“Most sperm whales for the past 20 million years have been of the whale-killing kind. So, the fossil record reveals the living species to in fact be the exception to the rule, the oddball of the sperm whale family.”

Two sperm whales saved from stranding


This 2 April 2016 video from Breskens in Zeeland province in the Netherlands shows a sperm whale swimming and blowing.

Translated from RTL TV in the Netherlands today:

Two sperm whales have been successfully returned to sea this morning, after they had been seen in the Westerschelde estuary between Vlissingen and Breskens.

Volunteers of the lifeboat organisation KNRM and Rijkswaterstaat with their boats made a funnel on the water so that the sperm whales could only swim towards the sea. “The operation was successful. The sperm whales are off Cadzand,” said a spokesperson for Rijkswaterstaat.

England: East coast sperm whales stranding investigation continues: here.