Last Week in Whales: Global Warming Killing Seal Pups; Listening to Human Noise Pollution; Strandings on the Rise in Ireland; Dolphin Burgers...

News in the world of whales last week (or close to it).

  • First of all, Happy New Year!  Let’s hope this is the year humans collectively pull their heads out of the sand and get serious about saving the planet.  I’m not looking forward to a plus 4 degree Celsius world, are you?

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         Sounds of the Deep Ocean by The World

  • Ireland saw a big increase in whale and dolphin strandings last year, the third highest number of strandings since 1991, when the stranding started being recorded.  The Irish Whale and Dolphin Group reported a total of 160 strandings for 2011, with a high number of common dolphin and porpoise strandings, compared to 92 strandings in 2010. 
  • The Seattle P-I, has an update on many of the compelling whale stories of 2011, including an update on the status of the Southern Resident killer whales that live in the area (there’s a new baby! – I know, I know, “calf.”). 
  • Can I get fries with my dolphin burger?  Guess what happens when coastal fish catches plummet in poor nations?  Hungry people turn to the “bushmeat of the sea” – marine mammals, like whales, dolphins, and manatees.  According to a study appearing in Biological Conservation, by Martin Robards and Randall Reeves, “Smaller cetaceans are making their way to dinner plates as other protein sources are dwindling in coastal areas of west Africa, Peru, Brazil, Colombia, Trinidad and Tobago, Madagascar, Sri Lanka, India, the Philippines and Burma.  From 1970 to 2009, at least 92 species of cetaceans were eaten by humans.”  Of course, this isn’t just an issue for poor countries.  Plenty of marine mammals are consumed in countries like the US and Japan as well, either as a result of subsistence native hunting in Alaska (for the US) or Japan’s rapacious appetite for marine mammal flesh. 
  • If you have a fossilized whale brain, you can use it as a doorstop or sell it for millions.  It’s up to you.  Pepper Oshaughnessy has been using a fossilized whale brain as a doorstop for the last nine years.  She found the fossil on her family’s ranch in San Luis Obispo County, California, and believed it was fossilized brain corral.  Alas, last fall she found out that it was in fact one of only two fossilized whale brains ever discovered – the only one ever found in one piece.  It’s estimated to be 11-15 million years old and worth at least 10 million dollars.  “It’s believed the fossil is the brain from a baleen whale that lived in what is now the Central Coast region of California….  The discovery is significant because it will give scientist’s [sic] the opportunity to look at brains of animals of the same family, millions of years apart, and do evolutionary comparisons.”  It couldn’t have happened to a nicer lady;  she’s going to use money she makes from the sale of the fossil to fund a paralysis treatment center. 
  • There’s a new book out, The Sounding of the Whale: Science and Cetaceans in the Twentieth Century, by D. Graham Burnett.  Sounds like a good read if you’re interested in the story of how cetacean science has developed over the years.  The New York Times has reviewed The Sounding of the Whale.

Meanwhile, this week in Wales…

Cardiff University researchers are reporting that the iconic big-nosed proboscis monkey is threatened with extinction.  The monkey, once championed by David Attenborough is losing its Borneo habitat at an alarming rate as their swamps are cleared to make way for palm oil plantations.  They now number around 5,900.