This Week and Last Week in Whales: Whale-Themed Holiday Gifts; Japan's Whaling Fleet on the Move; Mass Stranding of Beaked Whales in Mediterranean...
News in the world of whales.
- Here's a last-minute gift idea: holiday gifts that save wildlife. NRDC has a green gifts initiative where you can dispense with trying to find the perfect gift for the caring people on your holiday list. No more well-meaning chotchkies. Instead, you can give gifts (starting as low as $15) that save wildlife and wild places, with a personalized card or e-card to the recipient. Do good, feel good, help the world. Sounds perfect.
- Last week, Japan’s whaling fleet (can you call three ships a fleet?) left port to pursue its annual slaughter of whales in Antarctica. If that news wasn’t bad enough, the Japanese government confirmed that the money for extra security measures ($29 million) for the fleet is coming out of the government’s budget for post-earthquake and tsunami reconstruction. Yeah, nothing says reconstruction of fishing villages like paying your coast guard to follow around three whaling ships as they travel thousands of miles away to attack and kill whales. Japanese environmental groups are outraged. “Pouring billions of yen into Antarctic whaling during this time of crisis is downright shameful,” Junichi Sato, head of Greenpeace Japan, told the Guardian last week. “Japan cannot afford to waste money on whaling in the Antarctic when its people are suffering at home.” Somehow, I can’t think of a better way for the Japanese government to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Empire of Great Japan’s surprise attack on the United States. Hmm, as I recall, that didn’t work out too well for them either.
- Using the words “Japan” and “Empire” in a different way, comes news that the Empire State Building was bathed in red lights last Saturday to honor the thousands of dolphins slaughtered annually off the coastal waters of Taiji, Japan – subject of the Academy Award-winning documentary, The Cove. The color red was chosen to symbolically represent the bloodshed. Well done.
- There’s been a new mass stranding of beaked whales in the Mediterranean that may be tied to military sonar. As my colleague, Michael Jasny, has reported at least 7, and possibly 8, beaked whales haves stranded on the Greek island of Corfu and a mother and calf stranded in Calabria, Italy. As Michael says, “The event looks increasingly like another mass mortality caused by naval training,” as it coincides with a major Italian naval exercise taking place in the Gulf of Taranto. Here’s a recent article out of South Africa summarizing how ocean noise torments marine mammals.
- Sperm whales separate themselves into distinct “clans” through learned cultural behavior not genetics. Sperm whales in the Pacific are divided into five clans, each using a different dialect (a different pattern of clicks and sounds) to communicate. Researchers have determined that these different dialects are transmitted culturally, not genetically. “If the whales’ dialects were biologically determined, those that share the same dialect would have similar genes too. But that isn’t what the researchers found.” And it wasn’t just differences in dialect that were culturally transmitted; the clans also demonstrated different hunting patterns, parenting habits, and reproductive rates. It’s like West Side story for whales.
- Climate change isn’t something that’s going to happen one day; we’re living it right now. Climate change in the Arctic is creating winners (whales) and losers (walruses and polar bears). Of course, we’re all losers eventually as a global average temperature rise of 4 degrees C – we’re on track for over 6 degrees C – above pre-industrial levels is “incompatible with an organized global community, is likely to be beyond ‘adaptation,’ is devastating to the majority of ecosystems, and has a high probability of not being stable.” In other words, game over. But I digress; we were talking about whales benefiting from climate change in the Arctic. While walruses and polar bears will lose the sea-ice habitat they use for hunting, whales that migrate to the Arctic from temperate areas are winners because they can stay for longer periods in Arctic waters during the summer, noshing on delicious Arctic food.
- Darren Naish at Scientific American has produced a clearing house of all his whale-related blog articles, titled “All the whales of the world, ever (part I).” There’s a Part II as well. Why am I blogging again? Anyway, it’s a great resource. Check it out when you’re feely extra brainy.
- KCET aired a great program on the threat to blue whales in Southern California from ship strikes, called Giants in Danger. Here it is, about 8 minutes long:
- Blue whales sighted off Washington coast – one of only three times in the last 50 years. According to Cascadia Research, the sighting of six blue whales last week is the most known sightings of blue whales ever off the state’s coast. While there were once more than 350,000 blue whales swimming around the world, today there may be as few as 14,000. I hope these six enjoy Washington this time of year.
- I’ve written before about the problem of exporting live dolphins from the Solomon Islands to theme parks. There are a lot of problems with such practices (of course there’s the morality of it), but one of the biggest problems is the real danger that dolphins in the Solomon Islands are taken from small populations that may not recover from the loss. The Solomon Islands Government has routinely claimed that the taking of live dolphins is sustainable, but has been unable to justify the claims with science. Instead, the best available science pointed to small, distinct populations that likely could not afford to lose members to the theme park industry. Now, the Solomon Islands Government is moving ahead with draft legislation to enforce a ban on dolphin exports from January next year. What a wonderful Holiday gift to the world. Thanks Solomon Islands Government, we’re going to hold you to this promise.
And other news, as sent to us from my colleague, Lauren:
- Sean Connery joins the Sea Shepherd board—which already includes Pierce Brosnan. Insert James Bond joke.
- More on dolphin pregnant-belly drag. Seems like kind of a no-brainer, for anyone who has seen a pregnant human walk…
- Another sperm whale stranded off Tasmanian coast recently. Rescue efforts were underway over the weekend, and the whale was successfully returned to the ocean.
- On Monday night a few weeks ago, Flipper the dolphin predicted that the WVU football team would beat the Clemson Tigers. He was presented with two balls, each emblazoned with one team’s mascot, and booted the WVU one out of the pool. Captivity sucks.
Meanwhile, this week in Wales…
First Minister Carwyn Jones has warned UK Prime Minister David Cameron that Cameron’s position on the development of a new European treaty could help break up the UK, starting with a Yes vote in a referendum on Scottish Independence. In a letter to David Cameron, First Minister Jones expressed concerns about the UK becoming isolated at the margins of Europe. I hope the First Minister’s letter also called out Cameron’s “growth through austerity” plan for the UK, which is driving the country into the loo (although I’m sure he used more diplomatic language). Welsh unemployment is on the rise.