This Week in Whales: CSI Eocene Gets Shark Attacking Whale Case; Rare Dolphin on the Brink in New Zealand; Dolphin Safe Tuna from Mexico May Not Be So Safe...

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

  • Forty-million years ago, the circle of life played out with a shark chomping on a whale.  An Italian stonecutter discovered the 40-million-year-old fossil of a whale that had tooth marks on its ribs from a shark attack that likely killed it.  The fossil of the new ancient whale species, Aegyptocetus tarfa, was found in an Egyptian quarry and revealed that whales 40-million-years ago still had a sense of smell, a sense that is mostly lost in modern whales.  This whale likely died as a result of being attacked by an ancient shark, as tooth marks on its right flank suggest the same kind of come-from-behind attacks that modern sharks make on larger animals. 
  • The death of a rare female dolphin may spell the end for a species in New Zealand.  There are likely less than 100 Maui’s dolphins, 25 of which are adult females, and the loss of this adult female could have dire consequences.  According to Otago University associate professor Liz Slooten, “Losing one of those is a tragedy.  This species is listed as critically endangered.  If you remove that individual from the population, that’s really, really bad.”  One of the big worries is that there’s evidence that this dolphin may have been killed by humans.  The dolphin suffered a cut down its midline, which Professor Slooten says was caused by a human, probably a fishing bycatch related injury when the dolphin was hauled onto a boat. 
  • “Dolphin-safe” tuna may not be so safe for dolphins if the tuna comes from Mexico.  Mexico recently won a preliminary decision at the World Trade Organization (the WTO is a disaster on environmental issues), which said that the US’ Dolphin Safe tuna label is “trade restrictive.”  The US thinks the dispute should be resolved via the North Atlantic Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and has pushed to transfer it there.  Mexico, finding the WTO a more receptive forum for its arguments, has dragged its feet.  If things go Mexico’s way, we may see a lot more dead dolphins and the Dolphin Safe label won’t be worth the paper it’s printed on.

         Here's a photo of dolphins circled by a tuna net:

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         And here's a photo of what can happen to a porpoise trapped in a net:

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  • A colleague of mine sent me this story via email with the subject line, “This is Nuts!”  She’s right, the danger these gawkers put themselves in and the potential harassment of whales is nuts.  Nonetheless, gawkers have been getting dangerously close to humpback whales as they feed along the coast near Santa Cruz, California.  The Coast Guard, which can issue fines to people harassing whales, has continued to tell onlookers to stay at least 100 yards away – a likely safe distance for the gawkers and for the whales, but many people have been ignoring the warnings, worrying marine biologists concerned for human observers and the whales, which could be disrupted by all of the people to the point that they abandon their feeding.  Maybe they feel like humans do at a picnic when the bees arrive.


          Dumb humans.

Meanwhile, this week in Wales…

The Welsh government has given the go-ahead to a gas-fuelled power station in Pembroke, Wales, which is supposed to have a devastating impact on marine life around Milford Haven.  Gareth Clubb, Director of Friends of the Earth Cymru says, “This plant is still going to have a devastating impact on one of Europe’s most important wildlife sites, it’s still going to be using second-rate technology, and it will still be throwing away energy equivalent to 40% of Wales’ electricity demand.”  I say, “Boo Wales!!”