This Week in Whales: Killer Whales Make Waves to Wash Seals into their Bellies; Dolphins Avoid the Bends; Belugas Hate Katy Perry...

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

By charging in formation towards the ice from as far away as 150 feet, the whales created a bow wave in front of their bodies and a deep trough above their tails. A second larger wave formed above their pumping tails.When they reached the block of ice where the seal was hiding, they dove under the ice, kicking their tails in a powerful stroke to create a large wave that washed over the ice and knocked the seal into the water where they could grab it and drown it.When the seals were on particularly large blocks of ice, the waves created by the whales were powerful enough to break up the ice floe into smaller pieces so they could get closer to their prey.

More photos of the killer whales’ coordinated attack, using waves to wash seals off ice floes.  Very cool.

  • Dolphins avoid “the bends” by taking long shallow decompression dives.  After finding nitrogen bubbles in tissue after strandings, scientists have long suspected that dolphins and other marine mammals may suffer from decompression sickness if they are unable to properly recompress after deep dives.  A new study in the Proceedings of the Royal Society (Ello, Govna!), Bubbles in live-stranded dolphins, sheds light on the issue after researchers were able to study just-stranded live dolphins.  The research team found tiny bubbles below the blubber of the animals, suggesting that when marine mammals are unable to repeatedly dive in the wild, stranded animals are unable to recompress by diving and may retain bubbles formed after coming up to quickly from deep dives.  According to Michael Moore of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, if dolphins come up to quickly there is evidence that they “grab another gulp of air and go back down again…but there’s one play [a dolphin] can’t do that and that’s sitting on the beach.”  Decompression sickness – or the dolphin equivalent – is one of the worries associated with the use of sonar by Navy’s across the world.  If the high intensity sound startles the animals, leading them to strand, or otherwise abandon their natural recompression behavior, some scientists think it could cause serious injury.
  • Great news for North Pacific humpback whales – there are more of them than we previously thought.  The population is now estimated to be 21,000 or possibly higher.  This is a huge comeback from the 1,400 that remained in 1966, when commercial whaling of the humpbacks was ended.  Humpbacks globally are not out of the woods yet - still an endangered species - but things are looking up.
  • What’s not to like about Katy Perry?  Catchy tunes, her own sense of style apparently with a fruit theme, and a hilarious husband.  Well, if you’re a beluga whale at the Georgia Aquarium, Katy Perry’s music at high volumes may drive you to violence.  Dan Mathews, senior vice president of PETA, filed a formal complaint with the aquarium after getting reports and witnessing erratic behavior by belugas and other species subjected to high-volume music during a party hosted at the aquarium.
  • Sorry polar bears, your food is diseased.  A mysterious disease is taking a toll on ringed seals throughout the Arctic.  Reports of ringed seals, the main prey of polar bears, killed or weakened by an unknown disease, that leaves the animals with legions on their hind flippers, inside their mouths, and in their livers, hearts, and brains, are rolling in from Alaska, Canada, and Russia.  This is not good.
  • A humpback whale recently stranded and died in Australia[Humpback strands and dies in Australia.  But don’t feel too bad, here’s a video on the circle of life showing that a whale that can live 50-75 years in the wild can support a community of organisms for 50-75 years after dying:


         Whale Fall (after life of a whale) from Sharon Shattuck on Vimeo.

Meanwhile, this week in Wales…

No fracking in South Wales.  The Vale of Glamorgan’s planning committee rejected an application by Coastal Oil and Gas Limited to test drill for shale gas at Llandow Industrial Estate.  Local residents rightfully fear that any resulting fracking could lead to groundwater pollution.