This Week in Whales: Obama Creates Largest Marine Reserve; IWC Votes Against Japan's Antarctic Hunt; Newborn Killer Whale Spotted in WA...

This week marks more than just the return of This Week in Whales. We’re also cheering President Obama’s creation of the largest fully protected marine reserve in the world and the birth of the first killer whale in Washington waters in more than two years. For the details, dear Readers, read on.

  • President Obama extends Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument. This morning, President Obama announced the expansion of the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument by six times its current size, creating the world’s largest marine reserve that is off-limits to commercial resources extraction, including commercial fishing. The expansion will better protect the habitat of animals with large migration and foraging areas, like the Palmyra beaked whale, as well as biodiversity hotspots, like deep-sea coral and underwater mountains.
  • IWC votes against Japan’s Antarctic hunt. The IWC adopted a resolution last week that establishes criteria for reviewing scientific whaling plans, essentially enshrining into IWC practice the ICJ decision from earlier this year that declared Japan’s whaling program illegal. The criteria include consideration of whether a program needs to lethally sample whales to obtain data, the number of whales taken, and whether that number is truly justified. In a sad about-face from Japan’s earlier intention to abide by the ICJ’s decision and end its so-called “scientific whaling program,” Japanese representatives this week stated their intention to revamp their program and submit for the scientific committee’s consideration this fall, despite the new resolution. NRDC and our allies will continue to pressure Japan and the IWC to uphold the court’s decision and end commercial whaling.
  • Newborn killer whale spotted in Washington. L pod, one of three extended families of killer whales in the Puget Sound, has apparently added one more to its number: a baby orca was spotted earlier this month near the San Juan Islands. This newborn is the population’s first calf born since 2012 and could mark a new beginning for the Puget Sound population, which has been steadily declining due in part to a decline in available Chinook salmon, the animals’ favorite meal. [Note: Both articles quote Ken Balcomb of the Center for Whale Research, who also figures extensively in War of the Whales, the story of Balcomb and NRDC’s long fight to hold the U.S. Navy accountable for the effects of their sonar testing on whales. Check it out!]
  • This Week in Funky Research Techniques: Mucus-harvesting drones. A team of Massachusetts engineering students has developed the “Snot Bot,” a drone that can hover directly in whales’ spray of mucus. Gross, but also useful: similar to a blood sample, a whale’s mucus contains hormones that allow researchers to tell whether the whale is stressed. Next up for the team is providing data to guide the development of federal rules to govern the use of such technology in marine research. Revealing a Catch-22, the drones meant to measure stress may also cause stress, which will have to be considered by the federal agency charged with protecting whales.
  • And speaking of drones: Vancouver Aquarium uses a drone to monitor killer whales. Killer whale experts from the Vancouver Aquarium teamed up with NOAA scientists over the last month to use a drone to monitor the health of killer whales. From above, scientists can see much more detail, such as the length-to width ratio that helps to determine pregnancy and assess starvation levels. According to news reports, the drone – which can fly nearly 100 feet above the water – didn’t appear to disturb the whales or disrupt their behavior. Check out some of the footage below.

Meanwhile, this week in Wales...

Happy birdthday Friends of the Earth Cymru! Keep up the good work. Here's to 30 more years advocating for the environment!

This blog was written with NRDC’s Marine Mammal Protection Project’s assistant, Julie Mendel. Thanks Julie!