This Week in Whales: Saving North Atlantic Right Whales from Entanglement; Closer to Linking Dolphin Deaths to BP?; Coast Guard's No-Brainer...

Dead dolphin on shore in Gulf of Mexico (Photo by Shirley Tillman)

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

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  • Three cheers for the three groups (Humane Society of the United States, Defenders of Wildlife, and Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society) who sued the National Marine Fisheries this week for continuing to allow fisheries that it manages to injury and kill endangered whales, like the critically endangered North Atlantic right whale.  As their lawsuit points out, “Each year, critically endangered North Atlantic right whales and endangered humpback, fin, and sei whales become entangled in commercial fishing gear.  In these incidents, fishing line wraps around whales’ heads, flippers, or tails, often impending basic movement, feeding, and reproduction, causing infection, and sometimes preventing the animals from resurfacing, resulting in drowning.”  The lawsuit notes that so far this year “there have been at least seven new right whale entanglements, ten new humpback entanglements, and at least two right whales have died from entanglement-related injuries.”  For the North Atlantic right whale, a species where the loss of a single individual may lead to extinction (as the National Marine Fisheries Service itself has found), something more has to be done to protect these whales from entanglement and hopefully this lawsuit will make that happen.


        (Photo of dead dolphin washed up on shore in Gulf of Mexico by Shirley Tillman)

  • We may be getting closer to finding the smoking gun for the plague of bottlenose dolphin deaths (more than 580 over the last year and a half) occurring in the Gulf of Mexico.  Scientists have found that some of the dead dolphins were infected with the Brucella bacteria, which occasionally kills marine mammals. The key word here is “occasionally.”  The rate of infection in these bottlenose dolphins is unusually high, which may be the result of compromised immune systems resulting from the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster.  According to Dr. Terry Rowles, director of NOAA Fisheries Marine Mammal Health and Stranding Response Program, “Various chemical contaminants may have lowered [the dolphins’] immune response, making them more susceptible” to infection. 
  • The US Coast Guard (my grandfather was a sailor in the Coast Guard) has proposed a half measure to protect whales from ship strikes off the southern California coast.  The Coast Guard has recommended shifting shipping lanes in the Santa Barbara Channel to keep giant commercial shipping vessels away from whales dining in the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary.  A few things.  First, why are there shipping lanes through our National Marine Sanctuaries to start with?  I’m not aware of any freeways cutting through Yosemite National Park.  Isn’t it a no-brainer that shipping lanes shouldn’t be routed through these sanctuaries?  Why is it called a sanctuary if the animals in it aren’t protected from getting plowed down by ships?  Second, the reason why this is a half measure:  the proposal does not include speed restrictions.  It’s great to try to keep whales and commercial vessels apart, but while the Coast Guard can force commercial ships to stay in certain areas, it can’t do the same for whales, so there’s bound to be overlap in this prime feeding area.  This means that including speed restrictions is critical to keeping whales safe from container ships. 
  • Wish I had been there to personally witness the smack down a Scottish member of the European Parliament gave to the Canadian government over their barbaric seal hunt.  In 2009, the European Union banned seal products from Canada because of the cruelty associated with the hunt.  As David Martin, the Scottish MP, told reporters, “I have visited abattoirs (slaughterhouse), I have seen animals being killed in the wild, I have seen many instances of animal treatment and animal cruelty.  I say unequivocally, I have never seen anything as barbarous as the seal cull that takes place on your shores.”  Snap! 
  • Building on previous success, Sea Shepherd intends to completely shut down Japan’s whaling in the Southern Ocean this year.  One of its ships, the Bob Barker (“I’ll bid one dollar Bob”) is currently prepping in Sydney with a crew of 35 conservationist volunteers.  The linked article details a day in the life of the crew and has a great video.

Meanwhile, this week in Wales…

Engineers have completed construction of a 90-foot bridge over the River Tweed that is made completely from recycled plastic, high-density polyethylene materials (like those opaque Nalgene bottles) that would otherwise have ended up in a landfill.  According to the engineers it will never rust or rot and will support vehicles up to 44 tons.  Cool.