News in the world of whales this week (or close to this week):
- Dinner is served for blue whales in the middle of a freeway. Blue whales off Southern California’s coast face the threat of ship strikes as an abundance of krill off the coast of Los Angeles and Long Beach put blue whales in the middle of shipping lanes. To the delight of many Southern Californians, an increased number of blue whales have been migrating along our shores this season. Unfortunately, as they move to high-traffic areas, they face the risk of fatal ship strike as the area is also home to the busiest port complex in the United States. And the threat isn’t hypothetical. In recent years, dozens of whales off California’s coast have been injured or killed by such strikes. John Calambokidis from the Cascadia Research Center has been working to find ways to protect whales from this threat, which is desperately needed as the whales themselves do little to avoid approaching ships. As Dr. Calambokidis explains, “Blue whales have not adapted or evolved to deal with this new threat.”
- Female dolphins are more successful at producing calves when they have good relationships with role-model “friends” and relatives. Research out of the University of New South Wales shows a positive value in reproduction terms of dolphin relationships with good “friends” and relatives. According to Associate Professor Bill Sherwin, “Females who have successful relatives and successful ‘friends’ are much better at producing calves.”
- A 49 million year-old whale jawbone was found in Antarctica. The jawbone belongs to what may be the oldest fully aquatic whale yet discovered, filling in the pieces between the proto whales (animals able to live on land as well as sea) that lived 53 million years ago and our modern marine mammals.
- The “unusual mortality event” taking place in the Gulf of Mexico continued this week as four dead dolphins washed up on Gulf Coast beaches in five days. Since the BP oil spill more than 400 dolphins have washed ashore. According to Ruth Carmichael, a Dauphin Island Sea Lab scientist, “We should be seeing one a month at this time of year. We’re getting one or more a week. It’s just never slowed down.” Scientists have been examining the Gulfwide death toll and comparing it to past years. They have found that dolphins continue to die at rates four to ten times higher than normal when compared to monthly averages from 2002 to 2009. The strange thing is that this “unusual mortality event” started in March 2010, a month before the BP disaster. Federal officials are collecting tissue samples but no results have been released.
- Our insatiable appetite for dirty fuel may wipe out a dolphin pod in Australia. A coal port planned for Balaclava Island in Australia could destroy a unique 70-member pod of rare snubfin dolphins. The problem is that the habitat the dolphins rely on – pristine coastal mangroves – are likely to be destroyed or significantly damaged by the coal port development. This kind of development is pernicious and has far reaching impacts. It reminds me of the ill-conceived plan to develop the Pebble Mine in southwest Alaska, which NRDC has been working to halt in part because of the threats to beluga whales from the development of a port in Cook Inlet.
Meanwhile, this week in Wales…
Wales is in a frenzy over Rugby this week, with all Welsh eyes turned to the biggest game in Wales’ rugby history – a semifinal game against France this Saturday. Last Saturday, Wales pummeled Ireland during the quarterfinals, while France beat England. With Rhys Priestland sitting the game out with a shoulder injury, James Hook will be starting against France. Don’t feel too bad for Priestland, he was just voted the sexiest man in Wales for 2011.