Posts Tagged ‘Whales’

Persistent Man-made Chemical Pollutants Found In Deep-sea Octopods And Squids

June 13, 2008

New evidence that chemical contaminants are finding their way into the deep-sea food web has been found in deep-sea squids and octopods, including the strange-looking “vampire squid”. These species are food for deep-diving toothed whales and other predators.

In a study to be published in the journal Marine Pollution Bulletin, Michael Vecchione of NOAA Fisheries’ National Systematics Laboratory and colleagues Michael Unger, Ellen Harvey and George Vadas at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science of The College of William and Mary report finding a variety of chemical contaminants in nine species of cephalopods, a class of organisms that includes octopods, squids, cuttlefishes and nautiluses.

“It was surprising to find measurable and sometimes high amounts of toxic pollutants in such a deep and remote environment,” Vecchione said. Among the chemicals detected were tributyltin (TBT), polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), brominated diphenyl ethers (BDEs), and dichlorodiphenyl-trichloroethane (DDT).  They are known as persistent organic pollutants (POPs) because they don’t degrade and persist in the environment for a very long time.

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Creating A Safe Zone For Right Whales

June 10, 2008

It’s called the “area to be avoided,”— 1,000 square nautical miles located in the Roseway Basin region of the Scotian Shelf, just south of Barrington, N.S. And since June 1, ships have been asked to make a detour around the area, a crucial habitat for the endangered North Atlantic right whale.

There may be only 350 these right whales left in the Atlantic Ocean. Without measures to protect and grow their numbers, they could be extinct by 2020.

“In the first four days (since implementation of new policy), we’ve seen evidence of vessels complying,” says Angelia Vanderlaan, a PhD candidate studying biological oceanography at Dalhousie University. “Since this is new and it is a voluntary measure, I’m hoping it will work.”

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Pilot Whales Are “Cheetahs of the Sea,” Study Finds

May 23, 2008

Short-finned pilot whales off the Canary Islands race like cheetahs after prey over long distances in the deep Atlantic waters, new research reveals.

Like all whales, pilot whales need to come to the surface to breathe, but they can hold their breaths for extended periods.

Short-finned pilot whales are known to dive to more than 3,200 feet (1,000 meters), but their behavior in the deep ocean has been a mystery.

Researchers monitored the whales near Tenerife, the largest island in the Spanish-controlled archipelago (see map), by attaching tags to 23 of the animals with suction cups.

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Most North Pacific Humpback Whale Populations Rebounding

May 22, 2008

The number of humpback whales in the North Pacific Ocean has increased since international and federal protections were enacted in the 1960s and 70s, according to a new study funded primarily by NOAA and conducted by more than 400 whale researchers throughout the Pacific region.

However, some isolated populations of humpbacks, especially those in the Western Pacific Ocean, have not recovered at the same rate and still suffer low numbers.

The new research reveals that the overall population of humpbacks has rebounded to approximately 18,000 to 20,000 animals. The population of humpback whales in the North Pacific, at least half of whom migrate between Alaska and Hawaii, numbered less than 1,500 in 1966 when international whaling for this species was banned. In the 1970s, federal laws including the Marine Mammal Protection Act and the Endangered Species Act provided additional protection.

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Endangered Right Whales Protected With New Warning Buoys In Shipping Lanes

May 5, 2008

Endangered North Atlantic right whales are safer along Massachusetts Bay’s busy shipping lanes this spring, thanks to a new system of smart buoys. The buoys recognize whales’ distinctive calls and route the information to a public Web site and a marine warning system, giving ships the chance to avoid deadly collisions.

The 10-buoy Right Whale Listening Network — developed at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution — is arriving barely in time for the beleaguered right whale. The species was hunted to the brink of extinction centuries ago, and now fewer than 400 of the 50-ton black giants remain. Collisions with ships are currently a leading cause of death.

Living 60 years or more, right whales skim tiny plankton from the shallow coastal waters of the Atlantic. Each winter and spring, many right whales congregate — along with fin, minke and humpback whales — in the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary, 25 miles east of Boston Harbor, which bisects official shipping lanes used by some 1,500 container ships, tankers, cruise liners and fishing boats every year.

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Why do whales beach themselves?

April 28, 2008

Strandings are of several types, said Susan Parks, a research associate in the Environmental Acoustics program in the Applied Research Laboratory at Penn State. Individual strandings often are caused by isolated incidents such as sickness, injury or old age. Said Parks, “Entanglement in fishing gear is one of the leading causes of mortality for marine mammals, many of which wash up on shore dead or injured.” The tide carries these whales into shallow water, depositing them on the beach.

Then there are multiple-species strandings, explained Parks. “This occurs when different species of marine mammals beach themselves at the same time and place, suggesting that they all died from the same cause,” she said.

Scientists have been researching possible causes of this phenomenon. One explanation involves the whale “pod” social structure. For instance, whales that travel in pods use a “strength in numbers” survival strategy, but this can backfire when the dominant whale runs aground. According to Parks, “The rest of the pod may follow a disoriented or sick whale onto shore.” Another theory is that pods may venture too close to the beach when hunting prey or evading predators and become trapped by low tides.

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Animals take shape on the Underground

April 17, 2008

A hard-hitting public awareness campaign to help protect seals, whales and elephants is being run by The International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) and Animals on the Underground.

The campaign will feature ads on 224 sites across the London Underground network from April 21 for two weeks. Members of the public are being asked to send a text message to help protect these threatened or endangered species.

Tens of thousands of endangered elephants continue to be threatened by the illegal ivory trade, over a quarter of a million seals are killed annually in Canada’s cruel and unsustainable seal hunt and whales are still being harpooned despite an international ban on commercial whaling.

“These posters will place a spotlight on the current threats to some of the world’s most iconic species – whales, elephants and seals,” said Robbie Marsland, Director of IFAW UK. “This is a great opportunity to highlight to people across London that they can make a difference by taking action in support of IFAW’s campaigns to end this cruelty.”

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Navy releases extensive marine impact study

April 5, 2008

After losing a series of lawsuits, the Navy for the first time today will release a massive study that examines the potential collateral damage to wildlife when training sailors to use sonar, drop bombs, fire missiles and help Marines storm beaches in Southern California.

The environmental impact statement, fatter than the Los Angeles phone book, comes after federal judges have repeatedly ruled that the Navy failed to do a proper assessment on how to protect whales and dolphins from sonar used to hunt submarines.

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What is Animal Music?

March 22, 2008
Video of a bird singing the blues!

In the world of music science, there is a lot of interest in “animal music”, or, perhaps more precisely, in those animal sounds that are plausibly analogous in some way to human music.

The Origins of Music (MIT Press 2000), edited by Wallin, Merker and Brown, contains a section “Vocal Communication in Animals” with eight articles about different animal calls and their possible relationship to human music. Groups of animals considered to be of interest include primates, birds and whales.

The very existence of terms like “birdsong” gives testament to our tendency to perceive the sounds that other animals make as forms of music. There is also an apparent level of creativity in some forms of animal song; in particular whales and some birds are found to invent new “songs”.

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Terrestrial Ancestor of Whales Discovered

March 19, 2008

The fossil remains of a 48-million-year-old mammal have been unearthed by a team of scientists working in the Kashmir region of India. The research team, lead by Hans Thewissen of the Northeastern Ohio Universities Colleges of Medicine and Pharmacy, classified the animal as an even-toed ungulate and described it as small and deerlike in build. They named it Indohyus.

Indohyus is thought to be a very special discovery. It appears the animal spent much of its life in or near water. The skull and ear of Indohyus resembles those of whales. Additionally, Indohyus’ bones have a thick outer layer characteristic of species that have an aquatic lifestyle. And chemical analysis of Indohyus’ teeth show oxygen isotope ratios similar to other aquatic species. Based on these findings, Indohyus may indeed be the land ancestor to modern day whales.

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Regarding, “What Shamu Taught Me About Life, Love and Marriage”

March 14, 2008

We all know people with bad habits, lovable souls who are perpetually late, who talk with their mouths full, who ogle and interrupt and drone on and on about their kids or their cats or their latest spa cleanse.

I know because I’m one of those people, or at least I’m starting to think I might be, after a friend recently called me out for blathering on about the nasal-cleansing wonders of my neti pot. During a dinner party, no less.

“I hope you don’t talk about that stuff on your dates!” he said, horrified.

Chances are, I wouldn’t if I were dating Amy Sutherland. Author of the recently published “What Shamu Taught Me About Life, Love and Marriage,” Sutherland spent a year studying exotic animal trainers, then came home and started using the trainers’ “gorilla tactics” on her husband, family and friends.

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Also check out “The Shamu Lady Is Back!”

For more animal-esque music, news, and issues, tune in to Kitty Mowmow’s Animal Expo online at, Sunday nights 8-10 central.

Beastly Banter: New Book Highlights Debate Over Animals’ Language Skills

February 25, 2008

From the days of Melampus, the soothsayer of Greek mythology who conspired with termites and vultures, right up to Mr. Ed, the idea of talking animals is one that won’t go away.

A quick look around shows that time has hardly changed things. For years, researchers have studied the songs of birds and whales, hoping to suss out a secret language. The cover story of the March issue of National Geographic, “Inside Animal Minds,” tells of a border collie with a 340-word vocabulary and a bonobo who understands more than 1,000 words. Last month, researchers reported that they had developed a computer program that successfully deciphers dog barks.

And today marks the release of what might be the first biography of a laboratory research animal, “The Chimp Who Would Be Human” (Bantam, $23). Written by Elizabeth Hess, it tells the story of the chimpanzee who became the center of a bitter debate in the 1970s over whether animals possess what could be called language. Publisher’s Weekly states that the book “captures Nim’s legendary charm, mischievous sense of humor, and keen understanding of human beings.”

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Japan announces it suspends the capture of humpback whales in the Antarctic

December 28, 2007


France noted with satisfaction the announcement by the Japanese government to suspend the capture of humpback whales in the Antarctic. This is a positive signal in the current context of accommodation within the International Whaling Commission, whose 78 members are contemplating the institution’s future and the means to end the deadlock.

France strongly encourages Japan to pursue this path and to end its program of so-called scientific whaling in the Antarctic (JARPA II), which plans to kill nearly 935 minke whales and 50 fin whales that appear on the IUCN (World Conservation Union) red list of threatened species.

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Speaking of France, have you seen this French Orangina “Naturally Juicy” ad? It’s filled with scantily-clad, stripping, and lapdancing critters. Are they anthropomorphized animals? Furries? I don’t know what to call them. Though it is very weird, it is also a “visual feast,” as the critics like to say.