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Zak Smith’s Blog

Last Two Weeks in Whales: Working to Save Whales in the Pacific Northwest; Cape Cod Dolphin Stranding; Dolphins and Whales Play Together; Debate Over Tagging Endangered Killer Whales; Dolphins Mimic Whale Songs...

Zak Smith

Posted February 8, 2012 in Reviving the World's Oceans, Saving Wildlife and Wild Places

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News in the world of whales over the last two weeks (or close to it).

Here’s a blowout edition of “This Week in Whales.”  I’m sorry for the delay.  But, as you’ll see from the first entry, I was a little bit busy filing a case against the National Marine Fisheries Service for its illegal authorization of Navy training activities in the Pacific Northwest.

         Southern resident killer whales (Photo by NOAA)

       

  • There’s a debate going on right now over a plan to dart tag Southern resident killer whales off Puget Sound.  The population is critically endangered, estimated at about 88 individuals.  While we know where they spend the summer months (Puget Sound) we don’t know where they go for the winter.  Having this vital piece of information could help scientists device a better plan for their recovery.  So, how do you find out where they go?  You can shoot them with dart tags, producing an injury about the size of a golf ball that may get infected, or you can use more passive measures to track the whales such as listening to their distinctive sounds.  The risk associated with dart tags could be justified if the National Marine Fisheries Service (who has to approve such plans) committed itself to using the information to designate additional critical habitat that could save the whales, but it hasn’t and it’s unlikely they will.  The agency already has survey results showing the whales in shallow waters of the West Coast, as far south as Monterey, California, but has refused to use this information to protect whales from known threats, like military sonar.  You can have all the data in the world, but if you don’t use it, what’s the point?  As The Whale Museum noted in a letter to the agency, “[W]e cannot see a compelling need to use an invasive technique to show similar data trends when the existing data observations were not used, or were not adequate, to take conservation measures that would have prevented potential impact to whales in areas and times of the year when they have been demonstrated to use the area.”  Yes, what they said. 
  • Dolphins and whales have been recorded playing together.  The humpback whales lift bottlenose dolphins out of the water, which then slide down the whales back into the ocean.  Neither species showed signs of aggression or distress, indicating that the interaction was a playful social activity. 
  • Did you know that fishing communities in southern Vietnam worship whales and hold huge burial ceremonies for washed up whales.  These Vietnamese fishing communities also host a Whale Festival every year
  • Captive dolphins in France have been repeating humpback whale songs that are on their performance soundtrack.  The dolphins were breed in captivity, so their only exposure to the whale songs were on the soundtrack that plays during their show.  While dolphins have been known to repeat back sounds immediately upon hearing them, scientists say this is the first time that dolphins have been recorded repeating sounds after a significant delay.  The speculation as to why they are repeating the whale songs raise intriguing questions.  Are the dolphins expressing something that’s occurring in a dream?  Are the dolphins going over their performance routine in their heads like humans do when prepping for a dance recital?  I don’t know if we’ll ever know for sure, but I’m glad they do it. 
  • Speaking of captive dolphins, I’m guessing there’s a dolphin in China that’s dreaming of choking.  Just in case you need another reason to oppose torturing dolphins for our entertainment, an operation was recently performed on a captive dolphin in China to remove a rubber ball that it accidentally swallowed during a performance.  At one point, doctors issued a call for someone with arms measuring at least 1.1 meters long to reach in and grab the ball.  Meng Da, a professional basketball player answered the call, but alas was not able to reach far enough into the dolphin’s stomach.  The ball was finally removed in a three-hour operation, during which the dolphin was awake.  That sounds awful. 
  • Katy Perry techno tunes did not cause the death of two dolphins found dead at a Swiss amusement park in November 2011 following an all-night rave.  The real culprit was brain injuries caused by overdoses of antibiotics
  • Plastic bags are bad.  They don’t decompose and they end up in the ocean.  Here’s a video of a dolphin in Hawaii struggling with a plastic bag.  It’s all fun and games until a dolphin can’t breathe.
  • Disappearing Arctic sea ice is enticing orcas to head North.  Beluga whales, narwhal, and seals that could otherwise avoid the whales are increasingly on the menu.  According to researchers, the killer whales will compete with Inuit hunters for food and may replace polar bears as the North’s top predator.  As if polar bears didn’t have enough problems to deal with – global warming literally melting their habitat and unsustainable hunting in Canada.
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Switchboard is the staff blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the nation’s most effective environmental group. For more about our work, including in-depth policy documents, action alerts and ways you can contribute, visit NRDC.org.

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