This Week in Whales
Posted October 6, 2011
News in the world of whales this week (or close to this week):
- The big news in whales this week is that Japan is up to its old tricks, signaling a return to whaling in the southern ocean. Doubling down on its killing of hundreds of whales per year in the southern ocean for “scientific purposes” (Really? Is the scientific research a study into how many whales does Japan have to kill before it becomes an absolute international pariah?), Japan announced that it has increased the budget for the whaling in part to pay for increased security after last year’s clashes with Sea Shepherd. Meanwhile, Sea Shepherd basically said, “bring it on,” with a post on facebook saying, “They will have to kill us to prevent us from intervening once again.” Things could get ugly.
- Belugas, like something out of a Bond Film, beautiful and toxic. Beluga whales are certainly beautiful, but their good looks weren’t enough to keep them from being listed as “near threatened” on the IUCN Red List by beluga specialists. They are “near threatened” for many reasons, including over hunting and pollution, which brings us to why they are toxic. At the top of their food chain, beluga blubber and internal organs carry high amounts of persistent organic pollutants (POPs), like PCB and DDT. This causes horrible problems for belugas, possibly interfering with reproduction. Some of the most polluted belugas are from Canada’s St. Lawrence River, where some whale populations are so toxic that they are treated as toxic waste. On the upside, when you’re that toxic, you’re not being hunted for meat, so maybe the over hunting problem will get better. NRDC continues its work protecting the endangered Cook Inlet beluga whale population in Alaska.
- Awesome video on why people should be more like whales.
- The shipping industry cheats us on cleaner air, but at least their cheating may be helping whales. It turns out that California regulations aimed at reducing air pollution from large cargo vessels may have inadvertently helped save whales in the Santa Barbara Channel from being killed by ship strikes. According to a panel of ship-strike experts, the shipping industry moved out of Santa Barbara Channel to avoid a 2009 regulation requiring the use of low-sulfur fuels, keeping as many as 7,000 giant container ships from passing through the channel, where they otherwise could potentially strike whales. I have an idea, why don’t they do both – use the low-sulfur fuels and stay out of the channel. That way, the whales win and the use of low-sulfur fuels will save thousands of people from premature deaths.
- Guns don’t kill whales, people kill whales. Or at least one awful person killed a pilot whale by shooting it in the head. The juvenile pilot whale, 10 feet long and weighing in at 700 pounds, stranded on the coast of New Jersey and subsequently died. The whale was shot in the jaw, causing a massive infection and making it impossible for the whale to it. Basically, the animal starved to death. Under the 1972 Marine Mammal Protection Act, it is illegal to harass, hunt, capture, kill, or collect any marine mammal and violators are subject to penalties and imprisonment. I hope they catch the person who did this.
- Don’t sell the whale teeth you find in your attic or you may end up like a Virginia man who was convicted in federal court of selling sperm whale teeth he imported from the Ukraine. This story raises so many disturbing stories, including why Ukraine is an apparent hub in the world of sperm whale teeth. Last time I checked, sperm whales do not hang out in the Black Sea. If you do find whale teeth in your change jar, don’t sell them, which is illegal, instead look for evolutionary treasures, which are locked in the teeth of early whales. Scientists have been able to trace the evolution of whales from their landlubber roots by examining the teeth of whale ancestors. Cool.
- Amazon River Dolphin: “No, a jellyfish did not just sting me; I’m peeing on myself for an entirely different reason.” Amazon river dolphins may urinate on their backs to avoid the attentions of the candiru fish, a spiny, parasitic fish. I’m not buying it. Are you? This dolphin needs to come up with a better explanation. In the meantime the link has great pictures of the dolphins, fortunately not urinating.
Meanwhile, this week in Wales…
As the UK continues its race to the bottom by espousing “growth through austerity,” BBC Wales announced it will make cuts to TV and radio programs, losing 100 jobs over the next three years. It’s all part of larger cuts the BBC faces, with thousands of BBC jobs on the chopping block across the country. With UK GDP only growing by 0.1 percent in the second quarter, you have to wonder when Prime Minister David Cameron’s going to admit that his economic policies have failed.