Whales and Dolphins
Whales and dolphins are the smartest creatures in oceans. Their intelligence rivals ours but their expertise is focused on underwater life. They are capable of worldwide migrations with expert navigational skills. They are social animals like us who depend on each other for survival. Their enemies are humans who hunt them with large ships and guns. Whaling almost obliterated them. Increasing human concern for their survival has limited whaling and their numbers have increased from near extinction levels.
Whales in DangerAt least seven whale species, all listed as endangered, have been sighted close to New York city offshore. They include the largest animal that has ever lived, the blue whale, and one of the most endangered creatures on earth, the North Atlantic right whale, as well as humpback, fin, sei, minke and sperm whales. As to why so many whales are passing through New York’s waters — and which of them live in the metropolitan area year-round — even whale experts are at something of a loss. To solve those mysteries, the aquarium’s parent organization, the Wildlife Conservation Society, has partnered with the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, the biggest independent ocean research center in the United States, to conduct the largest-ever survey of New York’s whales. The project began on a research vessel 22 miles off Fire Island in thick fog on the night of June 23 without so much as a splash, as technicians gently eased a listening buoy into calm waters.
Warming waters may already be responsible for a large increase in sightings of humpbacks in recent years near the entrance to New York Harbor,” said Paul Sieswerda, the founder of Gotham Whale, a nonprofit that offers whale-watching trips from Breezy Point, Queens. In 2012, he said, whale watchers spotted 25 whales; by 2014 the number had climbed to 107. Sieswerda said warming oceans had brought vast schools of menhaden — a favorite fish of humpbacks, which eat more than a Volkswagen Beetle’s weight of seafood every day — from their usual haunts off Chesapeake Bay north to the New York Bight. Humpback whales — which can be as long as 60 feet, weigh as much as 40 tons and can live for 50 years — are found in all of the world’s oceans. There are 14 distinct population segments — groups that follow certain migration and breeding patterns — of humpback whales, some of which are classified as endangered or threatened. The population along the Atlantic coast, which winters in the Caribbean and summers in the North Atlantic or Arctic regions, is not now considered threatened under the Endangered Species Act. Around the world, there are an estimated 30,000 to 40,000 humpback whales, about a third of its original population. The Atlantic population is around 10,000. Humpback whales have been dying in extraordinary numbers along the Eastern Seaboard since the beginning of last year. Marine biologists have a term for it — an “unusual mortality event” — but they have no firm idea why it is happening.
(Tatiana Schlossberg . Mass Die-Off of Whales in Atlantic Is Being Investigated. NYT April 27, 2017)
My Friends, the Orcas of Georgia Strait
My friends the Orcas live nearby and I am always thrilled to encounter them. Over many years, I have encounter members of the northern pod, salmon eaters who travel through the archipelago that separates the mainland coast from Vancouver island. These Orcas are seen during the summer and fall months in the area of Johnstone Strait where I encounter them. Salmon funnel into narrow channels on their way to spawning rivers, and the Orcas congregate to intercept them.
Orchas live in a matriarchal society. Sons and daughters stay with their mother throughout their lives as matrilines. A pod is a larger unit that is made up of one or more matrilines that travel together and may be related. A clan is a group of pods that share similar calls or dialects, indicating that they share a common ancestry and a more closely related to each other than to whales in other clans. Each pod of resident orcas has a unique dialect that can be readily identified by the trained ear or sound analyzer.
Scientists believe there were about 86 southern resident killer whales, which were listed as endangered by the U.S. in 2005 when there were 89 of them, according to NOAA. Southern resident killer whales spend much of the year in the Strait of Georgia, the Strait of Juan de Fuca and Puget Sound in Washington and also feed on salmon in California rivers in winter. The Jpod is the southern resident killer whale population, listed as endangered in 2005. They are found in the inland marine waters of Washington and southern British Columbia.
The Marine Mammal Protection Act makes it illegal to harm, capture or kill whales. When J-34, an 18 year old male Orca was found dead close to Sechelt in December 2016, a major effort began to determine the cause of his death. An autopsy revealed a healthy looking Orca who suffered blunt force trauma to his head and neck, probably as a result of a ship collision. Orcas are well studied and treated as individuals. This latest death reduces the population to 79.
As with all human and animals, survival requires protection of their habitats and food supply. A British Columbia lawyer group, Ecojustice goes to court to protect natural environments, animals and humans. They advanced a case to protect killer Whales in 2012, to the Federal Court of Appeal who confirmed that the federal government is bound to legally protect all aspects of the critical habitat of British Columbia’s killer whales. They stated: ”British Columbia’s resident killer whales are made up of two distinct populations that live in the province’s waters year-round. The southern resident killer whales are listed as “endangered,” with about 85 members remaining, while approximately 235 threatened northern residents survive. Both species are listed under Canada’s Species at Risk Act, which means the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) is required to create plans for the species’ recovery and protection. A core part of the planning process is the identification and protection of critical habitat, which is defined as the habitat necessary for the survival and recovery of the species. “
Paul Watson was one of the early members of Greenpeace who moved on to form Sea Shepherd which is now a worldwide effort to protect marine wildlife through research and the enforcement of international laws, treaties and regulations. Watson endured much abuse from corporations, police, military, and legal challenges but persevered. Sea Shepherds are a take-action group. Their mission statement:” Established in 1977, our mission is to end the destruction of habitat and slaughter of wildlife in the world's oceans in order to conserve and protect ecosystems and species. We use innovative direct-action tactics to investigate, document, and take action when necessary to expose and confront illegal activities on the high seas. By safeguarding the biodiversity of our delicately balanced ocean ecosystems, Sea Shepherd works to ensure their survival for future generations.”
In 2003, Sea Shepherd was the first to release shocking pictures of a blood red cove, sparking global outcry against the dolphin slaughter in Taiji, Japan. Since 2010, Sea Shepherd's volunteer Cove Guardians have been the only group to stand along the shores of Taiji – ground zero for the international trade in captive dolphins – each day throughout the six-month annual hunt season. The Cove Guardians document and live stream to the world each drive, capture and slaughter of dolphins and pilot whales. Those cetaceans who are not ruthlessly killed in front of their family are sold to captive facilities in Taiji or elsewhere around the world, doomed to a life of imprisonment. Captivity is inextricably linked to the slaughter of these sentient, socially complex cetaceans, and this year Sea Shepherd will continue to expose the captive industry's role in this 'ecocide' of ocean wildlife.” (Sea Shepherd Conservation Society Accessed Online Feb 2017 http://www.seashepherd.org/ )
Marc Mangel provided a comprehensive review of the International Convention on the Regulation of Whaling and its failure to successfully regulate whaling that according to the commercial moratorium in 1986. Japanese Whale Research Programs obtained a Special Permit in the Antarctica. Australia challenged Japan in the International Court of Justice. The Japanese research claim was spurious but the court found that they had no jurisdiction in the case. They stated:” resolving the preservationist/conservationist sustainable use dichotomy is neither a matter of science nor law.”