Whales and dolphins lead ‘human-like lives’ thanks to big brains, says study

The cultural brain hypothesis of human development could also explain cetaceans forming friendships and even gossiping

Life is not so different beneath the ocean waves. Bottlenose dolphins use simple tools, orcas call each other by name, and sperm whales talk in local dialects. Many cetaceans live in tight-knit groups and spend a good deal of time at play.

That much scientists know. But in a new study, researchers compiled a list of the rich behaviours spotted in 90 different species of dolphins, whales and porpoises, and found that the bigger the species brain, the more complex indeed, the more human-like their lives are likely to be.

This suggests that the cultural brain hypothesis the theory that suggests our intelligence developed as a way of coping with large and complex social groups may apply to whales and dolphins, as well as humans.

Writing in the journal, Nature Ecology and Evolution, the researchers claim that complex social and cultural characteristics, such as hunting together, developing regional dialects and learning from observation, are linked to the expansion of the animals brains a process known as encephalisation.

The researchers gathered records of dolphins playing with humpback whales, helping fishermen with their catches, and even producing signature whistles for dolphins that are absent suggesting the animals may even gossip.

Another common behaviour was adult animals raising unrelated young. There is the saying that it takes a village to raise a child [and that] seems to be true for both whales and humans, said Michael Muthukrishna, an economic psychologist and co-author on the study at the London School of Economics.

Dolphins
Dolphins off the coast of South Africa. Photograph: Rainer Schimpf/Barcroft Media

Like humans, the cetaceans, a group made up of dolphins, whales and porpoises, are thought to do most of their learning socially rather than individually, which could explain why some species learn more complex behaviours than others. Those predominantly found alone or in small groups had the smallest brains, the researchers led by Susanne Shultz at the University of Manchester wrote.

Luke Rendell, a biologist at the University of St Andrews who was not involved in the study, but has done work on sperm whales and their distinctive dialects, warned against anthropomorphising and making animals appear to be like humans.

There is a risk of sounding like there is a single train line, with humans at the final station and other animals on their way of getting there. The truth is that every animal responds to their own evolutionary pressures, he said.

There is definitely a danger in comparing other animals to humans, especially with the data available. But what we can say for sure, is that this cultural-brain hypothesis we tested is present in primates and in cetaceans, Muthukrishna said.

There was still much more to learn, though, he added. Studies with underwater mammals are difficult and vastly underfunded, so there is so much we dont know about these fascinating animals, he said.

The fascination, however, should not only be interesting for people studying animals. We dont have to look at other planets to look for aliens, because we know that underwater there are these amazing species with so many parallels to us in their complex behaviours, said Muthukrishna.

Studying evolutionarily distinct animals such as cetaceans could act as a control group for studying intelligence in general, and so help the understanding of our own intellect.

It is interesting to think that whale and human brains are different in their structure but have brought us to the same patterns in behaviour, Rendell said. The extent of how this is close to humans can educate us about evolutionary forces in general.

However, Muthukrishna points out that intelligence is always driven by the environment an animal finds itself in. Each environment presents a different set of challenges for an animal. When you are above water, you learn how to tackle fire, for example, he said. As smart as whales are, they will never learn to light a spark.

Source: http://www.theguardian.com/us

Anonymous Is Now Hacking A Country Because They Kill Whales

Iceland is a pretty great country to be honest. They have waterfalls, lagoons, and the Northern Lights…

Their literacy rate is 99%, the sun never sets (at least not in summer) and they have a handy app to make sure no-one inadvertently commits incest.

You would think that hacker group Anonymous would approve of Iceland – what with their liberal stance on refugee quotas, and their informative penis museums – but the hactivists have declared cyber war on the tiny island nation.

Why? They disapprove of Iceland’s whaling policies.

In a video posted online, Anonymous said:

“Whales do not have a voice. We will be a voice for them. Its time to speak out about this impending extinction of a species. Its time to let Iceland know we will not stand by and watch as they drive this animal to extinction.”

Whaling is frowned on internationally (to say the least), but along with Norway and Japan, Iceland continues to hunt whales for their meat.

Just when we thought there wasn’t a single blemish on this volcano-garnished, hot-spring adorned, incest-free paradise!

Anonymous have called for a boycott on Icelandic products, and have already shut down at least five of their government’s websites, vowing to expose the cruel practices involved in whaling.

You can watch Anonymous declare war on Iceland – liberal, beautiful – yet whale murdering Iceland – here:

–>

Source:

Watch baby humpback whales swim in warm Atlantic waters

The same process that turns the ocean blue also helps humpback whales find the coziest spot for raising their precious 1-ton calves.

Water molecules absorb all the colored photons of light (red, orange, yellow, blue) and the photons’ energy. Water then turns that color energy into heat precisely what the blubber-less calves need to grow strong.

PBS explores this interplay between color and energy in its new series Forces of Nature, which premieres Sept. 14 at 8 p.m. ET.

In an exclusive clip shared with Mashable, scientists explain why the Dominican Republic is one of the few breeding and calving zones of the North Atlantic humpback whale.

North Atlantic Humpback whale in the Silver Bank Marine Reserve, Dominican Republic.

Image: pbs/forces of nature

The Silver Bank Marine Reserve, about 56 miles off the island, is exposed to the full power of the tropical sun. The sun’s photons heat the brilliant blue seas to around 80 degrees Fahrenheit, or 26.6 degrees Celsius.

“It’s a warm, safe place to give birth, and the reason that’s the case has to do with the color of the ocean and the wavelengths that have been absorbed,” Bill Gardner, vice president of programming for PBS, told Mashable.

As if baby whales weren’t enough to tug at your heart strings, the United States announced last week that most populations of humpback whales are no longer on the U.S. endangered species list.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said global conservation efforts over the past four decades have helped nine of 14 humpback population segments rebound from historically low levels.

2016 Humpback distinct population segments.

Image: NOAA

Forces of Nature, a BBC co-production, will explore Earth’s mysterious and intricate forces in four episodes: “Shape,” “Color,” “Motion,” and “Natural Elements.”

The series aims to “illustrate that the Earth is a system; everything is interdependent,” Gardner said by phone. “It goes down to the molecular level.”

The “Color” episode, which airs Sept. 28, will also feature birds of paradise in Papua New Guinea, whose plumage helps them blend into the rainforest or attract mates. A segment on the Serengeti in east-central Africa will explain why the ecosystem’s forests, swamps and grasslands are lush and green.

A Maasai cattle herder surveys the grasslands of the Serengeti plains in Tanzania.

Image: pbs/forces of nature

Color is a tangible, active thing that carries the energy of the sun,” Gardner said.

The exclusive preview shows that while humpback whale calves thrive in the Silver Bank reserve’s warm waters, for adults the area is essentially an underwater food desert. Mothers have little to feed on and instead live off a snack pack of blubber.

Once calves grow their own thin layer of fat, the whales will head thousands of miles to the north to the Gulf of Maine and other feeding grounds.

In the North Atlantic, the light of the sun is much weaker and waters are frigid. But the ocean is stocked with the tiny crustaceans, plankton and small fish that humpbacks prefer to gobble.

“Color is something that we all take for granted, and what we wanted to help demonstrate is that there’s more to it than we initially think,” Gardner said.

Source: http://mashable.com/

Dozens of humpback whales have died recently and nobody is sure why

Hey, humpback whale fans. We’ve got some really cute news and some really sad news about your favorite 80,000-pound mammal.

Let’s start with the grim: A troubling number of humpback whales are dying on the U.S. East Coast.

Fisheries officials this week declared an “unusual mortality event” following the deaths of 41 humpbacks from Maine down to North Carolina.

In that region, 15 whales have died so far in 2017, adding to the 26 humpback deaths last year, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reported. In an average year, only about 14 humpbacks die along that coastal stretch.

NOAA scientists said they don’t know why humpbacks are dying in such high numbers, though they’re about to take a deeper look.

He’s just taking a long nap.

Image: MERR Institute

By declaring an unusual mortality event, NOAA kicked off a formal investigation process that could take months or years to complete, according to Mendy Garron, a stranding coordinator for NOAA Fisheries Greater Atlantic Region office.

The Marine Mammal Protection Act defines an unusual event as “a significant die-off of any marine mammal population” that requires an “immediate response,” she said during a Thursday press conference.

Scientists have examined 20 of the 41 dead whales and found no evidence of an infectious disease. Ten of them, however, showed signs of blunt-force trauma or cuts from a ship strike a significant jump.

Most populations of humpback whales are no longer listed as endangered, as of September 2016.

Image: NOAA Fisheries

Since there likely hasn’t been a spike in vessel traffic in these parts, experts suspect the rise in ship strikes might be because the fish and krill whales eat are moving into harm’s way.

Whale prey might be moving around due to warmer water temperatures which are rising in part because of human-driven climate change though scientists don’t know for sure, Greg Silber, a biologist with NOAA’s Office of Protected Resources, told reporters.

Ok, so… How about that really cute news?

Ecologists in Denmark and Australia found that newborn humpbacks “whisper” to their mothers to avoid being overheard by hungry killer whales.

Scientists used temporary tags on humpback mothers and calves in Exmouth Gulf in western Australia to record their interactions.

The study, published this week in the journal Functional Ecology, found that baby whales communicate in “intimate grunts and squeaks” with their moms during the long migration to their feeding grounds. That’s far more subtle than the loud, sonorous groans of male humpbacks.

“This migration is very demanding for young calves,” Simone Videsen, the study’s lead author and a researcher at Aarhus University, said in a news release.

A mother-calf humpback pair inExmouth Gulf, Australia.

Image: Fredrik Christiansen

“They travel 5,000 miles across open water in rough seas and with strong winds,” she said. “Knowing more about their suckling will help us understand what could disrupt this critical behavior, so we can target conservation efforts more effectively.”

For the study, researchers applied suction-cup tags to eight calves and two mothers. They found that mothers and calves spend significant amounts of time nursing and resting. Data tags also showed that calves “whispered” while swimming, suggesting the quiet calls help keep mom and baby together in murky waters.

“Killer whales hunt young humpback calves outside Exmouth Gulf, so by calling softly to its mother, the calf is less likely to be heard by killer whales and avoid attracting male humpbacks who want to mate with the nursing females,” Videsen said.

She said the findings could help researchers better protect this crucial humpback habitat and ensure the nursers waters are kept as quiet as possible.

WATCH: Stunning drone footage captures rare video of blue whales feeding

Source: http://mashable.com/

Rare drone footage enlightens scientists on feeding behavior of blue whales

One small flight for drones has the potential to be one giant step for science … just ask researchers at Oregon State University.

A group of scientists at the university recently captured rare footage of blue whales feeding in the Southern Ocean off New Zealand via drone.

The stunning footage, narrated by Leigh G. Torres, expedition leader and principal investigator with the Marine Mammal Institute at Oregon State, provides a great deal of insight into what whales eat and how they decide what food is worthy of their time.

In a press release, Torres explained the footage clearly shows the blue whales’ “lunge-feeding” process of suddenly lunging forward to eat a massive pack of krill.

“Our footage shows this [lunge-feeding theory] in action,” said Torres. “We can see the whale making choices, which is really extraordinary because aerial observations of blue whales feeding on krill are rare. The whale bypasses certain krill patches presumably because the nutritional payoff isnt sufficient and targets other krill patches that are more lucrative.”

“We think this is because blue whales are so big, and stopping to lunge-feed and then speeding up again is so energy-intensive, that they try to maximize their effort,” Torres continued.

As for the unique perspective, the investigator gave a big thumbs up to drone usage, explaining they’re a “great way to film [the whales’] behavior without disturbing their behavior at all, unlike other aerial methods like a helicopter or a plane, which cant hover or make a lot of noise.”

Source: http://mashable.com/

Scientists are using satellites to spot whales from outer space

A southern humpback whale breaches in Australian waters.
Image: Dave Hunt/EPA/REX/Shutterstock

A humpback whale may be a huge creature to the human eye, but they’re still tough to spot from space.

Until recently, the necessary high-resolution satellite technology wasn’t readily available, but researchers in Western Australia are beginning to use satellite imagery to check on the size of local populations.

The aim of the project is to keep tabs on Western Australia’s humpback whale numbers, explained Curt Jenner, managing director of the Centre for Whale Research.

“The goal of the project is ultimately to make sure this population of humpback whales, which has always historically been the largest in the world, is still viable and has recovered to its full potential,” he said. The animals were hunted almost to extinction in the early to mid 20th century.

While projects like this were able to find government and corporate funding in the past, that money has increasingly dried up as whale numbers rebound, Jenner said, forcing he and his research partner on this project, Michele Thums, to find a new solution.

Satellite imagery of whales migrating.

Image: Curt Jenner

“There are no longer any budgets to send aerial survey teams of people up in planes nor people out in boats to do that population monitoring, and so we were looking for an economical solution that was low in man power,” he said.

Drones are one technology now commonly used in whale research, but they’re not always able to deliver the scale a satellite can. “This is like a population census, if you will, it gives you a snapshot in time of an entire population as opposed to a focus on one whale at a time,” Jenner added.

To obtain the imagery it was a simple as giving the U.S. satellite company DigitalGlobe a time slot, the coordinates and instructions to only take shots on fair weather days using its WorldView-3 satellite system.

The team received two days worth of imagery for around A$40,000 ($30,600) funded by the WA Marine Science Institute. “Even though A$20,000 an image sounds like a lot of money, it’s nothing compared to what it costs to put a team of people out and flying aerial surveys,” he said.

For Jenner, one big question was whether a colour or black and white satellite image worked better for whale spotting.

Satellite imagery of whales migrating.

Image: Curt jenner

“Turns out, the black and white images were better and clearer and higher resolution for seeing the whales than the [colour] ones,” he explained. “In the future, we’ll probably only be using the [black and white] ones, which will make our jobs a lot easier and a lot cheaper.”

This type of monitoring is especially important as human use of the northwest shelf of Australia increases in the form of oil and gas exploration as well as shipping. “I do have a concern that the way that the whales are using the coast line is changing through human impact,” he said. “It’s necessarily going to displace whales out of their natural habitat.”

In 2017, Jenner plans to collect more than two days-worth of whale imagery, and in different locations along the coast line. He also hopes that future satellites with even higher resolution cameras will be able to one day spot and identify individual whales. They could even use small tags that fluoresce, for example, and make it easier to identify them from space.

“As time goes on, only your imagination limits what can be done as the technology gets better,” he said. “We’re looking forward to the next five to 10 years very much.”

[h/t ABC]

Source: http://mashable.com/

Intense footage shows three whales breaching just feet from kayakers

A few kayakers got a little too close to three whales showing off their jumping skills last week in British Columbia, Canada.

According to the video, the group was safely observing a mother nursing her calf off the coast of the Penn Islands when the whales descended into the water and out of sight. Initially, the kayakers were at a safe distance, but when the whales suddenly breached the surface, they were much, much closer than before.

“There’s not a whole lot you can do when the humpbacksdecidethey’re going to move,” Heather Lawrence, who filmed part of the clip told the CBC.

The calf breached first, which was impressive enough, but the mother whale was the real showstopper.

“The baby jumped, and that was like, ‘Wow, that’s amazing.’ But then the mom came up right away and she’s humongous compared to baby,” said Lawrence.

Fortunately, the whales did not hit or injure any of the kayakers as they were showing off their impressive bellyflop skills.

Lawrence also explained to the CBC that when the mother whale breached, she immediately dropped her camera to paddle away from the whale as the guides instructed.

Source: http://mashable.com/

Bros ruin beautiful shot of humpback whales in San Francisco Bay

Bro, check out these sick whales.

A group of humpback whales were spotted near the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco Bay on Thursday a beautiful sight for anyone who appreciates nature.

A local ABC 7’s chopper was there to capture the event, which was ruined by some area bros who were just trying to catch some sick air.

According to ABC, marine biologists believe that the whales were attracted to the bay because of an increased number of anchovies swimming near the shore, not to see any sweet tricks.

Don’t worry, though. One of the kite surfers fell right after coming extremely close to one of the majestic sea beasts just trying to score a meal.

Have something to add to this story? Share it in the comments.

Source: http://mashable.com/

Don’t call it a wholphin: first sighting of rare whale-dolphin hybrid

Scientists have identified a creature that they believe to be a hybrid of a melon-headed whale and a rough-toothed dolphin

Scientists are touting the first sighting of a hybrid between a melon-headed whale and a rough-toothed dolphin in the ocean off Hawaii. But dont call it a wholphin, they say.

The melon-headed whale is one of the various species thats called a whale but is technically a dolphin.

Calling it something like a wholphin doesnt make any sense, said one of the studys authors, Robin Baird, a Hawaii research biologist with Washington state-based Cascadia Research Collective. I think calling it a wholphin just confuses the situation more than it already is.

In a study published last week, scientists say the animal spotted off the island of Kauai in August 2017 appears to be the first record of a hybrid involving either species. Its also only the third confirmed instance of a wild-born hybrid between species in the Delphinidae family.

The label wholphin has stuck for a hybrid born in 1985 at Hawaiis Sea Life Park of a false killer whale and an Atlantic bottle-nose dolphin. The hybrid named Kekaimalu still lives at the marine mammal park, where she helps teach children about genetics. News of the hybrid spotted in the wild during navy-funded research to study the effects of sonar, proves the genetic diversity of the ocean, said Sea Life park curator Jeff Pawloski. To know she has cousins out there in the ocean is an amazing thing to know.

While some news organisations have described the melon-headed whale and rough-toothed dolphin hybrid as a new species, in order for that to happen other things need to occur, including more widespread hybridisation, Baird said.

That isnt the case, although there are examples where hybridisation has resulted in a new species, he said. Theres no evidence to suggest its leading toward anything like species formation.

The male hybrid presents an opportunity to look for others. Hybrids generally occur when there is a decline in the population in one of the parental species, so scientists will be looking out for such a decline.

A likely scenario for how the hybrid came to be is a melon-headed whale getting separated from its group and ending up traveling with rough-toothed dolphins.
Scientists do not know how old it is, but believe it is close to adult age.

Source: http://www.theguardian.com/us

One For The Road: SeaWorld Has Realized People Will Be Mad At It No Matter What It Does So Its Just Going To See How Fat It Can Make A Dolphin Before It Goes Bankrupt

SeaWorld has faced a ton of backlash over the past few years for the way it treats the animals in its park. After trying unsuccessfully to repair its image for some time, the water park has recently changed its approach: SeaWorld has realized that people will be mad at it no matter what it does, so it’s decided to just see how fat it can make a dolphin at its Orlando location before it goes bankrupt.

Looks like SeaWorld figures that if it’s going down, it might as well go down on its own terms. The beleaguered park announced the plans in a Twitter thread early this morning:

Needless to say, SeaWorld’s tweets, along with several photos on the park’s website of park officials feeding an obese dolphin 15 gallons of chocolate pudding received immediate public backlash:

There’s no denying that this is a bold move on SeaWorld’s part. The beleaguered park knows its expiration date is approaching fast, but before it’s forced to shutter its doors forever, it’s fully committed to making this dolphin as heavy as possible. We’ll be keeping an eye on SeaWorld and its gigantic dolphin until the park shuts down!

Source: http://www.clickhole.com/features/news/

Seven right whales found dead in ‘devastating’ blow to endangered animal

Carcasses found off Canada in recent weeks in what may be biggest single die-off of one of worlds most endangered whale species, expert says

Seven North Atlantic right whales have been found floating lifelessly in the Gulf of St Lawrence, off Canada, in recent weeks, in what is being described as a catastrophic blow to one of the worlds most endangered whales.

The first whale carcass was reported in early June. Within a month, another six reports came in, leaving marine biologists in the region reeling.

Its devastating, said Tonya Wimmer of the Marine Animal Response Society, a charitable organisation dedicated to marine mammal conservation in the region. This is, I think, the largest die-off theyve ever had for this particularly species, at once.

The global population of North Atlantic right whales which live along the eastern seaboard of Canada and the US and can reach up to 16 metres in length is thought to be around 525, meaning that more than 1% of the population has died in the past month. So it is catastrophic in terms of potential impact to this population.

This
This is, I think, the largest die-off theyve ever had for this particularly species, at once, says an expert. Photograph: Marine Animal Response Society

At least two of the whales were female, with one of them known to be entering its reproductive years. Youre talking anywhere from five to 10 babies in their lifetime. And now they wont happen. Its heartbreaking, said Wimmer.

With no obvious causes for the deaths, a team including federal scientists, pathologists and veterinarians have been racing against time to figure out what is happening. Last week they carried out necropsies on three of the whales, hoping to find clues before the carcasses decompose.

While their findings are still preliminary, they found signs of severe blunt trauma and bruising on two of the whales, suggesting collision with a vessel, while the third had been tangled in fishing gear for weeks.

The findings still dont explain why the deaths have seemingly occurred within such a short time frame, said Wimmer, though regardless, there are some aspects of the last stages of their life that were impacted by human activities in that area. As scientists move into the laboratory to carry out further analyses, some have speculated that the deaths may have been caused by toxic algae or something the whales ate.

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A team including federal scientists, pathologists and veterinarians have been racing against time to figure out the cause of the deaths. Photograph: Marine Animal Response Society

The North Atlantic right whale has struggled since being nearly hunted to extinction by whalers in the late 18th century. In recent years, researchers have noticed the whales moving into the Gulf of St Lawrence in large numbers, leading to increased interactions with humans.

Earlier this week, reports came in of a right whale in the area that was tangled in fishing gear. Some six hours after it was first spotted, scientists were able to cut the whale free of a fishing line in its mouth.

The entanglement, along with the unprecedented number of deaths, may suggest that fishing gear needs to be set out differently or that vessels need to start moving more slowly through the region, said Wimmer. Right now theres still a lot of questions, she added. Theres probably more questions than there are answers.

Source: http://www.theguardian.com/us

Japan kills more than 300 whales in annual Antarctic hunt

Whaling fleet returns to port after slaughtering hundreds of minke whales, in defiance of moratorium on hunting and global criticism

A Japanese whaling fleet returned to port on Friday after an annual Antarctic hunt that killed more than 300 of the mammals, as Tokyo pursues the programme in defiance of global criticism.

The fleet set sail for the Southern Ocean in November, with plans to slaughter 333 minke whales, flouting a worldwide moratorium and opposition led by Australia and New Zealand.

The fleet consisted of five ships, three of which arrived on Friday morning at Shimonoseki port in western Japan, the countrys Fisheries Agency said.

More than 200 people, including crew members and their families, gathered in the rain for a 30-minute ceremony in front of the Nisshin Maru, the fleets main ship, according to an official of the Shimonoseki city government.

In a press release, the agency described the mission as research for the purpose of studying the ecological system in the Antarctic Sea.

But environmentalists and the International Court of Justice (IJC) call that a fiction and say the real purpose is simply to hunt whales for their meat.

Anticipating the fleets return, animal protection charity Humane Society International called for an end to Japanese whaling. Each year that Japan persists with its discredited scientific whaling is another year where these wonderful animals are needlessly sacrificed, said Kitty Block, the groups executive vice-president.

It is an obscene cruelty in the name of science that must end.

Japan also caught 333 minke whales in the previous season ending in 2016 after a one-year hiatus prompted by an IJC ruling, which said the hunt was a commercial venture masquerading as science and ordered Tokyo to end it.

Under the International Whaling Commission (IWC), to which Japan is a signatory, there has been a moratorium on hunting whales since 1986.

Tokyo exploits a loophole allowing whales to be killed for scientific research and claims it is trying to prove the population is large enough to sustain a return to commercial hunting.

But it also makes no secret of the fact that whale meat ends up on dinner tables and is served in school lunches.

Japan has hunted whales for centuries, and their meat was a key source of protein in the immediate post-second world war years, when the country was desperately poor. But consumption has dramatically declined in recent decades, with significant proportions of the population saying they never or rarely eat whale meat.

In response to the ICJ ruling, Japans 2014-15 mission carried out only non-lethal research such as taking skin samples and doing headcounts.

Past missions have been hampered by a confrontational campaign on the high seas by environmentalists Sea Shepherd. A fisheries agency official said that the whalers this time faced no obstructive behaviour threatening safety of the fleet and crew members by the group.

He attributed that partially to Japan dispatching patrol ships to protect the fleet.

Source: http://www.theguardian.com/us

Why Are So Many Dead Whales Washing Up in the Bay Area?

There’s no one way to describe the scent of a beached, rotting whale. See, it really depends on time and space: So long as you’re more than 20 feet away, you don’t smell a thing. But if you’re downwind, the sour stench will just about bowl you over. Its bite sits heavily instead of sharply in your throat. If a zombie wore week-old gym socks, this is what it would smell like.

Then consider the time of death. Whales are full of bacteria, just like us, so when they wash up dead, their body cavities play host to microbial anarchy. As the whale lies there on the beach in the sun, the bacteria multiply. Lots of different kinds of bacteria, spreading and eating up nutrients and giving off gas—which builds up, bloating the body to the point that it’s dangerous to deflate.

Video by Matt Simon

Which is why on a beach 13 miles north of San Francisco, a dozen scientists are carefully prodding a 58-foot female fin whale laid out on her back. “You'll usually see the stomach swell quite big, almost like if you have a stomach that's too full,” Barbie Halaska tells me—standing more than 20 feet from the whale, of course. She’s coordinator for strandings at the Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito, California, and this is her necropsy (that’d be an autopsy for a non-human being). Wearing a teal hat and orange waders and elbow-length gloves, she walks around the whale, poking at it.

When you cut through the blubber layers, she adds, you start to see the muscle tense under the pressure of gas. “So you just poke little holes and you go along to let the gas escape.” It hisses like an inflatable mattress full of death.

Halaska and a dozen other scientists from the MMC and the California Academy of Sciences aren’t here to learn whale anatomy. They’re here to understand what happened to this bleached-white whale, which shows no outward signs of trauma, other than the typical nicks and scratches that come with being a massive animal swimming through the sea. Maybe the whale got tangled up in fishing nets and drowned. Or a ship struck it and the animal had manifested all its damage internally. Or disease had felled the whale.

Whatever the cause, its appearance builds on a bad omen: This is the third reported stranding in the Bay Area in a week. The average here for an entire year is five to seven. So what’s going on?

What these folks know for sure is that this particular whale is in an “advanced” state of decay. Someone reported it stranded on Duxbury Reef, near the town of Bolinas, three days before, and it died who knows how long before that. “Every time you go into a whale,” Halaska tells me before turning and heading back to her subject, “you go into it with an open mind.”

The scientists, armed with foot-long knives that look like miniature pirate swords, slice through blubber, peeling the flesh off in sheets. (Please be advised that you're coming up on a photo of this scene, which contains gore.) At this stage of decay, it’s easier to slice than if it were fresh, like cutting through a grape. A blond gentlemen in a backwards cap uses a meat hook to drag chunks of blubber into a tide pool, tossing them with a schlop when the stuff hits rock and a splash when it hits standing water. Rivers of whale blood make their way through the pools and into the sea. All the while, a gang of seagulls inches closer, eventually getting the courage to snag a piece of meat. They fight over it at first, but then seem to lose interest. Again, advanced state of decay.

Halaska comes back to my safe aromatic distance from the whale and invites me to get a real whiff. She leads me along the animal’s split-open abdomen.

“So this first layer that you're probably smelling is most likely blubber,” she says, “maybe a little bit of muscle. You can kind of smell the iron a little bit.”

“Can you smell it?” Halaska laughs. “I can’t smell it anymore.”

I can smell it, alright. Really, I'm lucky to be here for this relatively early necropsy, because with some other whales, the team doesn’t do just one. If the whale is big enough, they’ll do an initial exploration, then come back after it’s rotted more for better access to bones. At that point, the insides are more or less soup.

Matt Simon

Halaska brings me toward the tail. “Then if you stand here, this will be the intestinal contents, so you've got a little bit of brownish red material,” she says. That’d be the foul puddle on the ground. “It's just a different smell, it's almost like feces combined with a little bit of fat.”

“Not bacon grease fat,” she clarifies.

I leave her to her work. The team slices deeper, every so often puncturing cavities and letting out a hiss of gas. Beneath all that blubber, they’ve revealed a massive band of purple flesh running down the whale’s left side. It’s severe hemorrhaging, and pretty much only one thing can do that to an animal this size: a ship strike.

But you know what they say about assumptions. Just days before, a gray whale had washed ashore on Tennessee Valley Beach, nine miles to the south. “When we went out the first day, we saw that there were clear skull fractures, so we were thinking maybe a ship strike,” says Halaska. After all, this is a major shipping area. “But when we got in there, she had clear lines on her neck and into the muscle layer where she had this chronic bruising from an entanglement.” She’d run into a net, probably drowned or died of exhaustion, and then was struck by a ship.

Hemorrhaging on this new whale, though, is a big clue. That only happens to tissue while an animal is still alive. So the team digs deeper.

On the right side of the whale, a scientist cutting through flesh pulls out worm-like endoparasites—those would be parasites that live inside their host, common for a whale—and puts them in a plastic baggy. Then he pulls out a rib fragment about six inches long. He holds it in the air and calls out to Halaska over the top of the whale. She yells back to set it aside, so he lays it carefully on a slice of blubber on the beach.

Next Halaska climbs atop the whale's belly. She’s after the sternum, that bit of bone in the middle of your ribs. She slices away with her mini-sword, cutting out a huge square of flesh that she kicks to the ground. She too finds rib fragments.

Rib fragments from the stranded whale. Note the bruise on the second from the top.

Matt Simon

Halaska scrambles down. At this point, her waders are not only covered in whale muck, but she’s also got a small purple smear of it on the right side of her face. “I actually found one rib that has bone bruising,” she tells me. “So what happens is, it was hit and it causes the bone itself to bleed, it taints the bone pink. So it was definitely alive when it was hit.”

The team finds more fractured ribs, as well as fractured vertebrae near the head. The skull itself is fractured, all with associated hemorrhaging.

A ship strike, through and through—you just couldn’t tell it from the outside, likely because the skin was so decayed. The damage stretches from the whale’s left side, up and over into her sternum, with fractures also on the left side, where that fellow found his own rib fragment. “So it looks almost like she rolled when she got hit,” Halaska says. “It's unfortunate. It really sucks. It sucks for her.”

“I honestly hope for that animal's sake it was instant,” she adds.

That doesn’t make us humans merciful. This fin whale was a victim of the Bay Area’s bustling commerce, ships steaming through the Golden Gate with little regard for our ocean-going mammalian relatives. So long as the Bay Area exists, that won’t end.

But by proving that ships are killing whales—by slicing through rotten flesh and hunting for rib fragments and crawling atop massive bodies—Halaska and her team can help influence policy. Getting ships to slow down in certain areas, for instance. “Every case that we do just helps to further inform the public and inform policymakers what's happening in the oceans,” Halaska says.

It’s increasingly clear something has to change. That other whale that got tangled and then was struck by a ship? Someone reported it beached on May 18, two days after NOAA got word of a ship entering San Francisco Bay with yet another fin whale draped across its bow. That animal sank and resurfaced in Alameda, near Oakland. It was towed to Angel Island in the bay, where scientists tied it to a post at high tide. Then once low tide came along, they did their necropsy, found fractures and hemorrhaging, and confirmed the cause of death.

The fin whale sprawled at my feet will enter the annals of science, but will see little ceremony beyond that. Towing it out to sea and sinking it would be too difficult. You certainly can’t blow it up, as Oregon learned the hard way in 1970. You could bury it, sure, but that’s not really necessary. This whale will be left to rot where it lies. That may not please beachgoing humans, but the scavengers will certainly appreciate it—seagull company excluded.


More Great WIRED Stories

Source: http://www.wired.com/

Anonymous Is Now Hacking A Country Because They Kill Whales

Iceland is a pretty great country to be honest. They have waterfalls, lagoons, and the Northern Lights…

Their literacy rate is 99%, the sun never sets (at least not in summer) and they have a handy app to make sure no-one inadvertently commits incest.

You would think that hacker group Anonymous would approve of Iceland – what with their liberal stance on refugee quotas, and their informative penis museums – but the hactivists have declared cyber war on the tiny island nation.

Why? They disapprove of Iceland’s whaling policies.

In a video posted online, Anonymous said:

“Whales do not have a voice. We will be a voice for them. Its time to speak out about this impending extinction of a species. Its time to let Iceland know we will not stand by and watch as they drive this animal to extinction.”

Whaling is frowned on internationally (to say the least), but along with Norway and Japan, Iceland continues to hunt whales for their meat.

Just when we thought there wasn’t a single blemish on this volcano-garnished, hot-spring adorned, incest-free paradise!

Anonymous have called for a boycott on Icelandic products, and have already shut down at least five of their government’s websites, vowing to expose the cruel practices involved in whaling.

You can watch Anonymous declare war on Iceland – liberal, beautiful – yet whale murdering Iceland – here:

–>

Source:

Not All Whales Are Friendly…Some Just Want To Kill You

There’s no evidence to suggest that pilot whales are more aggressive than other whales, but judging by this encounter, researchers might want to revisit that topic. This snorkeler was swimming with a pod of pilot whales off the coast of Hawaii when they suddenly started behaving aggressively.

They shoved her a little bit at first, but she managed to get away. Just when things looked like they were calming down, one of the whales grabbed her by the ankle and dragged her 30 feet underwater.

Talk about a traumatic experience.

(source: Animal Planet )

I guess you could also say that the whale was being playful, but something about this footage makes me think otherwise. When you’re on a huge animal’s turf, it’s probably best to leave it alone.

Source: http://www.viralnova.com

Volunteers document race to save surviving whales after 400 stranded

New Zealand has suffered one of its worst whale strandings in history.
Image: Tim Cuff/New Zealand Herald via AP

416 pilot whales have been stranded on a New Zealand beach Friday morning, in one of the worst incidences of its kind in the country’s history.

The whales are located at Farewell Spit near the city of Nelson, with volunteers doing what they can to help save the surviving 100 whales. 250 to 300 are already dead, according to the Department of Conservation.

“It can be really quite distressing seeing so many dead whales,” Kath Inwood, a ranger with the Department of Conservation, told AP. “People need to be resilient and handle that and then get on with what needs to be done.”

There are 300 volunteers working onsite alongside staff from the Department of Conservation and organisation Project Jonah, with some people coming across the country to help. Inwood said that volunteers refloated the whales at high tide, forming a chain to stop them from swimming back onshore.

The area seems to confuse whales, as it’s been the site of previous mass strandings.

Earlier, volunteers had tried to keep the surviving whales damp and cool by placing blankets over them, as well as throwing buckets of water on them while waiting for high tide to come.

There was only one opportunity on Friday to float the whales at high tide, as no work will be done overnight due to the risk to people. According to Newshub, half of the 100 whales have been re-stranded after they were refloated.

While strandings have occurred before at Farewell Spit, the incident has shocked locals due to its magnitude.

There are various theories as to why whales strand, with reasons including old age, injury, navigational errors.

Associated Press contributed reporting.

Source: http://mashable.com/

Rare drone footage enlightens scientists on feeding behavior of blue whales

One small flight for drones has the potential to be one giant step for science … just ask researchers at Oregon State University.

A group of scientists at the university recently captured rare footage of blue whales feeding in the Southern Ocean off New Zealand via drone.

The stunning footage, narrated by Leigh G. Torres, expedition leader and principal investigator with the Marine Mammal Institute at Oregon State, provides a great deal of insight into what whales eat and how they decide what food is worthy of their time.

In a press release, Torres explained the footage clearly shows the blue whales’ “lunge-feeding” process of suddenly lunging forward to eat a massive pack of krill.

“Our footage shows this [lunge-feeding theory] in action,” said Torres. “We can see the whale making choices, which is really extraordinary because aerial observations of blue whales feeding on krill are rare. The whale bypasses certain krill patches presumably because the nutritional payoff isnt sufficient and targets other krill patches that are more lucrative.”

“We think this is because blue whales are so big, and stopping to lunge-feed and then speeding up again is so energy-intensive, that they try to maximize their effort,” Torres continued.

As for the unique perspective, the investigator gave a big thumbs up to drone usage, explaining they’re a “great way to film [the whales’] behavior without disturbing their behavior at all, unlike other aerial methods like a helicopter or a plane, which cant hover or make a lot of noise.”

Source: http://mashable.com/

Humpback whales gather in mysterious ‘super-groups’ and the internet is pretty sure we’re doomed

A "super-group" of humpback whales.
Image: Jean Tresfon/plos one

Huge groups of humpback whales have been seen gathering in the Southern Hemisphere, and it’s leaving scientists and people on the internet a little confused.

Usually, humpbacks are pretty solitary creatures, but a study published on March 1 in the journal PLOS One details multiple “super-groups” of whales gathering in 2011, 2014 and 2015.

The groups range in size from 20 to 200 individuals, and, according to the study, the large gatherings appear to be associated with feeding behavior.

Of course, that didn’t stop people on Twitter from wildly speculating about the whales’ real motives. A running theme is that they have a plan perhaps to take on the Trump administration or overthrow humanity.

Humpback whales are pretty amazing animals in general.

They live in all of the major oceans of the world, taking advantage of tropical and subtropical waters, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

After years of whaling, their populations are now back on the rise in many habitats, NOAA added.

So, hey, are these super-groups of humpbacks out for revenge on all humans? Probably not, but best keep your distance just in case …

Source: http://mashable.com/

40-ton whale filmed jumping fully out of the water like it’s some kind of hotshot dolphin or something

An enormous adult humpback whale was filmed breaching fully out of the water off the southeastern coast of South Africa in early July. The massive whale propels its full body out of the water, like it’s some kind of fit young dolphin or something.

The impressive sight was captured by scuba diver Craig Capehart and witnessed by three other divers in his boat.

“It seems that never before has a recording been made of an adult humpback whale leaping entirely out of the water! A very rare event, indeed,” Capehart writes although not confirmed in the video’s Youtube description.

Good air, whale. Good for you.

Source: http://mashable.com/

Seven right whales found dead in ‘devastating’ blow to endangered animal

Carcasses found off Canada in recent weeks in what may be biggest single die-off of one of worlds most endangered whale species, expert says

Seven North Atlantic right whales have been found floating lifelessly in the Gulf of St Lawrence, off Canada, in recent weeks, in what is being described as a catastrophic blow to one of the worlds most endangered whales.

The first whale carcass was reported in early June. Within a month, another six reports came in, leaving marine biologists in the region reeling.

Its devastating, said Tonya Wimmer of the Marine Animal Response Society, a charitable organisation dedicated to marine mammal conservation in the region. This is, I think, the largest die-off theyve ever had for this particularly species, at once.

The global population of North Atlantic right whales which live along the eastern seaboard of Canada and the US and can reach up to 16 metres in length is thought to be around 525, meaning that more than 1% of the population has died in the past month. So it is catastrophic in terms of potential impact to this population.

This
This is, I think, the largest die-off theyve ever had for this particularly species, at once, says an expert. Photograph: Marine Animal Response Society

At least two of the whales were female, with one of them known to be entering its reproductive years. Youre talking anywhere from five to 10 babies in their lifetime. And now they wont happen. Its heartbreaking, said Wimmer.

With no obvious causes for the deaths, a team including federal scientists, pathologists and veterinarians have been racing against time to figure out what is happening. Last week they carried out necropsies on three of the whales, hoping to find clues before the carcasses decompose.

While their findings are still preliminary, they found signs of severe blunt trauma and bruising on two of the whales, suggesting collision with a vessel, while the third had been tangled in fishing gear for weeks.

The findings still dont explain why the deaths have seemingly occurred within such a short time frame, said Wimmer, though regardless, there are some aspects of the last stages of their life that were impacted by human activities in that area. As scientists move into the laboratory to carry out further analyses, some have speculated that the deaths may have been caused by toxic algae or something the whales ate.

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A team including federal scientists, pathologists and veterinarians have been racing against time to figure out the cause of the deaths. Photograph: Marine Animal Response Society

The North Atlantic right whale has struggled since being nearly hunted to extinction by whalers in the late 18th century. In recent years, researchers have noticed the whales moving into the Gulf of St Lawrence in large numbers, leading to increased interactions with humans.

Earlier this week, reports came in of a right whale in the area that was tangled in fishing gear. Some six hours after it was first spotted, scientists were able to cut the whale free of a fishing line in its mouth.

The entanglement, along with the unprecedented number of deaths, may suggest that fishing gear needs to be set out differently or that vessels need to start moving more slowly through the region, said Wimmer. Right now theres still a lot of questions, she added. Theres probably more questions than there are answers.

Source: http://www.theguardian.com/us

North Atlantic right whales may face extinction after no new births recorded

Declining fertility and rising mortality, exacerbated by fishing industry, prompts experts to warn whales could be extinct by 2040

The dwindling North Atlantic right whale population is on track to finish its breeding season without any new births, prompting experts to warn again that without human intervention, the species will face extinction.

Scientists observing the whale community off the US east coast have not recorded a single mother-calf pair this winter. Last year saw a record number of deaths in the population. Threats to the whales include entanglement in lobster fishing ropes and an increasing struggle to find food in abnormally warm waters.

The combination of rising mortality and declining fertility is now seen as potentially catastrophic. There are estimated to be as few as 430 North Atlantic right whales left in the world, including just 100 potential mothers.

At the rate we are killing them off, this 100 females will be gone in 20 years, said Mark Baumgartner, a marine ecologist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts. Without action, he warned, North Atlantic right whales will be functionally extinct by 2040.

Quick guide

Why are whales still endangered?

Population recovery will take decades

Commercial whaling on a large scale took place for three centuries until banned in 1986. Most whale populations had been reduced to such low levels that it will take decades for many of them to recover. Additional problems of entanglement, pollution, climate change and ship strikes are also curtailing their recovery.

Other threatened species include: the vaquita, a rare species of porpoise found in the gulf of California and rated the most endangered cetacean in the world it is thought that only 30 or so remain in the wild; the blue whale, pictured, the largest animal ever known to have existed between 10,000 and 25,000 remain; and the sei whale, the third-largest whale, with a population of around 80,000.

Photograph: Franco Banfi/WaterFrame RM

A 10-year-old female was found dead off the Virginia coast in January, entangled in fishing gear, in the first recorded death of 2018. That followed a record 18 premature deaths in 2017, Baumgartner said.

Woods Hole and other groups, including the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, have been tracing right whale numbers in earnest since the mid-1980s.

Federal research suggests 82% of premature deaths are caused by entanglement in fishing line. The prime culprit is the New England lobster industry. Crab fishing in Canadian waters is another cause of such deaths.

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A lobster fisherman in Maine. Right whales can become entangled in the ropes used for fishing. Photograph: Daniel Grill/Tetra Images/Getty Images/Tetra images RF

Baumgartner said that until about seven years ago, the population of North Atlantic right whales was healthy. But then lobster fishermen began greatly increasing the strength of ropes used to attach lobster pots to marker buoys.

Whales becoming entangled are now far less able to break free, Baumgartner said. Some are killed outright, others cannot swim properly, causing them to starve or to lose so much blubber that females become infertile.

Lobster and crab fishing and whales are able to comfortably co-exist, Baumgartner said. We are trying to propose solutions, its urgent.

Baumgartner said the US government should intervene to regulate fishing gear. He also said the industry should explore technology enabling fishermen to track and gather lobster pots without using roped buoys.

The whales migrate seasonally between New England and Florida, calving off Florida and Georgia from November to February. They primarily feed on phytoplankton. Scientists believe rapid warming of the Gulf of Maine, linked to climate change, is drastically depleting that food source.

Past measures to prevent ship collisions and to safeguard feeding areas have helped. Several environmental groups have sued the federal government, demanding greater protection for right whales.

Source: http://www.theguardian.com/us

Scientists are using satellites to spot whales from outer space

A southern humpback whale breaches in Australian waters.
Image: Dave Hunt/EPA/REX/Shutterstock

A humpback whale may be a huge creature to the human eye, but they’re still tough to spot from space.

Until recently, the necessary high-resolution satellite technology wasn’t readily available, but researchers in Western Australia are beginning to use satellite imagery to check on the size of local populations.

The aim of the project is to keep tabs on Western Australia’s humpback whale numbers, explained Curt Jenner, managing director of the Centre for Whale Research.

“The goal of the project is ultimately to make sure this population of humpback whales, which has always historically been the largest in the world, is still viable and has recovered to its full potential,” he said. The animals were hunted almost to extinction in the early to mid 20th century.

While projects like this were able to find government and corporate funding in the past, that money has increasingly dried up as whale numbers rebound, Jenner said, forcing he and his research partner on this project, Michele Thums, to find a new solution.

Satellite imagery of whales migrating.

Image: Curt Jenner

“There are no longer any budgets to send aerial survey teams of people up in planes nor people out in boats to do that population monitoring, and so we were looking for an economical solution that was low in man power,” he said.

Drones are one technology now commonly used in whale research, but they’re not always able to deliver the scale a satellite can. “This is like a population census, if you will, it gives you a snapshot in time of an entire population as opposed to a focus on one whale at a time,” Jenner added.

To obtain the imagery it was a simple as giving the U.S. satellite company DigitalGlobe a time slot, the coordinates and instructions to only take shots on fair weather days using its WorldView-3 satellite system.

The team received two days worth of imagery for around A$40,000 ($30,600) funded by the WA Marine Science Institute. “Even though A$20,000 an image sounds like a lot of money, it’s nothing compared to what it costs to put a team of people out and flying aerial surveys,” he said.

For Jenner, one big question was whether a colour or black and white satellite image worked better for whale spotting.

Satellite imagery of whales migrating.

Image: Curt jenner

“Turns out, the black and white images were better and clearer and higher resolution for seeing the whales than the [colour] ones,” he explained. “In the future, we’ll probably only be using the [black and white] ones, which will make our jobs a lot easier and a lot cheaper.”

This type of monitoring is especially important as human use of the northwest shelf of Australia increases in the form of oil and gas exploration as well as shipping. “I do have a concern that the way that the whales are using the coast line is changing through human impact,” he said. “It’s necessarily going to displace whales out of their natural habitat.”

In 2017, Jenner plans to collect more than two days-worth of whale imagery, and in different locations along the coast line. He also hopes that future satellites with even higher resolution cameras will be able to one day spot and identify individual whales. They could even use small tags that fluoresce, for example, and make it easier to identify them from space.

“As time goes on, only your imagination limits what can be done as the technology gets better,” he said. “We’re looking forward to the next five to 10 years very much.”

[h/t ABC]

Source: http://mashable.com/

Not All Whales Are Friendly…Some Just Want To Kill You

There’s no evidence to suggest that pilot whales are more aggressive than other whales, but judging by this encounter, researchers might want to revisit that topic. This snorkeler was swimming with a pod of pilot whales off the coast of Hawaii when they suddenly started behaving aggressively.

They shoved her a little bit at first, but she managed to get away. Just when things looked like they were calming down, one of the whales grabbed her by the ankle and dragged her 30 feet underwater.

Talk about a traumatic experience.

(source: Animal Planet )

I guess you could also say that the whale was being playful, but something about this footage makes me think otherwise. When you’re on a huge animal’s turf, it’s probably best to leave it alone.

Source: http://www.viralnova.com

Baby whales ‘whisper’ to mothers to avoid predators, study finds

Scientists reveal unique, intimate form of communication between humpback mothers and calves as well as silent method to initiate suckling

Newborn humpback whales and their mothers whisper to each other to escape potential predators, scientists reported Wednesday, revealing the existence of a previously unknown survival technique.

They dont want any unwanted listeners, researcher Simone Videsen, lead author of a study published in Functional Ecology, said.

Potential predators such as killer whales could listen to their conversations and use that as a cue to locate the calf and predate on it.

Whales are known for their loud calls, congregating fellow members of the pod. Male humpback whales also emit reverberating sounds to attract females during the mating season.

But this is the first time scientists have observed a unique, intimate form of communication between humpback mothers and calves.

Researchers from Denmark and Australia tracked each of eight calves and two mothers for 24 hours in Exmouth Gulf, Western Australia, a breeding ground for Antarctic humpback whales seeking warmer waters to mate and give birth.

Using tags attached to the animals, the team of scientists recorded their faint squeaks and grunts.

These signals between mother and calf are more quiet than those of normal adult humpback whales, Videsen said, noting they were 40 decibels lower than the singing of males in the area.

While a males cry can resound over an area covering several kilometres, the pairs in the study could only hear each others calls within a distance of less than 100 metres (330 feet), she added.

The low sounds were detected when the pairs were swimming, suggesting the discreet tone helps the mammals stay together in the murky breeding waters, infested with killer whales preying on stray calves.

The faint sounds are also a way to keep mate-seeking males from interfering in the humpbacks nurturing, a crucial time in the newborns life as it braces for an arduous 8,000km (5,000 mile) journey back home to the Antarctic, the researchers speculated.

And the migration is no less challenging for the mother.

There is no food for them in the breeding grounds so the mothers feast while they are there, Videsen said.

The researchers also believe that mother and calf in their effort to go undetected may have developed a silent method to initiate suckling.

Instead of signalling hunger vocally and risk getting spotted, the calves rub against their mothers, according to the studys findings.

Humpback whales can be found both in the Arctic and Antarctic. Each pod spends the summer at the poles and travels to tropical areas in their respective hemispheres during the winter to breed.

The scientific investigation also shed light on the growing problem of ocean noise pollution that can severely disrupt marine life.

Because mother and calf communicate in whispers, shipping noise could easily mask these quiet calls, Videsen said, potentially provoking the pair to lose each other.

Source: http://www.theguardian.com/us

Taiji legal battle: court backs activist over baby dolphin kept in aquarium

Victory for animal rights after Japanese court awards Australian activist 110,000 yen after museum refused her entry to check on captive bottlenose

Animal rights activists have claimed a significant victory in its battle to end Japans dolphin slaughter after a court ruled that an aquarium in Taiji where hundreds of dolphins are killed every year acted illegally when it refused entry to an Australian campaigner.

The court in Wakayama, western Japan, on Friday awarded 110,000 yen (690) to Sarah Lucas, head of Australia for Dolphins, who had attempted to enter the Taiji whale museum in 2014 but was turned away and shown a cardboard sign saying anti-whalers were not welcome.

Lucas had intended to check on the welfare of a baby albino bottlenose that had been kept at the museum since being separated from its pod and captured earlier in the year. The museum reportedly paid $500,0000 (354,000) for the animal.

Lucas said the rare dolphin, called Angel, was being kept in a tiny crowded tank full of chlorine, and was being bullied by other dolphins.

The legal battle to save Angel is much bigger than a rescue mission to save one albino dolphin calf, Lucas said after the verdict.

This win proves the Taiji whale museum, the institution at the heart of the dolphin hunting trade, behaved illegally. It also shows the Taiji dolphin hunts are not above the law, which means the Japanese legal system can be used to end the cruel dolphin hunts for good.

Tetsuo Kirihata, deputy chief of the Taiji museum, said he was satisfied with the verdict because the initial demand for damages had been for about 3m yen.

We feel much of our case was taken into account by the court, he told Associated Press. Kirihata said the dolphin was eating well and getting along with other dolphins, with regular blood tests showing it was healthy. What to some might look like bullying was, in fact, part of regular activity in nature, he added.

The museum is owned by the town government in Taiji, the setting for the Oscar-winning 2009 documentary The Cove, which showed fishermen driving pods of dolphins into shallow water before killing them with knives.

Photo
Photo taken in 2014 by environmentalist group Sea Shepherd Conservation Society shows bottlenose dolphins trapped in the cove during the selection process by fishermen in the Japanese town of Taiji. Photograph: Sea Shepherd Conservation Societ/AFP/Getty Images

The use of the drive method has attracted widespread criticism, including from the US ambassador to Japan, Caroline Kennedy.

International pressure on Taiji to distance itself from the global trade in dolphins intensified last year when aquariums in Japan voted to stop buying live specimens from the town to avoid expulsion from the worlds leading zoo organisation.

The move came after the Guardian revealed that the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (Waza) had been targeted in a court action launched by Australia for Dolphins. The group accused Waza of being complicit in the hunts by failing to take decisive action against Japanese aquariums.

The museum in Taiji, however, quit the Japanese branch of the world association in protest, with local fishermen vowing to continue the hunts.

During the most recent season, which ended last month, Taijis fishermen killed 652 dolphins and took 111 into captivity, according to figures supplied by the Sea Shepherd marine conservation group.

Source: http://www.theguardian.com/us

Please quit surfing with dolphins and whales while we’re stuck in the office

Here’s a request: Please stop posting videos of incredible encounters with wildlife in stunning locations while we’re working 9 to 5. It’s just cruel.

Take Luke Taylor, who caught vision of these dolphins hanging out at Tallow Beach, near Byron Bay, Australia on Feb. 17. The creatures can be seen swimming and jumping alongside the surfers.

“It was so magical to see them so calm & joyful in their own habitat with all the surfers around them,” Taylor wrote in the video’s description. Dare to dream.

Over in Kaikoura, New Zealand, a group of jet skiers recently found themselves surrounded by a family of orcas while out on the water.

The orcas can be seen travelling alongside each other in a Facebook video by Boardsilly surf and sup adventures, as thrilled onlookers watch on.

Surf instructor Dave Lyons told the Kaikoura Star he’d never seen that many Orca before. He estimated there were about 30 spread over an area of 3 kilometres (1.8 miles).

“There was the mum one side, and the dad on the other. We never got close to him but he was huge his fin was enormous,” he told the newspaper. “All the pups were playing, it was just so amazing.”

New Zealand is home to only an estimated 150 to 200 individual orcas, according to the Department of Conservation, which makes this a rare sight. However, the department notes a vessel should not be closer than 50 metres (54 yards) to an orca.

So sure, go see some whales instead of wailing (silently) in your office. Just remember to be respectful, folks.

Source: http://mashable.com/

North Atlantic right whales could become extinct, US officials say

Noaa scientist says you do have to use the extinction word while study suggests whales leave protected areas to feed

US federal officials say it is time to consider the possibility that North Atlantic right whales could become extinct, unless new steps are taken to protect them.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (Noaa) has said there are only about 450 North Atlantic right whales left and 17 have died in 2017.

The situation is so dire that US and Canadian regulators need to consider the possibility that the population will not recover without action soon, said John Bullard, north-east regional administrator for Noaa Fisheries.

The high year of mortality is coinciding with a year of poor reproduction. There are only about 100 breeding female North Atlantic right whales left.

You do have to use the extinction word because thats where the trend lines say they are, Bullard said. Thats something we cant let happen.

Bullard and other Noaa officials made the comments during a meeting this week of the regulatory New England Fishery Management Council. Mark Murray-Brown, an Endangered Species Act consultant for Noaa, said right whales have been declining in abundance since 2010, with females hit harder than males.

The US and Canada must work to reduce the human-caused deaths of the whales, Murray-Brown said. Vessel-strikes and entanglement in fishing gear are two frequently cited causes of the whales deaths.

The current status of the right whales is a critical situation and using our available resources to recover right whales is of high importance and high urgency, he said.

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A North Atlantic right whale dives, near a New England Aquarium research boat. Photograph: Alamy Stock Photo

The animals give birth in temperate southern waters and then head to New England and Canada every spring and summer to feed. All of this years deaths were off New England and Canada.

Some recent scientific studies have shed some light on why whale deaths have increased. One, published in the journal Nature Scientific Reports, stated that the whales move around much more than previously thought. Some scientists have posited that whales might be venturing outside of protected areas in search of food, putting themselves in harms way.

In another study, published last month in the journal Endangered Species Research, scientists examined right whale feces and found whales that suffer long entanglements in fishing gear produce hormone levels that indicate high stress. The stress negatively impacts their ability to reproduce even when they survive entanglement, scientists said.

My colleagues are trying to find solutions so we can find out how they can continue to fish but not entangle whales, said a study co-author, Elizabeth Burgess, an associate scientist with the Anderson Cabot Center for Ocean Life at the New England Aquarium in Boston.

A five-year Noaa review of right whales released in October said the animals should remain on the endangered list. It also included recommendations to protect the species including developing a long-term plan for monitoring the population trends and habitat use and studying the impact of commercial fishing on right whales.

Source: http://www.theguardian.com/us

Japan kills more than 300 whales in annual Antarctic hunt

Whaling fleet returns to port after slaughtering hundreds of minke whales, in defiance of moratorium on hunting and global criticism

A Japanese whaling fleet returned to port on Friday after an annual Antarctic hunt that killed more than 300 of the mammals, as Tokyo pursues the programme in defiance of global criticism.

The fleet set sail for the Southern Ocean in November, with plans to slaughter 333 minke whales, flouting a worldwide moratorium and opposition led by Australia and New Zealand.

The fleet consisted of five ships, three of which arrived on Friday morning at Shimonoseki port in western Japan, the countrys Fisheries Agency said.

More than 200 people, including crew members and their families, gathered in the rain for a 30-minute ceremony in front of the Nisshin Maru, the fleets main ship, according to an official of the Shimonoseki city government.

In a press release, the agency described the mission as research for the purpose of studying the ecological system in the Antarctic Sea.

But environmentalists and the International Court of Justice (IJC) call that a fiction and say the real purpose is simply to hunt whales for their meat.

Anticipating the fleets return, animal protection charity Humane Society International called for an end to Japanese whaling. Each year that Japan persists with its discredited scientific whaling is another year where these wonderful animals are needlessly sacrificed, said Kitty Block, the groups executive vice-president.

It is an obscene cruelty in the name of science that must end.

Japan also caught 333 minke whales in the previous season ending in 2016 after a one-year hiatus prompted by an IJC ruling, which said the hunt was a commercial venture masquerading as science and ordered Tokyo to end it.

Under the International Whaling Commission (IWC), to which Japan is a signatory, there has been a moratorium on hunting whales since 1986.

Tokyo exploits a loophole allowing whales to be killed for scientific research and claims it is trying to prove the population is large enough to sustain a return to commercial hunting.

But it also makes no secret of the fact that whale meat ends up on dinner tables and is served in school lunches.

Japan has hunted whales for centuries, and their meat was a key source of protein in the immediate post-second world war years, when the country was desperately poor. But consumption has dramatically declined in recent decades, with significant proportions of the population saying they never or rarely eat whale meat.

In response to the ICJ ruling, Japans 2014-15 mission carried out only non-lethal research such as taking skin samples and doing headcounts.

Past missions have been hampered by a confrontational campaign on the high seas by environmentalists Sea Shepherd. A fisheries agency official said that the whalers this time faced no obstructive behaviour threatening safety of the fleet and crew members by the group.

He attributed that partially to Japan dispatching patrol ships to protect the fleet.

Source: http://www.theguardian.com/us

Ride with humpback whales in this stunning underwater footage

Scientists are diving deep off the coast of Antarctica to help protect whale feeding areas.

But they’re not jumping into the frigid Southern Ocean themselves. Instead, a team of researchers has attached non-invasive sensors and cameras to the backs of humpback and minke whales.

The project, supported by World Wildlife Fund’s Australia office, has gathered a bounty of information so far, including when, where, and how whales eat krill; what their social lives are like; and how they’re able to blow through sea ice so they can breathe.

Whales in the Southern Ocean face two main threats to their food supply: overfishing of krill, and climate change. Warming ocean temperatures are causing ice to shrink, which is altering Antarctic ecosystems.

In the whale study, each whale wears the suction-cup cameras for between 24 and 48 hours at a time. Scientists then retrieve the “whale cams” and apply them to other whales.

“We have been able to show that whales spend a great deal of time during the days socializing and resting, and then feeding largely throughout the evening and night time,” said Ari Friedlander, lead scientist on the whale study and an associate professor from Oregon State University.

“Whales are aggregating in a number of bays including Wilhelmina Bay, Cierva Cove, Fournier Bay, Errera Channel in high numbers and are feeding there for weeks at a time,” he said in a news release. “Every time we deploy a tag or collect a sample, we learn something new about whales in the Antarctic.”

Source: http://mashable.com/

Rare drone footage enlightens scientists on feeding behavior of blue whales

One small flight for drones has the potential to be one giant step for science … just ask researchers at Oregon State University.

A group of scientists at the university recently captured rare footage of blue whales feeding in the Southern Ocean off New Zealand via drone.

The stunning footage, narrated by Leigh G. Torres, expedition leader and principal investigator with the Marine Mammal Institute at Oregon State, provides a great deal of insight into what whales eat and how they decide what food is worthy of their time.

In a press release, Torres explained the footage clearly shows the blue whales’ “lunge-feeding” process of suddenly lunging forward to eat a massive pack of krill.

“Our footage shows this [lunge-feeding theory] in action,” said Torres. “We can see the whale making choices, which is really extraordinary because aerial observations of blue whales feeding on krill are rare. The whale bypasses certain krill patches presumably because the nutritional payoff isnt sufficient and targets other krill patches that are more lucrative.”

“We think this is because blue whales are so big, and stopping to lunge-feed and then speeding up again is so energy-intensive, that they try to maximize their effort,” Torres continued.

As for the unique perspective, the investigator gave a big thumbs up to drone usage, explaining they’re a “great way to film [the whales’] behavior without disturbing their behavior at all, unlike other aerial methods like a helicopter or a plane, which cant hover or make a lot of noise.”

Source: http://mashable.com/

40-ton whale filmed jumping fully out of the water like it’s some kind of hotshot dolphin or something

An enormous adult humpback whale was filmed breaching fully out of the water off the southeastern coast of South Africa in early July. The massive whale propels its full body out of the water, like it’s some kind of fit young dolphin or something.

The impressive sight was captured by scuba diver Craig Capehart and witnessed by three other divers in his boat.

“It seems that never before has a recording been made of an adult humpback whale leaping entirely out of the water! A very rare event, indeed,” Capehart writes although not confirmed in the video’s Youtube description.

Good air, whale. Good for you.

Source: http://mashable.com/

Humpback whales gather in mysterious ‘super-groups’ and the internet is pretty sure we’re doomed

A "super-group" of humpback whales.
Image: Jean Tresfon/plos one

Huge groups of humpback whales have been seen gathering in the Southern Hemisphere, and it’s leaving scientists and people on the internet a little confused.

Usually, humpbacks are pretty solitary creatures, but a study published on March 1 in the journal PLOS One details multiple “super-groups” of whales gathering in 2011, 2014 and 2015.

The groups range in size from 20 to 200 individuals, and, according to the study, the large gatherings appear to be associated with feeding behavior.

Of course, that didn’t stop people on Twitter from wildly speculating about the whales’ real motives. A running theme is that they have a plan perhaps to take on the Trump administration or overthrow humanity.

Humpback whales are pretty amazing animals in general.

They live in all of the major oceans of the world, taking advantage of tropical and subtropical waters, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

After years of whaling, their populations are now back on the rise in many habitats, NOAA added.

So, hey, are these super-groups of humpbacks out for revenge on all humans? Probably not, but best keep your distance just in case …

Source: http://mashable.com/

Scientists are using satellites to spot whales from outer space

A southern humpback whale breaches in Australian waters.
Image: Dave Hunt/EPA/REX/Shutterstock

A humpback whale may be a huge creature to the human eye, but they’re still tough to spot from space.

Until recently, the necessary high-resolution satellite technology wasn’t readily available, but researchers in Western Australia are beginning to use satellite imagery to check on the size of local populations.

The aim of the project is to keep tabs on Western Australia’s humpback whale numbers, explained Curt Jenner, managing director of the Centre for Whale Research.

“The goal of the project is ultimately to make sure this population of humpback whales, which has always historically been the largest in the world, is still viable and has recovered to its full potential,” he said. The animals were hunted almost to extinction in the early to mid 20th century.

While projects like this were able to find government and corporate funding in the past, that money has increasingly dried up as whale numbers rebound, Jenner said, forcing he and his research partner on this project, Michele Thums, to find a new solution.

Satellite imagery of whales migrating.

Image: Curt Jenner

“There are no longer any budgets to send aerial survey teams of people up in planes nor people out in boats to do that population monitoring, and so we were looking for an economical solution that was low in man power,” he said.

Drones are one technology now commonly used in whale research, but they’re not always able to deliver the scale a satellite can. “This is like a population census, if you will, it gives you a snapshot in time of an entire population as opposed to a focus on one whale at a time,” Jenner added.

To obtain the imagery it was a simple as giving the U.S. satellite company DigitalGlobe a time slot, the coordinates and instructions to only take shots on fair weather days using its WorldView-3 satellite system.

The team received two days worth of imagery for around A$40,000 ($30,600) funded by the WA Marine Science Institute. “Even though A$20,000 an image sounds like a lot of money, it’s nothing compared to what it costs to put a team of people out and flying aerial surveys,” he said.

For Jenner, one big question was whether a colour or black and white satellite image worked better for whale spotting.

Satellite imagery of whales migrating.

Image: Curt jenner

“Turns out, the black and white images were better and clearer and higher resolution for seeing the whales than the [colour] ones,” he explained. “In the future, we’ll probably only be using the [black and white] ones, which will make our jobs a lot easier and a lot cheaper.”

This type of monitoring is especially important as human use of the northwest shelf of Australia increases in the form of oil and gas exploration as well as shipping. “I do have a concern that the way that the whales are using the coast line is changing through human impact,” he said. “It’s necessarily going to displace whales out of their natural habitat.”

In 2017, Jenner plans to collect more than two days-worth of whale imagery, and in different locations along the coast line. He also hopes that future satellites with even higher resolution cameras will be able to one day spot and identify individual whales. They could even use small tags that fluoresce, for example, and make it easier to identify them from space.

“As time goes on, only your imagination limits what can be done as the technology gets better,” he said. “We’re looking forward to the next five to 10 years very much.”

[h/t ABC]

Source: http://mashable.com/

Whales and dolphins lead ‘human-like lives’ thanks to big brains, says study

The cultural brain hypothesis of human development could also explain cetaceans forming friendships and even gossiping

Life is not so different beneath the ocean waves. Bottlenose dolphins use simple tools, orcas call each other by name, and sperm whales talk in local dialects. Many cetaceans live in tight-knit groups and spend a good deal of time at play.

That much scientists know. But in a new study, researchers compiled a list of the rich behaviours spotted in 90 different species of dolphins, whales and porpoises, and found that the bigger the species brain, the more complex indeed, the more human-like their lives are likely to be.

This suggests that the cultural brain hypothesis the theory that suggests our intelligence developed as a way of coping with large and complex social groups may apply to whales and dolphins, as well as humans.

Writing in the journal, Nature Ecology and Evolution, the researchers claim that complex social and cultural characteristics, such as hunting together, developing regional dialects and learning from observation, are linked to the expansion of the animals brains a process known as encephalisation.

The researchers gathered records of dolphins playing with humpback whales, helping fishermen with their catches, and even producing signature whistles for dolphins that are absent suggesting the animals may even gossip.

Another common behaviour was adult animals raising unrelated young. There is the saying that it takes a village to raise a child [and that] seems to be true for both whales and humans, said Michael Muthukrishna, an economic psychologist and co-author on the study at the London School of Economics.

Dolphins
Dolphins off the coast of South Africa. Photograph: Rainer Schimpf/Barcroft Media

Like humans, the cetaceans, a group made up of dolphins, whales and porpoises, are thought to do most of their learning socially rather than individually, which could explain why some species learn more complex behaviours than others. Those predominantly found alone or in small groups had the smallest brains, the researchers led by Susanne Shultz at the University of Manchester wrote.

Luke Rendell, a biologist at the University of St Andrews who was not involved in the study, but has done work on sperm whales and their distinctive dialects, warned against anthropomorphising and making animals appear to be like humans.

There is a risk of sounding like there is a single train line, with humans at the final station and other animals on their way of getting there. The truth is that every animal responds to their own evolutionary pressures, he said.

There is definitely a danger in comparing other animals to humans, especially with the data available. But what we can say for sure, is that this cultural-brain hypothesis we tested is present in primates and in cetaceans, Muthukrishna said.

There was still much more to learn, though, he added. Studies with underwater mammals are difficult and vastly underfunded, so there is so much we dont know about these fascinating animals, he said.

The fascination, however, should not only be interesting for people studying animals. We dont have to look at other planets to look for aliens, because we know that underwater there are these amazing species with so many parallels to us in their complex behaviours, said Muthukrishna.

Studying evolutionarily distinct animals such as cetaceans could act as a control group for studying intelligence in general, and so help the understanding of our own intellect.

It is interesting to think that whale and human brains are different in their structure but have brought us to the same patterns in behaviour, Rendell said. The extent of how this is close to humans can educate us about evolutionary forces in general.

However, Muthukrishna points out that intelligence is always driven by the environment an animal finds itself in. Each environment presents a different set of challenges for an animal. When you are above water, you learn how to tackle fire, for example, he said. As smart as whales are, they will never learn to light a spark.

Source: http://www.theguardian.com/us

Seven right whales found dead in ‘devastating’ blow to endangered animal

Carcasses found off Canada in recent weeks in what may be biggest single die-off of one of worlds most endangered whale species, expert says

Seven North Atlantic right whales have been found floating lifelessly in the Gulf of St Lawrence, off Canada, in recent weeks, in what is being described as a catastrophic blow to one of the worlds most endangered whales.

The first whale carcass was reported in early June. Within a month, another six reports came in, leaving marine biologists in the region reeling.

Its devastating, said Tonya Wimmer of the Marine Animal Response Society, a charitable organisation dedicated to marine mammal conservation in the region. This is, I think, the largest die-off theyve ever had for this particularly species, at once.

The global population of North Atlantic right whales which live along the eastern seaboard of Canada and the US and can reach up to 16 metres in length is thought to be around 525, meaning that more than 1% of the population has died in the past month. So it is catastrophic in terms of potential impact to this population.

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This is, I think, the largest die-off theyve ever had for this particularly species, at once, says an expert. Photograph: Marine Animal Response Society

At least two of the whales were female, with one of them known to be entering its reproductive years. Youre talking anywhere from five to 10 babies in their lifetime. And now they wont happen. Its heartbreaking, said Wimmer.

With no obvious causes for the deaths, a team including federal scientists, pathologists and veterinarians have been racing against time to figure out what is happening. Last week they carried out necropsies on three of the whales, hoping to find clues before the carcasses decompose.

While their findings are still preliminary, they found signs of severe blunt trauma and bruising on two of the whales, suggesting collision with a vessel, while the third had been tangled in fishing gear for weeks.

The findings still dont explain why the deaths have seemingly occurred within such a short time frame, said Wimmer, though regardless, there are some aspects of the last stages of their life that were impacted by human activities in that area. As scientists move into the laboratory to carry out further analyses, some have speculated that the deaths may have been caused by toxic algae or something the whales ate.

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A team including federal scientists, pathologists and veterinarians have been racing against time to figure out the cause of the deaths. Photograph: Marine Animal Response Society

The North Atlantic right whale has struggled since being nearly hunted to extinction by whalers in the late 18th century. In recent years, researchers have noticed the whales moving into the Gulf of St Lawrence in large numbers, leading to increased interactions with humans.

Earlier this week, reports came in of a right whale in the area that was tangled in fishing gear. Some six hours after it was first spotted, scientists were able to cut the whale free of a fishing line in its mouth.

The entanglement, along with the unprecedented number of deaths, may suggest that fishing gear needs to be set out differently or that vessels need to start moving more slowly through the region, said Wimmer. Right now theres still a lot of questions, she added. Theres probably more questions than there are answers.

Source: http://www.theguardian.com/us

Not All Whales Are Friendly…Some Just Want To Kill You

There’s no evidence to suggest that pilot whales are more aggressive than other whales, but judging by this encounter, researchers might want to revisit that topic. This snorkeler was swimming with a pod of pilot whales off the coast of Hawaii when they suddenly started behaving aggressively.

They shoved her a little bit at first, but she managed to get away. Just when things looked like they were calming down, one of the whales grabbed her by the ankle and dragged her 30 feet underwater.

Talk about a traumatic experience.

(source: Animal Planet )

I guess you could also say that the whale was being playful, but something about this footage makes me think otherwise. When you’re on a huge animal’s turf, it’s probably best to leave it alone.

Source: http://www.viralnova.com

Not All Whales Are Friendly…Some Just Want To Kill You

There’s no evidence to suggest that pilot whales are more aggressive than other whales, but judging by this encounter, researchers might want to revisit that topic. This snorkeler was swimming with a pod of pilot whales off the coast of Hawaii when they suddenly started behaving aggressively.

They shoved her a little bit at first, but she managed to get away. Just when things looked like they were calming down, one of the whales grabbed her by the ankle and dragged her 30 feet underwater.

Talk about a traumatic experience.

(source: Animal Planet )

I guess you could also say that the whale was being playful, but something about this footage makes me think otherwise. When you’re on a huge animal’s turf, it’s probably best to leave it alone.

Read more: http://www.viralnova.com/pilot-whale-attack/

337 whales dead in Chile in one of history’s biggest beachings

AP Scientists say 337 whales beached on Chilean coast in massive stranding

The coast of southern Chile has become a grave for 337 sei whales that were found beached in what scientists say is one of the biggest whale strandings ever recorded.

Biologist Vreni Haussermann told the Associated Press Tuesday that she made the discovery along with other scientists in June during an observation flight over fjords in Chiles southern Patagonia region.

The team has been collecting samples since then. She declined to disclose the conclusions, which will be published by a scientific journal later this year.

The cause of death of the whales is unknown, although human intervention has been ruled out.

The scientific expedition counted 305 bodies and 32 skeletons of whales through aerial and satellite photography in an area between the Gulf of Penas and Puerto Natales.

Read more: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/dec/01/chile-337-whales-beached-stranding

Baby whales ‘whisper’ to mothers to avoid predators, study finds

Scientists reveal unique, intimate form of communication between humpback mothers and calves as well as silent method to initiate suckling

Newborn humpback whales and their mothers whisper to each other to escape potential predators, scientists reported Wednesday, revealing the existence of a previously unknown survival technique.

They dont want any unwanted listeners, researcher Simone Videsen, lead author of a study published in Functional Ecology, said.

Potential predators such as killer whales could listen to their conversations and use that as a cue to locate the calf and predate on it.

Whales are known for their loud calls, congregating fellow members of the pod. Male humpback whales also emit reverberating sounds to attract females during the mating season.

But this is the first time scientists have observed a unique, intimate form of communication between humpback mothers and calves.

Researchers from Denmark and Australia tracked each of eight calves and two mothers for 24 hours in Exmouth Gulf, Western Australia, a breeding ground for Antarctic humpback whales seeking warmer waters to mate and give birth.

Using tags attached to the animals, the team of scientists recorded their faint squeaks and grunts.

These signals between mother and calf are more quiet than those of normal adult humpback whales, Videsen said, noting they were 40 decibels lower than the singing of males in the area.

While a males cry can resound over an area covering several kilometres, the pairs in the study could only hear each others calls within a distance of less than 100 metres (330 feet), she added.

The low sounds were detected when the pairs were swimming, suggesting the discreet tone helps the mammals stay together in the murky breeding waters, infested with killer whales preying on stray calves.

The faint sounds are also a way to keep mate-seeking males from interfering in the humpbacks nurturing, a crucial time in the newborns life as it braces for an arduous 8,000km (5,000 mile) journey back home to the Antarctic, the researchers speculated.

And the migration is no less challenging for the mother.

There is no food for them in the breeding grounds so the mothers feast while they are there, Videsen said.

The researchers also believe that mother and calf in their effort to go undetected may have developed a silent method to initiate suckling.

Instead of signalling hunger vocally and risk getting spotted, the calves rub against their mothers, according to the studys findings.

Humpback whales can be found both in the Arctic and Antarctic. Each pod spends the summer at the poles and travels to tropical areas in their respective hemispheres during the winter to breed.

The scientific investigation also shed light on the growing problem of ocean noise pollution that can severely disrupt marine life.

Because mother and calf communicate in whispers, shipping noise could easily mask these quiet calls, Videsen said, potentially provoking the pair to lose each other.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/apr/26/baby-whales-whisper-to-mothers-to-avoid-predators-study-finds