Department of Fisheries and Oceans officers collect tissue samples from a dead Blue Whale in Bonne Bay. Photo courtesy of DFO

Department of Fisheries and Oceans officers collect tissue samples from a dead Blue Whale in Bonne Bay. Photo courtesy of DFO

April 22th, 2014 (Diane Crocker). Fisheries officers with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) were in Rocky Harbour on Tuesday taking samples, measurements and pictures of the last of four blue whales that drifted into the area in ice over the weekend.

Jack Lawson, a research scientist with DFO’s marine mammals section, said the remaining whale was located near the fish plant in the town when the officers arrived.

He said the officers have marked the whale with orange spray paint so DFO can identify it from the air if it moves again.

Lawson said the whales were already dead when they drifted in with the ice in Bonne Bay.

“These weren’t fresh animals,” he said, and described the remains as being “pretty blackened now because they’ve been exposed to the sun and air now for a few weeks.”

In fact, Lawson believes the whales died around the third week in March and were possibly part of a pack of nine whales spotted dead in ice on the southwest coast.

He said after DFO was made aware of the nine dead whales on the southwest coast an aerial surveillance of the area was conducted on April 4 and the whales were seen about 40 or 50 miles off Cape Anguille.

Since that time, Lawson said, two dead whales were spotted on April 15 in the middle of the Strait of Belle Isle further offshore from Bonne Bay by an experienced officer on a freighter crew.

Pictures taken during a surveillance flight on April 17 showed four dead whales about a mile offshore from Bonne Bay.

“The aircraft was coming back from the north towards Halifax and they made a flight over that area to have a look, and they took some photographs of the whales in the ice for us just to help confirm,” he said.

Lawson said he plans to compare the photos taken from the air on April 17 with high-resolution video taken on April 4 to see if he can find any patterns that look the same to confirm if the animals from Bonne Bay are part of the original group of nine from the southwest coast.

Lawson said it’s been a few years since DFO has seen an incident like this and noted the last time they had a dead animal in ice on the southwest coast was in 1992.

“This is more like the kind of historic pattern where we used to see the ice coming and going at great speed on the west coast, and I think this happened to catch the whales this year,” he said.

“Blue whales will try and push the limits if you will,” he said. “They’re right in on the ice. They’re feeding on the spring bloom of algae and then the zoo plankton that they like. And so they’re following it in as best they can to try and start feeding  as soon as they can in the spring, and I guess some of them pay the price for that risk.”

Once caught, Lawson said nothing can be done to help them. At 15-18 metres long and weighing between 60 and 80 tonnes, he said it’s impossible to lift them up and take them anywhere. And it’s difficult to get an icebreaker close to them. Lawson said doing so could push the ice on them more.

He said the only hope is a change in the wind.

Lawson said three other healthy adult blue whales were seen swimming south in open water during the April 4 flight, so DFO knows there were more than nine whales in the area, and he’s hopeful the others didn’t get caught in ice.

But with only 250 adult blue whales in the northwest Atlantic population, Lawson said the loss of nine animals is significant.

“That’s almost four per cent of the population, which is equal to the reproductive output of a good population.”

As an example, he said the humpback whale population which seems to be doing well in the North Atlantic might actually grow by four or five per cent in a good year.


Posted by: The ocean update | April 22, 2014

Mystery of Bizarre Duck-Like Ocean Sound Solved (Antarctic)

Photo : The source of the bizarre "bio-duck" sound has finally been found. Credit : Ari S. Friedlaender

Photo : The source of the bizarre “bio-duck” sound has finally been found. Credit : Ari S. Friedlaender

April 22th, 2014 (Tanya Lewis). A mysterious duck-like sound recorded in the ocean around Antarctica has baffled scientists for decades, but the source of the sound has finally been found, researchers say.

For more than 50 years, researchers have recorded the so-called “bio-duck” sound in the Southern Ocean. Submarine crews first heard the oceanic quack, which consists of a series of repetitive, low-pitched pulsing sounds, in the 1960s.

“In the beginning, no one really knew what it was,” said Denise Risch, a marine biologist at NOAA Northeast Fisheries Science Center in Woods Hole, Mass. Because the sound was so repetitive, scientists first thought it might be human-made, possibly coming from submarines. As time went on, people suggested a fish may be making the sound, but it seemed too loud, Risch told Live Science.

It turns out, Antarctic minke whales actually produce the duck-like sound, Risch and her colleagues have found. Years’ worth of audio recordings will now provide a wealth of information on the abundance, distribution and behavior of these elusive cetaceans, the researchers said in their study, detailed today (April 22) in the journal Biology Letters.

Mystery quacks

The bio-duck sounds come in sets spaced about 3.1 seconds apart. The noises also occur seasonally, and have been heard simultaneously in the Eastern Weddell Sea off Antarctica and Western Australia.

In February 2013, during the Southern Hemisphere’s summer, Risch’s colleagues tagged two Antarctic minke whales (Balaenoptera bonaerensis) off of Western Antarctica with suction-cup tags. The researchers meant to study the whale’s feeding behavior and track their movements.

The tags also contained underwater microphones, and Risch analyzed the acoustic recordings. She found they contained the duck sounds, as well as downward-sweeping sounds previously linked to the whales. The sounds “can now be attributed unequivocally to the Antarctic minke whale,” Risch and her team wrote in the study. The researchers don’t know for sure whether the tagged whales or other nearby minke whales made the sounds.

What the sounds mean in whale-speak remains a mystery to scientists. The whales may use the sounds for breeding or navigation, Risch speculated. The researchers don’t know, either, whether only males make the sounds or females also partake. For example, male humpback whales, unlike females, perform complex songs during their mating season.

The fact that the sounds were heard off both Antarctica and Western Australia suggests that some whales remain in Antarctica year round, while others migrate to lower latitudes, as other whales do, the researchers said.

Acoustic time capsule

Now that minke whales have been identified as the source of the mysterious sounds in ocean recordings, researchers can use those recordings to glean information about the distribution, abundance and behavior of these vocal animals.

“The fantastic thing about acoustics is you can go back in time,” Risch said.

The recordings will be especially useful in tracking these animals in winter, when visual surveys are impossible due to weather conditions. Researchers could put out buoys with microphones during the summer, and later retrieve them to learn about the whales’ activity in colder months.

The ability to track minke whales acoustically also offers an alternative research method to controversial Japanese whaling practices, Risch said. “It shows killing is not necessary.”


Posted by: The ocean update | April 22, 2014

Surfer rescues washed-up dolphin on Achill Island beach (Ireland)

Colin Honeyman swimming with the dolphin out to sea.

Colin Honeyman swimming with the dolphin out to sea.

April 22th, 2014. On Easter Sunday morning Achill Island Coast Guard was tasked to a dolphin stranding on Keam beach.

When the team came on scene they discovered that one of the dolphins had already died but the other dolphin was still alive.

With the tide going out quickly, something had to be done soon.

Members of the public had attempted to refloat the dolphins but without wetsuits they were unable to get the dolphins out to sea.

“These dolphins were small – about six foot in length and they were only young,” Colin Honeyman, Achill Coast Guard’s officer in charge said.

Colin, a surfer, entered the water with the dolphin and swam with him out to sea where a local fisherman was on standby with his boat.

When Colin got the dolphin out into the deeper water the dolphin swam away to safety.

Colin said : “You’d see a lot of dolphins out surfing in Achill, but these two must have gotten separated from their mother.”

“The two young ones got washed up with the waves. One unfortunately died because we couldn’t get it back out quick enough.”

“As soon as I got him into deep water he got a new lease of life and he swam on. I think that might have something to do with the dolphin’s sonar abilities because he was weak before that.”

“He seemed very weak on the beach and I didn’t think he was going to make it. But as soon as he was back in his own environment he was OK.”

“It’s unusual – you don’t get to swim out to sea when you’re making a save.”


A humpback whale breaches the surface outside of Hartley Bay along the Great Bear Rainforest, B.C. Sept, 17, 2013. Photograph by : Jonathan Hayward , THE CANADIAN PRESS

A humpback whale breaches the surface outside of Hartley Bay along the Great Bear Rainforest, B.C. Sept, 17, 2013. Photograph by : Jonathan Hayward , THE CANADIAN PRESS

April 22th, 2014 (Peter O’Neil). OTTAWA — The Harper government is downgrading the protection of the North Pacific humpback whale despite objections from a clear majority of groups that were consulted.

Critics say the whales could face greater danger if two major oilsands pipeline projects get the go-ahead, since both would result in a sharp increase in movement of large vessels on the West Coast that occasionally collide with, and kill, whales like the humpback.

The decision was made under the Species At Risk Act (SARA), and declares the humpback a “species of special concern” rather than “threatened.”

The reclassification means the humpback will no longer be “subject to the general prohibitions set out in SARA, nor would its critical habitat be required to be legally protected under SARA,” states the federal government notice published this month in the Canada Gazette.

The decision removes a major legal hurdle that the environmental group Ecojustice said stood in the way of the $7.9-billion Northern Gateway pipeline project that would bring 550,000 barrels of diluted bitumen crude from Alberta to Kitimat.

Ecojustice said in December that a federal review panel’s conditional approval of the project flies in the face of the humpback’s protections under the federal legislation.

The fate of the humpback was a major issue during the Northern Gateway public hearings that concluded last year, with many groups fearing that collisions, potential spills, and excessive noise would be a serious threat to the whales.

The endangered species legislation declares that “no person shall destroy any part of the critical habitat of any … listed threatened species.”

The federal review panel, in its December report that is expected to lead to a government decision by June, noted that Fisheries and Oceans Canada had testified that “any project activity that could interfere with a species’ foraging efficiency, or cause displacement from important feeding sites as a result of disturbance, would be considered as affecting designated critical habitat in a harmful manner.”

The humpback was listed as threatened in 2005, based on a 2003 assessment by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada, an independent scientific advisory body for the federal government, which concluded its population was in the “low hundreds,” according to the Canada Gazette notice.

But that committee reversed its position in 2011, concluding that there had been no evidence of a population decline since the 1960s, when commercial whaling on the West Coast ended. It cited newer data that suggested the population had grown over several decades and totalled more than 18,000 non-calf whales.

The committee recommended a reclassification at that time, but a decision was delayed due to further scientific analysis prior to this month’s decision.

While no longer threatened, the species remained one of “special concern” due to a variety of potential and actual threats, including collisions with vessels that average about three incidents a year, according to research cited in the government notice.

The government sent out 312 consultation letters and got 22 responses back.

Only five were in favour of the new designation — a total made up of two unidentified B.C. government ministries, one tourism organization, one environmental non-government organization, and one “unknown source.”

Of the other 17, six environmental groups, three academics, two tourism industry organizations, one First Nations organization and a single “unknown source” were opposed. Another four — two academics, one First Nations, and another “unknown” — were undecided. In several instances, the undecided said insufficient information was available.

One environmental group questioned the committee’s advice.

“There are outstanding questions about the scientific reliability and sufficiency of the information (the committee) used to make the determination to down-list humpback whales,” said Chris Genovali, executive director of Raincoast Conservation Foundation.

“The proposed change in status for humpback whales would place them in jeopardy, particularly given the impending threats” posed by Northern Gateway and the proposed Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion to Burnaby, would increase the number of arriving tankers from eight to 28 per month.

The humpback is among the largest marine animals and can grow to 14 metres in length and weigh up to 40 tonnes. The North Pacific humpback’s range extends along the entire B.C. coast, including inshore inlets, all the way up to northern Alaska.

Northern Gateway proponents say that while the likelihood of whale strikes is “low,” there is no way to guarantee there will be no whale strikes along the route of the 250 huge tankers expected to enter and leave Kitimat annually.

Northern Gateway promised a number of measures to deal with the risk, including employing slower speeds and human and technical observers and monitoring, and promised to produce a risk-assessment report and “marine mammal protection plan.”

The federal review panel, in its favourable assessment of the project, noted in its findings that whales are “commonly observed” off the B.C. coast despite the current presence of many large vessels. The report praised the company for its “unprecedented” and “commendable” commitments to limit strikes.


Posted by: The ocean update | April 21, 2014

NATO Military Dolphins to Roam Black Sea

NATO Military Dolphins to Roam Black Sea

NATO Military Dolphins to Roam Black Sea

April 21th, 2014. MOSCOW – US military-trained dolphins and sea lions will participate in upcoming NATO military exercises in the Black Sea, the Russian Izvestiya newspaper reported Monday.

The paper, citing a spokesman for the US Navy’s marine mammals program, said some 20 dolphins and 10 sea lions will participate in exercises.

The exercises will test new equipment designed to “disorient enemy sonars, while sea lions and dolphins are looking for mines and military divers,” the newspaper wrote.

The exercises will be held under the marine mammals’ training program, which trains animals to protect ships and harbors and detect mines.

“In addition, we plan to test new armor for dolphins developed by a specialized research center based in the University of Hawaii,” the newspaper said, citing spokesman Tom LaPuzza.

The animals are to be airlifted to Ukraine. This will be the first NATO drill to involve military dolphins. The US military now has more than 100 bottlenose dolphins, California sea lions and beluga whales, according to LaPuzza.

The exercises are planned to last no longer than two weeks. Under an international agreement, the maximum permitted duration of stay for countries that do not have access to the Black Sea is 21 days.

It was previously announced that Russia will also use dolphins in its Black Sea navy missions. Military dolphins and sea lions that were undergoing training for the Ukrainian Navy before the Crimean Peninsula was reunited with Russia last month have been transferred to the Russian Navy.


Posted by: The ocean update | April 21, 2014

4 dead whales reported in ice at Bonne Bay (Newfoundland, Canada)

Kayla Kendall tweeted this photograph on Saturday of a whale stranded at Rocky Harbour because of ice. 

Kayla Kendall tweeted this photograph on Saturday of a whale stranded at Rocky Harbour because of ice.

April 21th, 2014. The Canadian Coast Guard has issued a new report of dead whales off western Newfoundland.

Mariners have been warned about four whale carcasses at different locations at the entrance to Bonne Bay.

It has not said what kind of whales have died.

Earlier this month, at least nine blue whales died in ice in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

In March, dozens of dolphins were killed when they were crushed by ice near Cape Ray, on Newfoundland’s southwest coast.


An eagle-eyed member of the public noticed this young seal struggling in Dunalley Canal and notified the relevant authorities. Pictures: DPIPWE Source : Supplied

An eagle-eyed member of the public noticed this young seal struggling in Dunalley Canal and notified the relevant authorities. Pictures: DPIPWE Source : Supplied

April 17th, 2014 (Bruce Mounster). A QUICK call to Tasmania’s WHALE hotline has saved a juvenile Australian fur seal from a slow and painful death.

A member of the public spotted the seal with netting caught around its neck on the banks of the Dunalley Canal, in south-east Tasmania.

Staff from the Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment’s Threatened Species and Marine section were able to capture the seal and remove the piece of blue polypropylene netting, which had been cutting into its neck.

Wildlife Biologist Sam Thalmann said such entanglements often resulted in death.

“Fur seals, especially juveniles, are extremely inquisitive and will intuitively inspect floating objects such as seaweed and rubbish,” Mr Thalmann said.

“But all marine life, from fish to seabirds to marine mammals including whales, are at risk of harm from marine debris, so people should be aware of what they put in the ocean.’’

Mr Thalmann encouraged anyone who saw a marine animal in distress to contact wildlife officers ASAP on the 0427 942 537 (0427 WHALES) hotline.

The liberated fur seal seal returning to the water. Picture : DPIPWE Source : Supplied

The liberated fur seal returning to the water. Picture : DPIPWE Source : Supplied


Posted by: The ocean update | April 17, 2014

Whale Found Dead on Bow of Ship Examined in New Jersey (USA)

A 55-foot finback whale sits on a dry dock after it was found dead in New York Harbor.

A 55-foot finback whale sits on a dry dock after it was found dead in New York Harbor.

Thursday, April 17, 2014 (David Porter). Mammal researchers were conducting a necropsy Wednesday to determine the cause of death for a 60-foot-long whale that was found stuck on the bow of a container ship in New York harbor over the weekend.

Representatives from the Marine Mammal Stranding Center in Brigantine were in Jersey City on Wednesday examining the finback that weighs 55 to 60 tons. The whale was found on the bow of a ship in the harbor Saturday and later towed to an Army Corps of Engineers station near Liberty State Park.

Jay Pagel, senior field technician for the stranding center, said it isn’t uncommon for whales to make their way into shipping lanes as they travel up and the down the East Coast, though they don’t usually stray into the harbor. He said the last time a whale was found in the harbor was about four or five years ago. The mammals can occasionally become lodged on the front of a container ship or other large vessel because of the way the bows are constructed.

On a windy, chilly morning, the mostly intact whale lay stretched out on its side on the dock as researchers prepared for the necropsy, which would entail dissecting the body and checking the organs, Pagel said. A deep indentation was clearly visible on its underside near the jaw, but otherwise it looked undisturbed.

“Finding something this intact is an unusual opportunity,” he said.


Posted by: The ocean update | April 16, 2014

Smelly dead whale gets a sandy burial at Seaside (Oregon, USA)

A 40-foot adult male gray whale washed ashore April 15, 2014, at Seaside. Photo by Seaside Aquarium

A 40-foot adult male gray whale washed ashore April 15, 2014, at Seaside. Photo by Seaside Aquarium

April 16th, 2014. The whale, a 40-foot fully grown adult male, was buried by city of Seaside employees in the wee morning hours Wednesday, according to Seaside Aquarium.

It took city crews about two and a half hours to dig a beach trench big enough and deep enough to bury the malodorous cetacean.

Before the burial, Debbie Duffield, a Portland State University biologist, and Jason Hussa, Seaside Aquarium aquarist, took tissue samples from the whale to test for toxins.

When whales and other marine mammals wash ashore dead, samples are often taken for tissue-banking purposes to aid in studies of marine mammal health.

While the 40-footer found at Seaside was massive, gray whales can grow up to about 50 feet in length, according to the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Association.


photos ilustration (ANTARA/Nyoman Budhiana)

photos ilustration (ANTARA/Nyoman Budhiana)

April 16th, 2014 (Aditia Maruli). Kupang, East Nusa Tenggara – A group of fishermen on Sabu island in East Nusa Tenggara province saved 20 dolphins which were washed ashore on Wuihebo beach on Monday, official has said.

“Seeing the dolphins stranded on the beach, the fishermen managed to drive them into the deep water,” Sabu Raijua district head Luther Dira Tome said here on Wednesday.

He noted that besides the dolphins, around 40 blue whales were also washed ashore on a beach in Sabu earlier and some of them have died.

Meanwhile, West Timor Care Foundation director and the Timor Sea pollution observer Fredi Tanoni strongly assumed that the habitat of the dolphins and the blue whales has been polluted by the Montara oil well explosion in Timor Sea on August 21, 2009. (Ed Sibylline : in the case of a mass stranding, accute pollution is more likely)

“I assume that Sawu waters marine conservation and national park has been contaminated with poisonous materials from the exploded Montara oil well,” Fredi said.



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