October 7th 2009
Reversing the Bad Numbers, Increasing Good Ones

Posted under news

One of my favorite sites to check for new stories about whales is at the Underwater Times. Today, they posted a story about Britain’s protesting to Iceland about their whaling. Despite a glut of whale meat, Iceland’s government has actually increased the quota of whales allowed to be killed by their whaling fleet. Their intended and actual kills include many endangered fin whales. Because these are the second largest whales in the ocean, they can kill fewer whales and still wind up with more meat than Japan can get by hunting hundreds more of the much smaller minke whales.

But, fewer and fewer people are interested in eating whale meat! I’ve already written about the news that whale watching is actually more profitable (and Iceland’s bizarre response that whaling and whale watching are industries that can grow together). Since whaling IS all about profit, I just can’t wrap my head around why these whaling nations (Iceland, Norway and Japan) don’t understand the bigger numbers they can generate by putting away those harpoons for good.

Killing fewer whales is obviously good – for us, for whales, for the planet. Increasing profit as a result is simply a win-win for everyone, especially when it means that the whales are no longer threatened by commercial whaling.

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July 12th 2009
“This is how it’s done…”

Posted under whale watches

When I signed up for Twitter a few months ago (username whalegeek, surprise surprise), I had no idea how useful it would be.  I get web design links, news links, whale/ocean/environmental links and more.  And then I started to follow the Whale Center.  And they post about the whale watching trips every day.  Since my last trip out was mostly about the fog, the reports of multiple sightings and multiple forms of activity since that trip was just too much… Makes it tough to live 2-2.5 hours from various points of departure for whale watching.

And so I went off to take whale watch #7.  Was happy to be joined by a friend who had never been out before, and the weather report was really very favorable.  And it was, above the water.  The water itself was quite choppy, making for an interesting ride out (better than a carnival ride).  This time, though, no fog, so the visibility was much better.  The other “hitch” to the day was that most of the activity happening on Stellwagen Bank was happening to the south, so off we went for a 2 hour ride down (usually it’s just about 1 hour from Gloucester to find activity), far enough that Provincetown’s Pilgrim Monument could be clearly seen on the horizon.

2ww09g1Our first whale encounter of the day turned out to be a mother and calf pair, Nile with her 4th calf.  In the distance, we could see them breaching in turn, but once we got closer, they had settled down a bit.  The activity had become more of  what was possibly a teaching moment, with Nile demonstrating how to tail slap and lob tail.  We were close enough to really get a sense of how large Nile, as an adult humpback, is.  It’s hard in photos to appreciate their size, but with one’s own eyes, it takes on a whole new dimension.  After a few minutes of this activity, both whales settled and the calf started nursing.   Continue Reading »

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June 30th 2009
Whale Watching Vs. Whaling, and the IWC

Posted under news

The annual meeting of the International Whaling Commission has recently concluded in Portugal and, as in previous years, not a lot seems to have been accomplished. Japan and other countries are still pushing for “legitimate” whaling quotas, and there’s a new contingent – Inuits in Greenland – who are seeking leave to hunt 50 humpback whales over the 5 years. The Danish government is helping them to get this through. All talk about whaling and quotas was tabled until next year because of the controversy and heated opinions on all sides. There are some terrific daily summaries of the meeting at this blog run by the American Cetacean Society.

While there are few actual results being reported from this year’s meeting, a lot happened during the week. Most encouraging to me was the report that whale WATCHING is actually more profitable than whale KILLING! Imagine that. What gets me is that the IWC delegate to Iceland actually made the comment that whaling and whale watching were industries that could co-exist and “grow together”. Um, what? How does one expect to see more whales if one is also killing more whales? Total lack of sensibility. And sentimentally speaking (on top of conservation concerns), I really hope that Greenland does not start killing humpbacks since the whales up there are part of the same overall population seen here off New England. Continue Reading »

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June 27th 2009
Marco! Polo! (or, Where Are You, Whales?)

Posted under whale watches

Went out for whale watch #6 today from Gloucester, on Capt. Bill and Sons with the Whale Center of New England. The weather here in New England has been decidedly unexciting lately, with more rain than anything else. On shore today, though, it was beautiful with sunny skies and some clouds – but not those of the threatening variety – and it was looking like we would have a nice trip. I had organized a group of friends and friends of friends from Camp Camp, and was really hoping to get a good trip in. Continue Reading »

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June 16th 2009
Fishing Dangers for Whales

Posted under news

On most whale watches from the Northeast US, one of the many things that the naturalists will talk about is the danger to whales posed by fishing gear. Entanglement is a huge issue for whales and it is estimated that in the Stellwagen Bank area, 70% or more of the humpback whales bear scars from encounters with fishing gear. Efforts are ongoing to reduce the impact that fishing gear has on whales (like replacing floating line with sinking line), but the perfect solution has not yet been found.

Because minke whales are so fast moving and not as active at the surface as humpbacks, they are discussed less up in these parts. That made this story out of Canada about an entanglement injury on a minke whale very interesting to me. Take a look at the photos with the story to see the scar cutting right across the whale’s rorqual pleats. It is remarkable that this whale survives and has adapted to be able to feed despite the injury.

I’ve not had the misfortune of coming across an entangled whale while out on a whale watch. In this part of the world, whale watch boats that come across entangled whales are asked to both report them to the Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies and wait with the whale until help arrives. Hopefully, as fishing gear adapts and is replaced, as ghost gear is removed from the ocean, injuries such as what happened to this minke, and has happened to hundreds of other whales, can become much less common.

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June 8th 2009
World Oceans Day

Posted under misc & news

Today is the first annual UN World Oceans Day. What does this mean? It’s an effort to shine a spotlight on the state of our oceans. It’s easy to stand on most shores, look out at the horizon, and feel a lot of peace about how beautiful the oceans are. But unfortunately, our oceans are in trouble. Very serious trouble, actually. Trash getting into the water is a major one, leading to things like the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. There are other places around the world where trash is collecting, but this is the largest. A comprehensive report on marine litter was just released today.

What can we do? Well, a lot, but here’s a start:

If you smoke, dispose of your butts in a container. Stamping them on the ground just means they will get washed into some waterway and it has been shown that the filters contain plastics that make water toxic to fish. And the butts are eaten by fish, turtles and other marine life, which also kills them. Butts are trash. They shouldn’t just be tossed around and beaches are not giant ashtrays.

If you like seafood, make sure you are choosing something that is sustainable. Aquariums like the Monterey Bay Aquarium keep a close eye on this issue. Here’s a list of “good” fish to eat in a relative list. Overfishing is a massively important issue, and really greatly ignored. Some people are starting to make a stand, including against high end restaurants serving highly endangered bluefin tuna. Don’t eat at restaurants that serve shark fin soup. Sharks are disappearing at alarming rates because of being finned for a soup, where the fins add no taste and it’s simply “fashionable” to eat. Now, sharks are disappearing so fast that manta rays are being caught in increasing numbers for the soup. Human greed and consumption is vastly outpacing the oceans.

Go on a whale watch. See the ocean at work with your own eyes. What people know about, they tend to better protect. Not near the ocean? There are a bunch of great IMAX films available on DVD which is like being right there. I rather like Deep Sea 3D, myself, and am looking forward to one day getting “Dolphins and Whales 3D” on DVD.

I am still learning about the oceans and the myriad wonders, mysteries and problems. A lot of people out there have posted hints as well, so Google it and see what you can do. We must all make the effort, or there will be no more fish, no more whales, no more coral reefs, etc etc. As the oceans go, so will go our entire planet. Just because we can’t see the bottom of the ocean from the surface, doesn’t mean there is no bottom. And as Lucy Lawless said in a PSA, “there is no Planet B”. (Yes the PSA is primarily about climate change, but the oceans’ ability to absorb carbon dioxide is key to our climate.) Taking care of the oceans means taking care of us and all of this planet’s residents.

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May 26th 2009
“I’m Ready for My Close Up, Mr. DeMille”

Posted under whale watches

As my time on the Cape was drawing to a close for this Provincetown visit, I could not resist going out on one more whale watch.  At 10 AM, I boarded the Dolphin 8.  It was another gorgeously sunny day, but a little breezier than the day before so the waters were a little choppy again.  Being the day after the long weekend, the boat was also not terribly crowded.  Shaping up to be another grand day on the water.

Fin whale expert John Conlon was our naturalist today.  One of the best things about whale watching from Provincetown is that all of the naturalists have many seasons behind them and are very familiar with the terrain, the ecosystems, and the animals within them.  It makes a big difference, IMNSHO, to have that experience couching the experience of the whale watch.

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May 26th 2009
It’s All About the Food

Posted under whale watches

Today I went out on whale watch #3 for the weekend. Again, I found myself on the Dolphin Fleet‘s Portuguese Princess, which was just fine. It was a beautiful day: sunny, little breeze, almost no clouds in the sky. So, everyone else seemed to want to go out, too, and the boat was fairly crowded.

Luckily, this was another one of those “I don’t know where to look!” watches where there was activity happening in virtually every direction. Our first “stop” was with some whales which were swimming somewhat casually. There were very few deeper dives so few looks at any flukes. The exception to this was one whale which kept rolling over and flipper slapping. Because of the bright sunlight, visibility was a little deeper into the water column than previously this weekend, so we could see a lot more just below the surface. Even though there were two other whales associated with the flipper slapper, that one was the only one really doing much more than just swimming. In the general vicinity there were other blows, so all told we had about 6 whales in the area. One was quickly identified as being Ventiska, thanks to her distinct dorsal.

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May 24th 2009
Whales and Whales and Whales, Oh My!

Posted under whale watches

That pretty much sums up today’s whale watch. Went out again from Provincetown on the Dolphin Fleet‘s Portuguese Princess. Weather was a little nicer. Still cool with a breeze but the sun came out while we were on Stellwagen Bank, no rain! Better weather also meant a more crowded boat. According to the naturalist, Mark Gilmore, there were around 200 people on board a 350-capacity boat. That was plenty crowded for me!

Our trip today took us a little farther away from shore as Race Point was out of sight. But once we found whales, it was rather like hitting the jackpot! We found Ventiska again, hanging out with a mother and calf. We got good looks at them, and could see several other spouts in the vicinity, though the whales at this spot were not being especially active at the surface.

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May 23rd 2009
The Perils of Being A Whale

Posted under misc

While we had a fantastic whale watch from Provincetown, over on Herring Cove Beach was a different whale activity: a necropsy. On the 22nd, a juvenile fin whale washed ashore. En route to Stellwagen Bank, we could see the whale, and a growing gathering of people, on the beach, very close to the parking lot at Herring Cove.

It’s a gruesome thing, but I’d never seen a necropsy, so once we came back to shore, I hopped in the car to go over. Much of the whale had already been removed by this time. It seemed still “whole” at around 10 when our whale watch boat passed by, but when I arrived at 2, it was apparent that no time was being wasted. This was, after all, a holiday weekend, and having a dead whale on a popular beach was not a good scenario.

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