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Posts tagged ‘conservation’

Humpback Whale Gooseneck Barnacles?!

Come on a journey of discovery with me – from identifying the very big, to the small. 

I’ll tell my tale of through the images below. 

Fluke BCX1188.

Meet the Humpback Whale BCX1188 nicknamed “Jigger” for the now faint fish-hook shaped scar on his/her right fluke.

 

Photo: Hildering

When we saw Jigger in 2009, we noted the barnacle growing on the right top of his/her dorsal fin. Such barnacles are a distinct species only found on humpback whales. The Humpback Whale Barnacle is Coronula diadema.

 

This is one of our flank ID shots from 2009. You’ll note that the Humpback Whale Barnacle on Jigger’s dorsal fin is quite hard to see.

 

BCX1188 right flank 2010

Then, when we saw Jigger in August of 2010, we noted that the dorsal fin looked very different. My research partner from the Marine Education and Research Society, Christie McMillan, and I were worried that it might be an injury so we tried to get a better photo of the dorsal fin.

 

Here’s what the dorsal fin looked like from the left.  When I had this perspective, I thought that what we were looking at might be seaweed growing on the Humpback Whale Barnacle we had seen the year before (note that the barnacles often do fall off between years).

 

2010 right flank BCX1188

But, it didn’t quite look like seaweed. With patience and good camera lenses, we got a better look.

 

closer right flank 2010 BCX1188

What on Earth?! They’re gooseneck barnacles growing on the humpback whale barnacle!

Gooseneck barnacles are an order of barnacles that are attached to a hard surface by a long stalk that looks like a goose’s neck. They depend on the motion of the water to feed on plankton as they do not have the “foot” (cirri) that rakes in plankton in many other barnacle species.

 

Goose neck barnacles - close

That’s when I learned that there is a species of gooseneck barnacle that, in the North Pacific Ocean, most often grows on the Humpback Whale Barnacle!!! The species is the Humpback Whale Gooseneck Barnacle, Conchoderma auritum.

This is the kind of discovery that causes wonder and euphoria in my world.

To be able to identify a Humpback as an individual is already something of great scientific and educational value.

That this attention to an individual whale leads me to learn that there is a species of gooseneck barnacle that grows almost exclusively on a species of barnacle that only grows on Humpback Whales  = sheer wonder.

I can’t wait to find out what else the Humpbacks are going to teach me!


From E-FAUNA BC: ELECTRONIC ATLAS OF THE WILDLIFE OF BRITISH COLUMBIAConchoderma auritum is most often found attached to the shells of Coronula on the humpback whale; sometimes more than fifty are attached to one shell. “Rarely a specimen is found attached to the base of the teeth of an old sperm whale” (Sheffer, 1939). Gordon C. Pike reports finding specimens of C. auritumon sperm and fin whales taken in British Columbia. In each case the barnacles were associated with a deformation or an apathological condition of the jaws, baleen, or teeth. Each barnacle is usually oriented with the opening facing in the direction the whale swims. The food-laden water passes through the opening and over the feeding appendages, then out through the two “ears” which have tubular openings.”

From the Marine Species Identification Portal: Species is “attached to the whale barnacle Coronula diadema and sometimes Coronula reginae. It seems to be a rule that no Coronula is without a Conchoderma. Whether this is a form of symbiosis has been discussed by Broch (1924b). Specimens from northern waters have been taken from humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae ) or from teeth of bottle-nosed whales (Hyperodon spp.). In the Antarctic C. auritum has also been found on baleen plates of whales and on their tails. In tropical and subtropical parts of the oceans it can also be found attached to ships’ hulls and other floating objects, to slow moving fishes or to the tail of a large eel, but never on soft objects.”

 

You Win! You Lose?

You win some and you lose some . . . or do you?

Humpback Comeback Results

The final AVIVA voting results in our funding category (to $25K). Click image for close-up.

On January 19th, I had the extreme honour of accepting the Vancouver Aquarium’s Murray A. Newman Award for Excellence in Aquatic Conservation.  In the thick, wonderful soup of positive emotions associated with this, I delight in the award being known as The MAN Award.  Yeah, I got a MAN award! (For my acceptance speech, see the link at the bottom of this post).

On January 25th, it was announced that the Marine Education and Research Society’s Humpback Comeback Project would not receive funding dollars from the AVIVA Community Fund. (I am a director for MERS and have had the joy of 7 years of volunteer effort in studying local humpbacks.) The competition result was a shock as this small local project succeeded in getting the third highest number of votes out of more than 520 in our category (7,113 votes total, more than 1,100 votes ahead of the forth place).

After the intensive on-line voting, the projects were judged and Humpback Comeback was determined not to best meet the AVIVA criteria/priorities. See the winning projects at this link. Observations are that “build ’em” and human-to-human projects such as playgrounds were more successful in meeting the criteria of this generous and PR-savvy insurance company.

It was a shock yes, but there are far more similarities between winning the MAN award and the AVIVA result than just my exclaiming “Oh man!” at the end of both.

I could not have achieved what was recognized by the award without the opportunities and support provided by the people of Northern Vancouver Island.  The astounding community support and encouragement we also received for the Humpback Comeback Project provided an equally potent affirmation of purpose.

Losing?  Every time someone voted for the Project or that we had a media opportunity, awareness was created for whales and for the threat of entanglement; positive attention was focused on our area and its remarkable biodiversity; and people responded to an opportunity to create positive change.  There are those that have now even decided to support the Project through donations or by helping to find alternative funding sources (donations made via www.mersociety.org).

Sometimes life deals a challenge that only intensifies focus, strengthens resolve, and enhances creativity to achieve what you believe in.  Oh man, I assure you that this is the case with the Humpback Comeback Project!

Great thanks to you all for the support.
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Photo by Vancouver Aquarium's John Healey. The Marine Detective among Drs. Left to right: Dr. Randall Peterman - winner MAN award for Science; Dr. Murray A. Newman - award is in his honour; founding director of the Vancouver Aquarium; Dr. John Nightengale - President Vancouver Aquarium.

 

For my acceptance speech for the Murray A. Newman award, see this link (15 minutes). It is apparently laughter and tear inducing with the ultimate message being – be relentless in creating positive change.  Includes lots of my images of the marine biodiversity of Northern Vancouver Island.

See announcement of the award in the North Island Gazette.

For previous posts on humpbacks and the Humpback Comeback Project, scroll down at this link.



The Humans Behind “Humpback Comeback”

Update: See this link for the results of the Humpback Comeback Project in the AVIVA competition.

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With just a few more days left to vote for the “Humpback Comeback” Project in the AVIVA Community Fund’s competition, I feel I need to crack.

I need to crack and respond to the many questions about who “we” are, the humans behind the Humpback Comeback Project.

We haven’t wanted to answer because of course, it isn’t a comfortable thing to put yourself “out there”; it’s been a broad community effort where we can’t mention everybody involved and; we didn’t want to detract from what the Project is about  – the whales and understanding the risk of entanglement.

But with all the remarkable support the Project has received, I feel we owe you.  Maybe too, in revealing the human element, the dedication behind the Project will be even more apparent and you’ll know all the more that your votes have been well invested.

So who are we, the volunteer effort behind the Humpback Comeback Project?  Below I include the biographies provided in our submission to the AVIVA Community Fund competition. Please realize that the information was written with the purpose of relaying our commitment to the Project and to our community. Self-promotion is difficult and awkward but the we did it to help the chance of success in the funding competition.

In complete self-mockery, we also include photos of ourselves so you can see the human faces behind Humpback Comeback. The photos were taken when we were out looking for humpbacks last week, on the cold Northeast Pacific. We recognize that the photos wouldn’t serve us well on Plenty of Fish but that’s not their purpose . .. for us, it’s about plenty of whales!

Please know too that there are so many more who have contributed time, resources and sightings – local whale watching companies (e.g. Stubbs Island Whale Watching began the data collection effort); Dr. Alexandra Morton (shared all the humpback data she had collected since the 1980s); our fellow members of the Marine Education and Research Society (Caitlin Birdsall, Leah Thorpe and Heidi Krajewsky) and many more from Northern Vancouver Island, B.C., Canada.

Thank you so much for caring and for your support.

Vote #5773!

Chrisite McMillan. Vote 5 . . .

 

Christie McMillan (Alert Bay, B.C.) has spent two years as a Humpback Whale Studies Research Assistant and member of the Atlantic Large Whale Disentanglement Network at the Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies in Cape Cod, Massachusetts.  Working with some of the world’s experts in entanglement research and humpback whale biology, she has gained skills and expertise in both of these fields.  She has also worked as a Cetacean Research Technician for Fisheries and Oceans Canada, and an environmental educator and Naturalist for various non-profit and eco-tourism organizations.  She has played a key role in collecting, processing, and analyzing our humpback whale data since 2005.

Jared Towers. Vote 7, 7 . . .

 

Jared Towers (Alert Bay, B.C.) is a Cetacean Research Technician with Fisheries and Oceans Canada, and has been operating boats and studying wild whales off the coast of British Columbia for the past 23 years.  He also is the Founder and Past President of the North Island Marine Mammal Stewardship Association, an organization dedicated to finding the balance between sustainable eco-tourism and marine mammal conservation.  He is a skilled researcher, educator, and Captain, having worked in locations all over British Columbia, as well as in Mexico and Antarctica. He has been involved in our humpback whale research for the past 7 years.

Yours truly. Jackie Hildering. Vote 3 . . . Vote #5773!

 

Jackie Hildering (Port McNeill, B.C.) has been collecting and processing our humpback whale data for 7 years.  She is a highly respected marine educator with a very strong connection to the local community. She has worked as a marine naturalist for 12 years; was Fisheries and Oceans Canada’s Education Coordinator for 7 years; runs a Young Naturalist Club; is President of the local dive club; and works for the SOS Marine Conservation Foundation.

Her role in the community is further evident in the local recognition she has received.  This includes:

  • 2010 winner of the Vancouver Aquarium’s Murray A. Newman Award for Excellence in Aquatic Conservation.
  • Recognition from Fisheries and Oceans Canada’s Director of Oceans, Habitat and Enhancement for “contribution to the preservation and enhancement of the salmonid resource  . . . helping ensure a better future for all Canadians” (June 2010)
  • Professional Merit Award – Port McNeill & District Chamber of Commerce (2009)
  • LiveSmart BC “Community Hero” (Oct 2008)
  • One of the top 3 nominees for the “Free the Children” Society’s “Me to We Awards” in the educator category (2007)


Humpback Comeback Project – Worth the Vote

Update: See this link for the results of the Humpback Comeback Project in the AVIVA competition.

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In recognition of how important the information was to our Humpback Comeback Project, Jim Borrowman provided us with his photos of a humpback whale entanglement dating back to September 23rd, 1994. This was a time when it was very rare to see humpbacks around N. Vancouver Island (B.C., CANADA) since they had been whaled intensely into the 1950s.

I include one of these images below but be warned that it is very upsetting.  I share it with you as it shows how devastating the threat of getting entangled in fishing gear can be. The photo provides insight into how necessary research into the threat of entanglement is and  . . . how valuable your voting is for the Humpback Comeback Project. (Please click here to place your daily vote so that $25K could be won for humpback entanglement research).

Christie McMillan (colleague in the Project who has expertise in judging the severity of entanglement injuries), concluded that the whale must have been entangled for a considerable time before these images were taken. The evidence of this is that the whale is very thin (emaciated) and its skin condition is very poor, being heavily covered in cyamids (whale lice).

Whale with severe entanglement injuries, 1994. Photo by Jim Borrowman; Stubbs Island Whale Watching; http://www.stubbs-island.com/

 

Jim Borrowman, Mike Durban and Dave Towers worked together and succeeded in freeing this whale from the lines. This heroic effort served as the inspiration for the children’s book “The Rescue of Nanoose” by Mary Borrowman and Chloe O’Loughlin; illustrated by Jacqueline Wang.

More, larger photos showing the severity of this entanglement at this link.

If you need more background on how to vote for the Humpback Comeback Project , please click here.

“Idol” for Humpbacks – Vote #5773

Update: See this link for the results of the Humpback Comeback Project in the AVIVA competition.

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Ready Team?

If you are reading this it is because you likely care enough to take one minute a day (to 9 AM Pacific, December 15, 2010), to help British Columbia’s humpbacks.

$25,000 for humpback entanglement research is at stake. Our “Humpback Comeback Project” has made the final round of voting in the AVIVA Community Fund and will need your votes to successfully compete “Idol style” against projects supported by the population base of urban Ontario.

How to help?

  • Register at this link if you have not yet had the opportunity to do so  (then click the link in the email that will be sent to you).
  • Spread the word any way you can . Our huge thanks to those who have Tweeted, Facebooked, forwarded these email bulletins, made posters and helped us get radio and print interviews. Your support has not only landed the Project in the final voting round, it has been deeply inspirational.

    "Arial" (BCY0767); known to us to be 3-years-old; born to "Houdini"( BCX0022); and having very strong fidelity to the area. Image: Hildering

    Whale-sized thanks indeed.


    Jackie Hildering
    Marine Educator / Biologist

If you would like a daily reminder, I would be very happy to provide you with one. Please click here.

If you would like to follow along on Facebook, join at this link.

For knowledge of just how bad the threat of entanglement can be, please see the images at the postings here.

Please note that your minute of voting a day supports the effort invested by myself and others who have volunteered their own resources for up to seven years to catalogue the return of the humpbacks and strive to understand the threats to them.

We will continue to volunteer our data collection time but can not carry out this extended study without financial support.

Looks Like We Made It – Humpback Comeback Project

Update: See this link for the results of the Humpback Comeback Project in the AVIVA competition.

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Thank you so much!

Our  small, Northern Vancouver Island project has withstood whale-sized odds and, with your continued support, may now win $25,000 for humpback conservation research.

The Humpback Comeback Project competed against community projects from across Canada in the AVIVA Community Fund’s contest that operates very much like an “Idol” for charities.

So many people voted for Humpback Comeback that it has advanced to the final round of the voting, finishing in the top 30 of 528 projects in the funding category.  But now the going gets really tough since our Project is up against many (wonderful) community projects that are championed by large population bases in urban Ontario.

Our Project may not originate from a densely populated area, but the community of people who recognize the importance of this research is very large indeed.

So, please, in true Idol style, from December 2nd to 15th,  click here to find out how to vote for the Humpback Comeback Project, #5773!

You have one vote a day for ten days in this time period.

Please too could you promote the Project by sharing this blog item with your social networks? Demanding, I know – but a great deal is at stake.

BCY0710

BCY0710 "Twister" who was entangled in prawn trap lines and anchored to the bottom, twice in a 3 week period in 2009 (May 18th and June 10th). Photo: Jared Towers.

 

If you would like a daily reminder, I would be very happy to provide you with one. Please click here.

If you would like to follow along on Facebook, join at this link.

If you’ve not registered in the prior round of voting, you will have to do so and then click the link that gets sent to you in an email.

Click here for the direct link to the Project.

After the final voting round, a jury will decide which of the top scoring Projects will be funded.

What a SPLASH it would create if this included the Humpback Comeback Project!

From team MERS – again, thank you so much.


Humpback Comeback Project – Please Vote!

Update: See this link for the results of the Humpback Comeback Project in the AVIVA competition.

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I have a whale-sized favour to ask . . . I need your votes.

To be exact, I need one vote a day for the next 10 days and your support in spreading the word to generate more votes for our “Humpback Comeback” research project.

It is of huge importance to me and the others in our small group of dedicated whale researchers on the Northern Vancouver Island (British Columbia) who, for the past 7 years, have been using our own boats, fuel, and equipment to try to learn more about humpbacks.

We have a chance of getting support through the Aviva Community Fund for an essential study to determine the rate of entanglement of humpbacks in B.C.  (whales getting caught in fishing gear). In a well-studied area of the North Atlantic ocean, about 75% of humpback whales have been tangled up in fishing gear at some point in their lives but there has been very little research into this threat to humpbacks in British Columbia.

Our motivation for this project is a direct result of what we have observed locally. See below for a very recent example of the severity of entanglement injury to a local humpback. The shocking images are of the before-and-after-entanglement of a whale we have nicknamed “Sharktooth” (no DFO catalogue number yet).

Please start voting today and up to November 26th, so that we might move on to the semi-finals.

Everyone has 10 votes (one vote a day), and you can vote for the same idea all 10 times.

So use your votes, tell your friends, and use Facebook or other social networks to spread the word! Please.

You need to register to vote at this link.

Then, please click the link in the email that is sent to you. You can then vote for the “Humpback Comeback Project” every day by clicking here.

Great thanks.

"Sharktooth" on June 20, 2010 - no injuries. Photo: Jackie Hildering. Click to enlarge.

"Sharktooth" on October 2nd, 2010 - with entanglement scarring. Photo: Bruce Paterson. Click to enlarge.

"Sharktooth" on October 2nd, 2010 - with entanglement scarring. Photo: Bruce Paterson.

"Sharktooth" on October 2nd, 2010 - with entanglement scarring. Photo: Bruce Paterson.

Sperm Whales – Magnificent and Misunderstood

It was on July 16th, 2010 when I saw Sperm Whales for the first time off the coast of British Columbia and my world rocked.

This whale species is unlike any other and is extreme in so many ways.

Sperm Whales:

  • Make very long and very deep dives
  • Have the biggest brains
  • Are the largest toothed animals
  • Make the loudest sounds
  • Have a very strange common name reflecting great misunderstanding
  • Were hunted intensely
  • And are so very, very unique looking.

I saw the Sperm Whales while having the joy of being a Marine Mammal Observer on DFO’s Cetacean Research Program’s offshore survey. I first saw them in the area where I have put the blue star on the map below. You’ll note from this image that this area off the continental shelf is where many sperm whales were “taken” by whalers. It is in deep waters like this that sperm whales find their prey of deep ocean fishes and squid (from medium-sized squid species to the giant squid).

Sperm Whales inshore of Vancouver Island are exceedingly rare. There was one documented in February 2018 near Telegraph Cove by Lisa Larsson of OrcaLab and Jared Towers of DFO. In late fall of 1984 Dr. John Ford of DFO recorded the clicks from one in Johnstone Strait near Telegraph Cove (source: Ford, Marine Mammals of British Columbia).

Our first clue that we might be sighting Sperm Whales was the very unique blows that veer sharply off to the left. Through binoculars we could confirm the species ID by seeing the animals’ colossal heads and wrinkly skin and, when they descended for a long and deep dive, it was indisputable that we were seeing Sperm Whales. The distinctly shaped tails came high out of the water, straight up and down and the animals descended as if slowly going down in an elevator. I found myself gasping in amazement when I first saw this. (Note that the images below showing the Sperm Whale’s dive and blow are not from the research trip in B.C.)

Down he went. Down, down, down. The dive could take up to 90+ minutes and could be to a depth of 1185 m (most dives to ~400 metres for 35 to 60 minutes). That’s more than 100 atmospheres of pressure!  (One weblink I provide below provides video of a Sperm Whale at this depth.)

Apparently an average Sperm Whale’s dive profile is to slowly descend for 10 minutes, hunt at depth (more often at 300 to 800 m) for approximately 25 minutes, then slowly ascend for 10 minutes. The whales then stay at the surface for some 8 minutes, taking up to 90 breaths (range of 20 to 70) to offload carbon dioxide and reload oxygen into their blood and muscles.

This long period at the surface is when they were an easy target for the whalers. Yes, Moby Dick was a Sperm Whale but the ferociousness portrayed by Herman Melville in this classic novel is pure fiction. Were Sperm Whales to attack and swallow people whole, they may not have been so terribly exploited. We humans wanted their blubber, their spermaceti and their ambergris. Ambergris is found in the intestines (see previous blog item) and “spermaceti” is a semi-liquid wax found in the Sperm Whales’ huge heads. Early whalers thought it was a reproductive material which is why the species has its strange common name. Science now believes that this material has a role in buoyancy by being cooled and contracting to become more dense when the whale is diving and then becoming heated and expanding to allow the whale to ascend from such great depths. It may also have a role in sound production.

In the dark world to which the Sperm Whales descended, they find their prey through echolocation. These clicks act like an “acoustic flashlight”. They go out from the whale’s huge head and, when they bounce off an object and “echo” back, this allows the sperm whale to form an image of its surroundings and prey. (I also provide a weblink below that provides amazing, but very worrying, video of a Sperm Whale using echolocation to take fish off a longline = “depredation”).

As well as these slow and regular echolocation clicks, Sperm Whales also make really loud clicks called “codas”. Codas are believed to allow the Sperm Whales to communicate with one another, maybe in a way like we humans use Morse code. Listen to the Sperm Whale that was in Johnstone Strait in February 2018 at this link. 

I don’t know that anyone can be quite the same after an enormously privileged experience like seeing a Sperm whale. I was left stunned with a cocktail of emotion surging through me that included wonder, joy, passion and resolve. More passion for conservation and more resolve to share these experiences to make them count.

Male adult Sperm Whale going of a deep dive. Image by Peter Jucker; taken in the St. Lawrence.www.juckiwildlifephotography.com

Typical Sperm Whale blow = low, bushy, explosive and at a sharp left angle.Image by Peter Jucker; taken in the St. Lawrence.www.juckiwildlifephotography.com

Sperm Whale tooth. Image by Louisa Bates of Telegraph Coves Whale Interpretive Centre.www.killerwhalecentre.org

Many thanks to Peter Jucker and Uko Gorter for their great generosity in sharing images for the purpose of education and conservation.


Links to Sperm Whale sound and video:


Sources:

Great resource for further information on Sperm Whales off British Columbia’s coast: John Ford’s 2014; Marine Mammals of British Columbia: Royal BC Museum Handbook; available via the Royal BC Museum and Amazon.ca .

AOKI, KAGARI; MASAO AMANO; KYOICHI MORI; AYA KOUROGI; TSUNEMI KUBODERA and NOBUYUKI MIYAZAKI (2012) Active hunting deep-diving sperm whales: 3D profiles and maneuvers during bursts of speed. Marine Ecology Progress Series 444:289-301.

Watwood SL, Miller P, Johnson M, Madsen PT, Tyack PL (2006) Deep-diving foraging behaviour of sperm whales (Physeter macrocephalus). Journal of Animal Ecology 75: 814-825.

Whitehead, H. (2003). “Vertical Movements: The Sperm Whale’s Dive”. Sperm Whales Social Evolution in the Ocean. University of Chicago Press. p. 79.

Sharks Among Us #1 – The Blue Shark

The image below is of a Pacific Blue Shark (Prionace glauca) being rescued by Lindsey Pattinson of Tiderip Grizzly Tours on July 15th, 2010 in Glendale Cove, British Columbia.

Lindsey Pattinson rescuing a blue shark. Photo: Nick and Sue Spiller. 

Many British Columbians are unaware that we have at least 13 species of shark among us, ranging from the smaller species such as the Spiny Dogfish up to the 6-gill shark (5 m+) and the very, very rare Basking Shark (9 m+). The beautiful Blue Shark reaches a maximum of 3.8 meters and is distinct in its deep blue colouration and slender shape.

The Slue Shark is common in B.C. and is, in fact, extremely far ranging and widespread. It is found from Alaska to Chile in the Pacific but is also present in the Atlantic and Indian Oceans.  It has been found in waters from 7 to 16°C, latitudes of 60°N to 50°S and from the shallows to depths of 350 m (being more often at depth in warmer waters).

In researching the species after Lindsey’s find, I discovered that Blue Sharks undertake very large migrations, reportedly up to 9,200 km, moving north in the summer months.  More females than males move to the higher latitudes.

But, of course a sighting like this in Glendale Cove is an enormous rarity. Even with the Blue Shark being common in B.C., they are more often oceanic, on the continental shelf . . . not on the beach in Glendale!

For whatever reason, the animal stranded there and Lindsey cared enough to do what he could to save it.  Many shark species need to keep swimming in order to have oxygen-rich water pass over their gills. Knowing this, Lindsey moved the stranded shark back and forth in the water, forcing water over its gills and indeed, he revived it. He and the tourists he was guiding on the Grizzly Bear (and shark) watching trip had the joy of watching the animal swim to depth.

Thanks to Lindsey, this Blue Shark will be able to have more days of feeding on anchovy, mackerel, salmon, hake, dogfish, crustaceans and squid. It may also scavenge here and there and even feed on aggregations of krill by straining the water in the way a baleen whale would.

I suspect the Glendale Cove shark was a female and with Blue Sharks being a very prolific species, now saved, she could go on to bear 25 to 50 pups at a time (apparently even as many as 135)!  These young would grow inside her as the blue shark is “viviparous”, meaning they bear fully formed young. The pups are 35 to 44 cm at birth.

I was fascinated to learn that blue shark females can apparently “get pregnant” up to 20 months AFTER mating. They can store sperm packets in special glands in their reproductive tract called “shell glands” (aka nidamental glands) and pass their eggs through these glands to get fertilized.

If the rescued Blue Shark was indeed female, she may not have been able to feel much of Lindsey’s caring touch since the females are up to 3 times thicker skinned that the males! This adaptation is believed to allow the females to deal with the males since there is a lot of biting during courtship.

Unfortunately, the fate of Blue Sharks can also be to become the bycatch of longline and driftnet fisheries. One source reported that in one year alone (1990) “it is conservatively estimated that by-catch of blue sharks taken by the Japanese squid fleet in the North Pacific totalled 700,000.”

Further life history: Males sexually mature at 4–6 and females at 5–7 years. Believed to live to age 20.

For more photos of the blue shark rescue, click here.

Great thanks to Nick and Sue Spiller for sharing these photos.

Sources include:

Seeing Whales – Seeing Red

I saw A12 swim by today. A12, also known as Scimitar, is an old female killer whale of the “Northern Resident” population of fish-eating, inshore killer whales. She is about 69-years-old (known as the result of the photo-identification work of Dr. John Ford, Graeme Ellis and the late Dr. Michael Bigg).

A12 is the grand dame of the first family of killer whales I ever saw; an experience that had an impact on me that I will never fully be able to explain. It led me to make a radical career change, moving back to Canada to work as a marine educator on the very waters where I first saw A12.

Seeing her today was as powerful an experience for me as it was the first time I saw her but  . . . there was sadness too and, there was anger.

Last year her son A33 “Nimpkish” went missing. He was around 38-years-old. Mother fish-eating killer whales never leave their sons so we knew there was very little chance of ever seeing him again. Indeed, no one ever has.

With A33 gone, A12 would still sometimes travel with her daughter A34 and A34’s calves and grand-calves but she was also often on her own. Then, as of July 22nd, she was frequently seen with “the three brothers” (the A36s); three mature male killer whales whose mother went missing in 1997. As the only surviving offspring, these males were always together. A12 is closely related to them and it was remarkable to see how the mother with no son, interacted with the sons with no mother.

Today, there were only two of the three brothers near A12. The eldest, A32 (aka “Craycroft”) who was around age 46, is now missing.

Another male killer whale gone.

And this is what laced my experience today with anger. But why?  Whales, like everything else, die.

I assure you I am not being overly sentimental. It will never be conclusive what made these whales die but, but, BUT we humans definitely had an influence. Their health, in fact, is an accurate mirror of how our actions impact the environment.

The whales, with their position high in the marine food chain, are full of chemicals like fire retardants and pesticides (the work of Dr. Peter Ross). Despite the many lessons learned with the likes of chemicals like PCBs and DDT, which were banned in 1977, we still do not appropriately test new chemicals and we use chemicals with reckless abandon. The toxic reality is that the ocean is a soup of chemicals – including the old and new (e.g. PBDEs) “persistent organic pollutants” that do not break down; “travel” to the colder areas of the world; build up in the food chain (bioaccumulate and biomagnify), and reduce animals’ ability to fight disease and reproduce.

A32 was above average age for a male killer whale but “average age” has been determined from the data available only after our use of these chemicals. It is not believed to be natural that male killer whales (and the males of many other marine mammal species) die at a much younger age than the females. Their earlier demise has to, at least in part, be due to their toxin loads being much higher than the loads in the females. The females’ toxin levels are lower because females download these fat-soluble toxins in the fatty mother’s milk, to their calves (of course with negative impacts to the calves).

These chemicals had to have an impact on the missing mature males and, the situation literally becomes all the more toxic, when coupled with lack of food. When the whales do not have enough food and use up their fat reserves, the toxins become more concentrated. And 2008 was an appalling year for Chinook salmon, the salmon species essential to the survival of killer whales of the “resident” populations. The work of Dr. John Ford has shown that there is a direct correlation between the survival of these killer whales and the availability of Chinook salmon and, of course, we humans impact the survival of salmon  . . . by habitat loss, over-harvesting, climate change, current open net-cage salmon farming practices, etc.

So today, as I witnessed A32 no longer being with his brothers, I felt the wave of rage come up inside me. Missing whales causes reflection on the state of the environment due to human over-consumption, lack of precaution and disconnect from Nature.

But the wave passed shortly after the whales did. For there is still every reason for hope. As long as people care enough to change, there is hope. The potential for change is endless and there is ample evidence of humanity, increasingly, moving in a direction that considers the link between our daily actions and whales like A12, A33 and A32.

Indeed, there is ample reason for hope as long as there are people like you who read to the end of a lengthy blog entry like this.

Take one further step and click on this link to find out how easy it is to help the whales, and ourselves.

Thank you.