Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Baldy's 2009 Calf Seen Off Florida

Baldy is one of our more prolific mothers with a large family of at least eight calves, plus grandcalves and great-grandcalves. She was seen several times in 2009 in the Bay of Fundy with her calf. Unfortunately her calf had suffered from an entanglement somewhere along the migration route from Florida to the Bay of Fundy. With no rope or other gear on the whale, the calf appeared okay. It was obvious that an entanglement and escape had occurred because of the type of cuts across her head, back and tail stock (see September 4 post, http://adoptrightwhales.blogspot.com/2009/09/baldys-eighth-baby.html).

On January 25, 2010, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission aerial survey team spotted Baldy's calf off Ponte Vedra, FL. They also responded with a vessel to get a closer look at the calf. No longer with Baldy, the health of the calf has deteriorated with many whale lice or cyamid amphipods on the tail stock. The whale lice population explodes when whales become unhealthy. Sick whales often turn a greyish colour from increased sloughing skin and the skin provides abundant food for the whale lice. Whale lice may also provide a role in keeping wounds clean. The whale also seemed to be moving unusually suggesting the entanglement may have caused spinal damage when the whale struggled to free itself from the entanglement.

The research teams will be on the lookout for this whale and hope that the injuries are not life-threatening.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Wart #1140 Resighted

Wart, #1140, one of our adoptive whales, was reported entangled March 6, 2008. Rope entered and exited from her mouth. She was seen several times in March in Cape Cod Bay and then not again until February 25, 2009, still entangled and again in Cape Cod Bay. On January 24, 2010, she was seen again still entangled but this time further north in the Gulf of Maine in Jordon's Basin, a winter habitat that has been surveyed primarily by plane for the last several years and may be one of the mating areas for right whales. There were other right whales in the area but she was observed alone and probably feeding because of the long dive times.

Calving areas are separate from other activities and usually only a small proportion of the population attend (pregnant females, juveniles and a few non-pregnant adult whales) and are found from North Carolina to Florida along this coast.

The Center for Coastal Studies entanglement website has described the entanglement which continues to change orientation but persists with line coming out of the mouth. It does not appear life threatening but a continuing irritation to the whale. Disentangling right whales is not an easy task. Right whales seldom slow their swimming and show active avoidance and resistance to approaching disentanglers. Wart will continue to be monitored.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Mavynne's calf resighted

In early September, I described the release of Mavynne, a right whale that was found entangled in the Gulf of Maine. Although she had last been seen with her calf in the Bay of Fundy in late August, her calf was not with her when responders arrived to disentangle her. It was unsure what had happened to her calf.

The good news is that her calf was seen in the southeastern United States on December 26 but without Mavynne. Calves often stay with their mothers for nearly a year but perhaps the trauma of the entanglement created an early separation for this pair. Mavynne hasn't been seen since being disentangled and it would not be expected for her to travel to Florida, particularly since her calf seems to have separated from her.

Our adoptive right whale families continue to grow

I received the latest right whale calving numbers from the New England Aquarium and was pleased to see that both Kleenex's and Baldy's families have new members.

On December 22, Bugs was seen with her fifth calf. Bugs is the daughter of Baldy, born in 1982 and this now means that Baldy has ten grand-calves, as well as at least eight calves herself (the latest in 2009) and two great-grand-calves. Baldy was seen many times this summer in the Bay of Fundy but Bugs hadn't been photographed since 2006 in both Cape Cod Bay and the Bay of Fundy, which is not unusual if right whales avoid areas when surveys are being conducted. Bugs is named for a scar on her back that looks like the cartoon character "Bugs Bunny". Bugs had her first calf in 1989, her second in 1995, her third in 2002 and her fourth in 2005.

Right whale #3142, daughter of Kleenex born in 2001, was seen with her first calf also on December 22. This gives Kleenex six grand-calves, as well as at least eight calves (the latest in 2009) and four great-grand-calves. Interesting, #3142 was also last seen in 2006 in the Bay of Fundy. The year #3142 was born was also the beginning of the right whale baby boom with 32 calves born that year. Since 2001 over 200 right whale calves have been born bringing the estimated total of right whales to 438 in 2008 as calculated by the New England Aquarium. This is a complicated calculation that takes many factors into consideration and is not considered an exact number but a good estimate.

The weather has not been favourable for right whale aerial surveys in the southeast United States so this number of calves may be low. Let's hope for better survey weather and more calves are found in the next couple of months. We probably won't have numbers like last year (39) but perhaps in the 20s.

Monday, January 4, 2010

How are Swedish Wolves and Right Whales related

One of our researchers was here over New Years and she was telling me about the situation in Sweden, where she now lives, with their wolves, clearly a small endangered population, not that much different from North Atlantic right whales. It is believed that the current Swedish wolf population started with only three individuals and has grown to 230-250 individuals. The government has approved a hunt of 27 wolves and have 12,000 hunters registered to participate in this hunt. Here is an excerpt from http://www.facebook.com/group.php?v=info&ref=ts&gid=221540663418#/group.php?v=info&ref=ts&gid=221540663418

"The most extensive wolf hunt in Sweden since the last century will start January 2: nd, 2010. More than 12 000 wolf hunters have registered to shoot 27 wolves in the five counties of Dalarna, Värmland, Gävleborg, Örebro and Västra Götaland. This kind of extensive wolf hunt hasn’t been seen since the 1920s. Over 10 % of the Swedish wolf population will be shot, although there aren’t more than 230-250 wolves in total. This hunt lacks any scientific reason, and is a violation of the European Union’s legislations of the Habitats Directive. Raise your voice, become a member and sign the petition at http://upprop.nu/FQBS which will be sent to the Minister for the Environment Andreas Carlgren and the members of the Committee on Environment and Agriculture."

In the early 1900s a right whale hunt was restarted off the Hebrides, off Scotland, the whale fishery took 94 off Outer Hebrides and 6 off Shetland between 1903–1928, although only 3 after 1918 [Thompson, D’A.W. (1928) On whales landed at the Scottish whaling stations during the years 1908–1914 and 1920–1927. Scientific Investigations, Fishery Board of Scotland, 3, 1–40.]. None were obtained when whaling resumed in 1950–1951 [Brown, S.G. (1976) Modern whaling in Britain and the North-east Atlantic Ocean. Mammal Review, 6, 25–36]. In Western Ireland, 18 were caught between 1908–1914, but none in 1920 or 1922 [Fairley, J.S. (1981) Irish whales and whaling. Longstaff Press, Dublin]. These populations have not recovered but if this right whale hunt had not occurred in the early 1900s a right whale population along the European coast would be present today.

Now the level of hunt of right whales was clearly higher than the proposed wolf hunt, one wonders how we can decide what number is appropriate. And why do they want a smaller wolf population in Sweden? Perhaps because the same 12,000 hunters see wolves as a competitor with large game? Good thing that right whales eat zooplankton. That argument can never be made unless someone develops a zooplankton market. This is not as far-fetched as it may seem, since krill harvesting has already been in place in the Antarctic and was also proposed off Nova Scotia as a finishing ingredient for farmed Atlantic salmon. Colouring additives need to be added to farmed salmon since they are not eating such things as krill in the pellets they are fed daily and salmon, like flamingos are white-fleshed. Flamingos have white feathers if they do not eat brine shrimp.

I keep hoping that we will see other species as something we don't have to "manage" and that we can live in harmony with them but my normally optimistic self keeps getting derailed by such acts as culls.