Whales: Blue whales, hanging around Sri Lanka & a bit about their songs


whale-83211b46cbd3936dfe91f263f0faaaaddfc556b7Thirty metres long, blue whales are immense…and they travel great distances. Except for these…they (far as any people know) hang around Sri Lanka & don’t appear to go anywhere. With only 10K left worldwide, they are on most countries’ endangered list, and their recovery from whale hunting is going slowly.

This video is an exploration of that, and some of the obstacles to studying them – some in science, some in the environment, and some in the way our society does things. Amazing video & amazing photos of amazing friends in the water….

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Then there’s more – here’s a story you have to hear on NPR (here’s the audio):

Blue whales are updating their playlist, according to new research on the huge mammals.

It’s not quite West Side Story, but male blue whales use songs to warn away other males and attract females. It’s a pulsing sound, more like a large piece of machinery than the Jets and the Sharks.

But that song has been changing.

John Hildebrand of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography studies whale sounds and says he’s been hearing something new lately.

“They’ve been shifting the frequency. They’ve been shifting the pitch to be lower each year. And that shift in pitch has resulted in song that is now about 30 percent lower than it was in the 1960s,” he says. He says the change is happening in blue whale colonies all over the world.

Hildebrand believes the change is tied to the elimination of blue whale hunting. Before hunting was banned in 1966, the numbers of blue whales were dangerously low.

“Worldwide in the early ’60s, there probably would have been a few thousand,” he says.

Those low numbers meant there were few females available to hear a male’s come-hither song. For males in that situation, “there’s a push to have the sound go to higher frequency so that more of the girls can hear it.”

In other words, the guys had to shout to be heard. But now that blue whales are more numerous, Hildebrand thinks the males have gone back to singing bass because it makes them sound bigger and more attractive to females. He says males of many species use lower tones to attract mates.

“In fact, human females, if you put some headphones on and play a bunch of male voices and you tell them to pick out the sexy voice, do they pick the weak little voice or do they pick the big booming voice?” Hildebrand says. “You know the answer.”

No one disputes the finding that blue whale songs have gone down in pitch. But Hildebrand’s theory of why it’s happened has raised some eyebrows.

“It’s a great anthropomorphism to suggest that the whales have thought this through,” says Richard Ellis, a whale expert at New York’s Natural History Museum.

“I really don’t think that the whales — for all their big brains and everything else — I really don’t think the whales think about this,” Ellis says.

Still, Hildebrand says, if a lower tone becomes an advantage to some males, it will be copied by others.

diving with blue whale

Whales: Killer whales, in the neighbourhood….

How do they know that Granny, the killer whale in J pod in the San Juan Islands who is estimated to be 103 years old is that old? Here is Monika’s tribute post to her when she turned 100 that explains that (which is cool) as well as offering insight why we all love her so….thanks, Monika!

http://www.orcawatcher.com/2011/07/j2-granny-celebrating-100-years.html

A killer whale's breath, in the late afternoon sun near San Juan Island. Jpod has returned this past week, including 103-year-old Granny (next time you got to Sea World & they say orcas live to be around 30 years old, you can tell them they do better in the open sea, swimming 75 miles a day, not 75 feet in a cement pond.) Photo (thanks!) by Jim Maya.
A killer whale’s breath, in the late afternoon sun near San Juan Island in Washington State, USA. Jpod has returned this past week, including 103-year-old Granny (next time you got to Sea World & they say orcas live to be around 30 years old, you can tell them they do better in the open sea, swimming 75 miles a day, not 75 feet in a cement pond.) Photo (thanks!) by Jim Maya.

 

Whales: Playing together….

Playing with his friend....
Playing with her friend….

From my friend Carol:

In recent years years, bottle-nose dolphins were documented riding humpback whales in Hawaiian waters. The dolphins actually slide down the backs of the whales into the water like a makeshift “slip and slide.”

Scientists believe it is just a game between the two species, because neither of them displays aggressive or distressed behavior toward the other. It seems to be play-time that they both genuinely enjoy. When the dolphins are riding on the whales’ backs, the whales will sometimes go up to the surface and lift the dolphins into the air. The interactions are rare or at least, very difficult to capture on camera.

More about it on YouTube:

Whales: Attack by killer whale…unlikely, according to expert

Orca expert and rescue founder Dr Ingrid Visser with an orca in Whangarei Harbour some years ago. Photo/Michael Cunningham
Orca expert and rescue founder Dr Ingrid Visser with an orca in Whangarei Harbour some years ago. Photo/Michael Cunningham

Human/killer whale attacks are rare, which prompts this expert in New Zealand to suggest this event was unfortunate, but more of an accident – here’s more:

An expert on marine animals is skeptical about reports of an orca grabbing a free diver’s catch bag and dragging him underwater until the rope became free.

Whale rescue co-founder, Far North-based Jo Halliday said it was not unheard of for such an incident to occur but she doubted it was a case of “whale attacks man”.

Levi Gavin, who was diving for kina and crayfish two weeks ago at Horahora estuary, on the coast east of Whangarei, said he was dragged beneath the water for about 40 seconds after the orca grabbed the catch bag tied to his right arm.

Mr Gavin described being down to his “last breath” in a death spiral, and trying to relax to conserve his breath as the huge creature dragged him deeper and deeper.

(Here’s the rest of the story from the New Zealand Herald)

Whales: Capturing our brother & sister killer whales, in Russia

russian_orcas2_2012_tatiana_ivkovich_feropIf the marine entertainment industry folks tried to capture orcas in Atlantic waters, or off the Pacific coast….you bet there would be a fight.

So they’re doing it in the cold seas of Russia. According to Erich Hoyt:

Four more orcas have now been confirmed to have been captured in Russian waters for ocean amusement parks and aquariums. That makes seven total captured in the past 2+ months in two separate captures in the Sea of Okhotsk—the massive far eastern inland sea of Russia, lying due north of Japan. Having spent time with these wild, beautiful orcas, I feel personally, as well as professionally, depressed about these developments.

The first 2013 capture happened in mid-August. The three orcas, or killer whales, were taken by a Russian catching team, the same team that caught a female orca in the same general area at the same time last year. For the past year, that young female — someone named her Narnia and the name stuck — has been swimming alone in a tiny makeshift pen near Nakhodka (Vladivostok area), awaiting her fate. The rumors have consistently pointed to her eventual transfer to Moscow.

Here’s more.

Whales: Killer whales seen off Kona, Hawaii

Researchers off Hawaii's Kona coast on Friday documented a rare sighting of killer whales, including at least two that were playing host to hitchhiking remoras (above)....photo by Robin Baird
Researchers off Hawaii’s Kona coast on Friday documented a rare sighting of killer whales, including at least two that were playing host to hitchhiking remoras (above)….photo by Robin Baird

There is no known resident pod of orcas around Hawaii, which makes it that much more exciting – and that much more rare – when they are seen.

Here’s more from Pete Thomas Outdoors about last week’s sighting, and what it means.

Whales: Welcome home, old friend….”They are fishermen, like we are.”

Transient killer whale in the San Juan Islands....photo by Jim Maya (thanks, Jim!)
Transient killer whale in the San Juan Islands….photo by Jim Maya (thanks, Jim!)

Just what you want to hear. And yeah, more than a coincidence.

On Tuesday, killer whales came close to a ferry from Seattle as it approached Bainbridge Island. The killer whales surrounded the ferry and splashed in the water.

By coincidence, on board the ferry were officials from The Burke Museum in Seattle who were returning tribal artifacts to the new Suquamish Museum. The artifacts were dug up nearly 60 years ago from the site of the Old Man House, the winter village for the Suquamish tribe and home of Chief Seattle.

Also on board was Suquamish Chairman Leonard Forsman. He believes the appearance of the orcas was no coincidence. He believes they were welcoming the artifacts home to the reservation.

Whales: Plastic in the gut – it’s a killer

A grey whale comes ashore, dead with plastics in his system.
A grey whale comes ashore, dead with plastics in his system.

Ever since I met Captain Charles Moore a few years ago (he came to San Juan Island for a rousing talk), I’ve had plastics on the brain. If you haven’t seen his here’s-everything-in-a-nutshell TED talk, check it here.

The amount of plastic in the world’s oceans is staggering, and it makes its way into the animals who live there. I’m happy to see that people like Angela Sun are making documentaries about this (here’s her trailer for her film, Plastic Paradise):

Plastic Paradise: The Great Pacific Garbage Patch Trailer from Angela Sun on Vimeo.

This is not isolated to any one part of the world – it is everywhere. The whale in the photo above died because it was filled with plastic waste, and there’s a lesson in its death about the direction it – and we – as a species are headed.

Here’s the rest of the story, from CS Globe.

 

 

Whales: Meet Ken & check in on the orcas, with Carl Safina

Female killer whale, draped in kelp.....photo by Carl Safina.
Female killer whale, draped in kelp…..photo by Carl Safina.

Carl Safina came to San Juan Island in Washington State to see what’s happening with the killer whales, and to hang out with the Center for Whale Research’s Ken Balcomb.

The state of the environment for the orcas: short on food, and decreasing numbers in the resident pods. It doesn’t help that the Navy does sonar testing in these waters, either.

Carl files this report. (click here)