Monday, December 31, 2007

Japan is Still Hunting Whales
Although Japan agreed to halt their hunt of Humpback whales on December 19, 2007, they are still actively hunting both Minke and Fin whales. They intend to kill 935 Minke whales and 50 endangered Fin whales under the guise of "scientific" whaling. Although a worldwide moratorium on whale killing was enacted in 1986, Japan, Norway and Iceland have turned their backs on this international agreement and intend to kill over 3,000 whales in 2008. If you have ever been lucky enough to see whales in the wild, it's hard to fathom that they are still the targets of hunters. The methods of modern whale hunting are brutal and the whales usually die a very slow and painful death.

There are many ways you can take action to help the whales. Here are a few:

1. Contact your congressional representative to voice your opinion. The Pacific Whale Foundation has step-by-step instructions on how to contact your representative as well as text that can be copied/pasted/edited and then e-mailed. Click this link and scroll to the bottom of the page for further details. They also have a printable PDF page that you can use to collect signatures and mail to the president.

2. Donate to organizations such as the
International Fund for Animal Welfare or volunteer some of your time with a local organization.

3. Consider where you spend your tourist dollars. Before planning travel to Japan, Norway, or Iceland think about whether you want to spend your hard-earned money in such countries while they are still killing whales. If you do decide to move forward with your travel, consider contacting the consulates of Japan, Norway, or Iceland to express your opinion on their whale-hunting practices.

Ongoing impact of San Francisco Bay Oil Spill Unfortunately, there is likely going to be an impact on both wildlife and the environment as a result of the Nov. 7 oil spill in the San Francisco Bay for many years to come. Over 58,000 gallons of oil spilled into the bay after a large Cosco container ship hit the Bay Bridge. Although lawsuits are in motion, the cannot do much to rescue an oiled bird or injured marine mammal. As of November 20, 2007, Audubon California had logged the following data:
  • Birds in care: 1,060
  • Birds washed: 783
  • Birds found dead in the field: 1,702
  • Birds died/euthanized: 573
  • Birds released: 317
This area is host to countless migratory birds and the impact could be very far-reaching due to migration patterns. The oil had also made its way to the Farallon Islands, which are home to over 200,000 Common Murres -- the largest colony south of Alaska. While most of the wildlife that was immediately impacted has likely perished by now, if by chance you do come across an oiled bird, contact the Oiled Wildlife Care Network at (415) 701-2311 or (877) 823-6926. If you live in the Bay Area and would like to help with ongoing cleanup or education efforts, contact your local branch of Audubon California. If you ever come across an injured marine mammal, do not attempt to rescue it yourself, but contact the Marine Mammal Center at: (415) 289-7325.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Third Blue Whale Found Dead
Yet another Blue whale has been found dead in the waters offshore southern California. This time, the whale was found floating belly-up in the Santa Barbara Channel and was then towed to shore to a beach at Point Mugu, where a necropsy was conducted. It was determined that the whale was killed by ship strike. The whale was male, about 60-feet long, and had multiple broken bones & ribs, as well as a smashed cranium. The Los Angeles Times reports that a great white shark attempted to attack one of the boats that towed the whale in. Other reports also say that sharks have been feeding on the whale carcass at sea.

As you can see in the photo as well as the video that accompanies this post, Blue whales often linger at the surface while they go through multiple, fairly slow breathing cycles before diving. This summer, there have been more Blue whales than usual in the Santa Barbara channel. When the whales rest in the shipping paths of large container ships, they may not be able to dive quickly enough to escape a strike.

While it's unknown whether disease or military-sonar disturbances played any additional roles, it does appear that all three deaths were the result of ship collisions. In addition to the Point Mugu whale, the Faria Beach whale (see earlier post), another Blue whale was found in the Long Beach Harbor and it likely arrived on the bow of a large container ship without the ship's knowledge. It's unfortunate that human activity has caused the loss of these whales because the Blue whale is an endangered species and each individual loss may have consequences for the future population.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

In Search of . . . a Blue Whale Carcass
My curiosity got the better of me and I went searching for the Blue whale carcass that washed up on the shores of southern, CA (see earlier post). In the coming days,
I will be posting many photos to the OceanSpot channel of Flickr and many videos to the OceanSpot channel of YouTube. Stay tuned for more details...
Blue Whale Carcass Near Ventura California -- Whale Death Was Caused By Ship
by Jennifer Schwartz,
A Blue whale carcass that washed ashore Thursday evening (September 13, 2007) near Hobson County Park near Ventura, CA was towed to Faria Park in Ventura County, CA this morning.
An animal autopsy, or "necropsy," was conducted on the whale, where it was determined that the whale was female, approximately 15-20 years old (note: later reports estimated her age at 3-5 years), had been dead for about 8 days, was approximately 120,000 to 140,000 pounds, and had been struck by a ship, which caused her death.
The ship strike was severe, causing a 20-foot bruise under the blubber layer of the whale, and most likely causing paralysis.
While the Blue whale is an endangered species, they have appeared in unusually high numbers in the Santa Barbara Channel this summer, most likely a result of following their main food source (krill) into the channel.

Coastal Cleanup Day at Malibu Lagoon
Today was International Coastal Cleanup day and volunteers around the world helped clean up coastal areas that are littered with far too much waste. I lent a hand at the Malibu Lagoon in Malibu, CA. The volunteer force at this site ended up collecting roughly 470 pounds of trash (or thereabouts). It was pretty amazing to see the types of junk our fellow human beings toss on the ground without a second thought. Food wrappers, plastic bags, styrofoam, cigarette butts, plastic bottles, cans, and more...the list is endless. Each small piece of trash poses a severe threat to marine and bird life. Our trash is often easily mistaken for food and if a bird or marine mammal ingests plastic, it may very well end their lives. Please don't litter! And if possible, please lend a hand to pick up trash when you see it...especially around coastal may save an animal's life.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

New Whale Videos Posted
This past weekend was yet another amazing one for whale-watching in southern California. Our captain says we spotted 48 Blue Whales on our Saturday outing in the Santa Barbara Channel. Many of these whales were swimming off in the distance, but I'd say we got a close-up view of 20-25 of them. This number is hard to fathom, considering the fact that they are highly endangered animals, as mentioned in an earlier post. Despite the unbearably hot temperatures on land, it was quite chilly out on the water and the water was very rough due to high winds. As a result of the turbulent waters, many of my videos have a dizzying perspective, but there were a few good ones in the bunch and I'll be posting those to the OceanSpot Channel of YouTube. Here's a compilation of the whale videos that are currently posted on the OceanSpot Channel of YouTube. This video loop includes various of species of whales in the wild:

Seen Any Troglobites Lately?
If so, then they probably haven't seen you, considering the fact that they are eyeless. Troglobites live in caves and include various species of millipedes, spiders, worms, blind salamanders, and eyeless fish. Since they live in caves, which inherently have little, if any, sunlight, they have little need for sight and have evolved their other senses more fully.

These eyeless cave animals are known as "true troglobites," while the animals who have partial eyesight are known as "troglophiles." Troglophiles may live near the entrance of the cave, or in an area where there is partial light. The September 2007 issue of National Geographic has an interesting story about these creatures along with many interesting & mysterious photos. As with countless species of animals around the world, even these small critters face an uncertain future due to pollution, vandalism, and quarrying. (The photo in this post appeared in the National Geographic Photo Gallery about this story and was taken by David Liittschwager.)
International Coastal Cleanup Day: Saturday, September 15, 2007
If you live in a coastal region and would like to volunteer some of your time to a worthy environmental cause, consider spending part of your day helping to clean up the shoreline. Cleanups are being held in most states within the U.S. as well as in many countries abroad. Volunteers on both foot and in boats are needed. For more information, visit the International Coastal Cleanup page on the Ocean Conservancy's web site that has more information about time, location, and more details about how to help. If you can't make it out on 9/15, consider doing a little cleanup on your own time next time you see trash around a beach, a coastal region, or anywhere outside for that matter. Picking up and properly disposing of a single plastic bag can help save the live of a marine animal or bird.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Videos of Blue Whales (near Santa Barbara, CA)
This has been an amazing season for Blue-Whale watching in southern California. Whale-watching tours in the Santa Barbara area have been spotting as many as 10 or 20 Blue Whales per daily outing, which is an amazing number, especially given the fact that these are endangered animals. I've been lucky enough to get out to see them on many a weekend and have had some amazing adventures. Armed with a new video camera, I now have more footage than I know what to do with. As time allows, I'll be posting the best clips to the OceanSpot Channel of YouTube and will post some of my favorites here from time to time. Here are a couple of clips to kick things off. The first clip shows Blue Whale lingering very slowly at the surface taking a series of breaths:

The next clip shows two Blue Whales surfacing, one of which shows a bit of its rostrum (nose) as it surfaces:

To view still photos, click the badge below to see pictures of the Blue Whales I spotted on July 14, July 22, July 28, and August 11, 2007 or click here to go directly to the slideshow.

The True Impact of Eating Shrimp
Are you aware of the impact our appetite for shrimp is having on the environment? According to the August 2007 issue of the Sierra Club's "Southern Sierran" newsletter, as many as 20 pounds of fish are caught, killed, and discarded as by-catch to obtain every one pound of shrimp. Shrimp trawlers rake the ocean, destroying a variety of life in their path and doing severe damage to the ocean floor. As many as 150,000 turtles are killed every year as a result of shrimp fishing. While about two-thirds of the U.S. shrimp now come from shrimp farms, the Sierra Club says that about 99% of this farmed shrimp comes from coastal areas of developing countries. Due to the billions of tons of organic waste, fertilizers, pesticides, and antibiotics that are dumped into coastal waters as a result of shrimp farming, it is believed that more than one-third of mangrove forests may have disappeared in the last 20 years. The Sierra Club recommends eating more plant-based, organic, and locally-grown food if possible.
The Monterey Bay Aquarium also has a "Seafood Watch" program with handy pocket cards that offer recommendations about sustainable seafood.

The pocket cards can be printed out and carried in your wallet. They're available for the following U.S. regions: National, West Coast, Northeast, Southeast, Southwest, Central U.S., and Hawaii.
The Monterey Bay Aquarium also has more information about sustainable seafood on their web site. When it comes to your seafood meal, even small personal choices make a big difference, so keep the environment in mind before your next feast!

Thursday, August 23, 2007

North Atlantic Right Whales Are Severely Endangered
If you've followed the story of the North Atlantic Right Whale, you know that the future of this marine mammal is in serious question. Right Whales are severely endangered; current estimates indicate that the population sits at around 350, a dangerously low population number for any species.

The Right Whale received its name because whalers in the previous three centuries believed they were the "right" whales to kill due to their one foot thick layer of blubber that makes them buoyant after they are killed. They could be strapped to the side of a boat and easily dragged back to shore. The whales are also very slow swimmers and mothers are extremely protective of their young, thus making them even easier targets for the whalers.

Today, the greatest threat to the Right Whale is shipping. The whales travel in the most heavily trafficked shipping lanes on the eastern coast of North America. Females migrate from the Bay of Fundy area to the southern waters off the coast of Georgia or Florida to bear their young and must again travel north (with calf in tow) to their feeding grounds. The journey is very dangerous--strikes by large ships as well as entanglements are the leading cause of death, according to the Ocean Conservancy. The death of one individual whale has severe consequences for the future of the species.

If you'd like to learn more about how you can help make the oceans a safer place for all marine life, visit the Ocean Conservancy's Ocean Action Network site. To learn more about the status of Right Whales, visit the North Atlantic Right Whale Consortium site (OceanSpot has no affiliation with these organizations, but supports their efforts to improve the conditions of our oceans around the world. Photo in this post is courtesy of the New England Aquarium.)

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Yangtze River Dolphin Feared Extinct
It appears that the highly endangered Yangtze River dolphin, also known as the Baiji dolphin (Lipotes vexillifer), is probably extinct. According to a recent story from, this would be the first time that a species of cetacean was extinguished due to human activity...activities such as overfishing of the Baiji's target food sources, severe pollution in the river systems, a high amount of boat traffic, and lack of intervention to try to save the species. There have not been any confirmed sightings of the dolphin since 2002 and the most recent survey failed to find evidence that they still exist.

The Baiji was quite a unique creature. It foraged for food in shallow waters through the use of echolocation and was virtually blind--due to the cloudy waters in which it lived, eyesight evolved as a less-important function over time. Unfortunately, the frequent boat traffic then interfered with the dolphins' hearing, thus making echolocation, and their ability to find food, more difficult. The Baiji's demise should serve as yet another reminder that we need to be mindful of our environment and remember that we are sharing this planet with many other forms of life. The Finless Porpoise (Neophocaena phocaenoides), another resident of the Yangtze River is also at risk, but if we modify our behavior, there is still hope of saving it. (The photo in this post is from AFP/Getty and appeared with the original story.)

Monday, July 23, 2007

The Blues are Here!
The whale-watching in Southern California is pretty amazing at the moment. I've been out on the water looking for whales the past two weekends and am going again two out of the next three weekends. The Blue Whales are here! If you ever have the opportunity to *try* to see a Blue Whale (Balaenoptera musculus), I encourage you to do so. Granted, you may spend 8 hours looking for the whales and only about 45 minutes actually watching them, but it is definitely worth it if you have the patience and have taken your motion-sickness medication. Blue Whales are the largest creature ever to have lived on Earth and are larger than the largest dinosaurs. Their tongue weighs about the same as an African Elephant (an elephant could fit in its mouth) and their heart is about the size of a Volkswagen Beetle car. Standing beside a living creature of that size & scale is enough to make any person feel humble. It also serves as a good reminder that we need to take care of the planet and of the many ecosystems that support countless forms of life. In this post are 3 pictures of Blue Whales that I took yesterday & last weekend near the Channel Islands, off the coast of Santa Barbara, CA. Blue Whales are endangered animals and were almost hunted to extinction during the last century. Today, the population estimate is about 8,000. Interesting fact: our world's largest animal survives by eating one of the smallest...krill. Krill is a small shrimp-like creature that the Blue Whales dive to depths of 700+ feet to feed on. To feed, the whales open their large mouth, ingest large amounts of krill, close their mouth, then push their tongue against the roof of the mouth to filter water out of their throat grooves. The krill then stay behind and get caught in the baleen plates. Blue whales are rorqual whales, meaning they have throat grooves and they are also baleen whales, meaning they have no teeth, but rather plates of baleen hanging from the roof of their mouth. Baleen is made of keratin, the same material that our nails and the hoofs of a horse are made from. The baleen plates of a Blue Whale can reach up to 40 inches long! In terms of overall size, today's Blue Whales are about 80-90 feet long, but in the pre-hunting days, they reached up to 110-120 feet in length. To see the by-product of a Blue Whale's krill diet, take a look at the following picture...yes, that's whale poop. The whales can't digest the small shells that encase the krill, so it comes out the other end. The red color comes from the red shell of the krill. We came across these ocean droppings minutes after the Blue Whale dove down for another bite to eat. I've also seen pictures of big red clouds in the water. If you ever come across such a cloud and know that you are in Blue-Whale territory, stay put and wait about 10 minutes to see if the whale surfaces anywhere within about a 1/2 mile radius of your boat. You just may get lucky and become one of the few people who has ever seen a Blue Whale firsthand. Visit the OceanSpot channel on YouTube to see some Blue Whale videos and videos of other ocean life.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

19th Century Weapon Found in Whale
The AP reported an interesting story recently...a 19th century weapon was found in a whale that was hunted off the coast of Alaska in May 2007. It is believed that the weapon was shot at the whale in the late 1800's, and the whales estimated age is between 115 years and 130 years old. It was a Bowhead whale and some reports indicate that Bowhead whales can live to be 200+ years old...pretty amazing. The whale probably had more life to live, but it was hunted as part of a native whale hunt. The whale was about 49 feet long and was male. The weapon was lodged in a bone between its neck and its shoulder blade. The type of weapon is an exploding device. Once it is shot into the whale, it explodes and is supposed to kill the whale. Often, as in this case, the weapon does not kill the whale, or does not kill the whale instantly, causing a slow and painful death. This whale escaped death the first time many decades ago, but not the second. These explosive devices are still used today and are often viewed as's easy to see why. Here is a picture of the weapon that was recovered from the whale (left), along with an in-tact weapon (middle) and a ruler (right). (The photo in this post is from the AP and appeared in a story on USA Today's web site.)
Recycle Your Plastic Bags...Or Better Yet, Use Cloth
It's not yet posted on their web site, but the July 2007 print version of the "Southern Sierran" from the Angeles Chapter of the Sierra Club, has a story about the number of plastic bags that humans use every year and the damage they are causing to the environment. Did you know that Californians alone use over 19 billion (yes, billion) plastic grocery bags every year? Think of your last visit to the beach or a hiking trail...there's a good chance that you saw a plastic bag sitting around. Not only are the bags a big problem in our landfills (according to the article, CA's plastic bags account for 147,038 tons of waste/year), but they also pose a severe threat to wildlife, especially marine life. When plastic bags, large or small, end up in the ocean, they can often be mistaken for food. A white or transparent bag can easily be mistaken for a jellyfish or a squid. When an animal ingests the plastic, death will be the likely result. The article says that the U.S. EPA estimates that "marine debris has had a negative impact on at least 267 species around the world." It also mentions the juvenile minke whale that was found dead on the shores of France in 2002. About two pounds of plastic packaging and plastic grocery bags were found in its stomach, which researchers believe were the cause of its death. We can all do our part to help this problem by taking our plastic bags back to the grocery store for recycling, or by using re-usable bags and not taking the plastic bags in the first place. And next time you see plastic of any sort when you're out enjoying nature, especially at the beach, take a moment to pick it up and dispose of it just may save the life of the marine wildlife in the area.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

View Larger Map
Delta & Dawn...Back to Sea?
It sounds as if the humpback whale mother and calf who strayed from the Pacific Ocean to the Port of Sacramento found their way back to the ocean a couple of weeks ago. Let's hope their wounds are healing and that they're back on track with their proper migration pattern, probably heading to Alaska to feed. We heard a radio reporter wondering what the whales were eating while they were inland; he was worried that they might starve to death. If anyone else was concerned about this, it was probably not the most urgent issue at hand because the calf was surviving on its mother's milk and the mother often goes months without eating after giving birth and migrating back to summer feeding grounds...likely near Alaska. During migration, they usually don't eat, but once they arrive in the rich feeding grounds up north, they will eat and eat for a few months and will store up large reserves of blubber that allow them to survive without eating for long periods of time.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Sharks are in Trouble
There's a brief article in the May-June 2007 issue of Audobon Magazine about the horrific practice of shark-finning. Nearly 73 million (yes, million) sharks are killed each year worldwide, many of them only for their fins. After being caught, fisherman slice the dorsal fins off of live sharks, then toss the sharks back in the ocean to die a slow and miserable death. Keeping only the fins leaves the fisherman more room on their boats. There is a high demand for shark-fin soup in Asia and a growing appetite for it in the United States, as well. Many shark species are now considered "critically endangered," "endangered," "vulnerable," according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature and National Resources (IUCN). See their "Red List of Threatened Species." You can read the Audubon article (NOTE: there's an unpleasant photo there) and can do your part by avoiding shark-fin soup in restaurants and by expressing your concerns to any restaurants who offer it on their menus.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Humpback Mother & Calf Swim to Sacramento
Have you been following the story of the Humpback whale mother & calf (now named Delta & Dawn) who took a wrong turn in San Francisco and swam up a shipping channel all the way to the Port of Sacramento? They ended up about 90 miles inland and authorities have been trying a variety of methods to encourage them to turn around and head back to sea.

View Larger Map
It appears that they have each sustained injuries from either a boat propellor or rudder. Getting back to the salty water of the ocean should help the wounds heal, but the whales are taking their time getting home. They have turned around and are headed west, but have been reluctant to swim under the Rio Vista Bridge. On the map above, note the blue dot near Sacramento to see how far inland the whales swam. Let's hope they find their way back to the ocean soon.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Does Military Sonar Sidetrack Whales?
There's an interesting video from National Geographic. It discusses the impact of military sonar on the Killer Whales in Puget Sound. Debate continues on the impact of underwater sonar on marine mammals who use echolocation as a means of navigation, communication, and foraging for food. It seems hard to believe that man-made noise is not having a negative impact on these mammals. What do you think?