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.)