Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Whale Gear

I just realized that the Puget Sound Chapter of the American Cetacean Society (ACS) has a merchandise shop! Looks great, especially considering that much of it features Uko Gorter's scientifically correct and artfully done cetacean art. At an ACS meeting a few months ago I snagged a copy of Uko's Marine Mammals of the Salish Sea mini poster. I laminated it -- to keep it nice and shiny -- and put it by my desk at work to remind me of some of the animals that are in our local waters.

Monday, April 20, 2009

"It came within inches."

Photo by Brian Skerry

National Geographic photographer, Brian Skerry, recounts his experience photographing right whales. No, this is not new news, but this picture always takes my breath away. My favorite part of the interview is when he describes how it felt to be so close to such a creature...

It was amazing. I mean, I have to tell you there were days when I was at the bottom at 70 feet, and here comes this bus swimming down. I’m standing on the bottom, and as it comes down, I get on my knees, lean over backwards—my scuba tank is now digging into the sand. And of course their eyes are on the side of their heads, so it had to turn and look at me. It came within inches. Here’s this softball-size whale eye looking at me. But then it stops—stops on a dime. It’s just hovering there, and literally one flick of its tail, and it would have crushed me like a bug. But it doesn’t. It was just highly curious.

Skerry's photo above shows his assistant with a right whale. Quite close. Can you imagine being that assistant in that moment?

Friday, April 10, 2009

I just read...

...this press release regarding the recent sonar near Haro Strait...

...and this article about sonar causing temporary deafness in dolphins...

...and this blog from the Marine Mammal Center, reporting a dead orca calf near Monterey Bay...

...which reminds me of the recent death of T44, a known transient orca. I wonder how that necropsy is going? It's quite rare to get a chance to study a transient in such detail. It wouldn't be surprising to discover that T44 was chock-full of PCBs, DDTs, and other toxins. I wonder how that will compare with the levels of toxins found in other transients and residents?

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Orcas on Hydrophones? Nope, Just Sonar.

Last night, on both Lime Kiln and Orcasound hydrophones, listeners were surprised to hear some peculiar sounds. Not the sounds of orcas, or the regular shipping traffic, but the sounds of human voices and mid-frequency sonar pings. I'm listening to the recordings made by Scott Veirs of Beam Reach now and it is quite clear that these sounds are not a part of the natural environment.

Jeanne Hyde of The Whale Museum contacted the Bellingham Coast Guard and confirmed that the Navy was doing exercises in Haro Strait. Scott Veirs recorded the sounds and created spectrograms of the human voices and sonar.

To listen to the recordings, go to the Lime Kiln or Orcasound hydrophone sites, scroll down through the archived sounds, and click on one of the most recent recordings with the words "voice" and "sonar" in the title.

Edited to add @ 4:15 pm: This story has now been covered by the San Juan Journal. Also, could the human voices be spies? Some folks, commenting Christopher Dunagan's blog, think that a numbers station could have been in use.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Whale Farming on NPR

NPR airs a few comments from listeners about a previously aired story regarding whale farming. Apparently, one of the "farmers," Mr. Summers, had been teaching the whales to sing in harmony. He says, "In achieving three-part harmony in whale song, I think we we have tied nature's most wondrous sound to a great barber shop tradition." A NPR listener, however, had this to say: "Having studied music at college, I want Mr. Summers to know that what he calls three-part harmony is not. Two of the whales are plainly singing the same note. That may be clever, but it's not barber shop." Well, Mr. Summers wasn't having any of that, and he replied, "It wasn't that the whales couldn't sing in harmony, they were just too busy expressing their individuality. They weren't so tied to the group."

Touché, Mr. Summers, touché.

All joking aside, BBC News published a story about the possibility of a whale farm off the coast of Japan. That was in 2002, though, and I haven't heard anything about it since.

Can You Say "Irrawaddy" 6,000 Times Fast?

According to Scientific American, the Wildlife Conservation Society has found about 6,000 of the rare Irrawaddy dolphins in Bangladesh... the fresh waters surrounding the Sundarbans mangrove forest and in the nearby Bay of Bengal, areas where the WCS says little marine mammal research has previously been conducted. This discovery nearly doubles the estimates of the worldwide population for the rare dolphins, and represents the largest single population of the species.

Just think; if 6,000 Irrawaddy can be found in the waters around a mangrove forest, what other species could be alive that we don't know about? Makes me want to check in on the Census of Marine Life and see what else they've found since I last checked.