Monday, August 30, 2010

{Press} Right whale found dead in Digby County

Digby Courier | August 24th, 2010 | Leanne Delong

"Third right whale found dead in three weeks along Atlantic seaboard"

"A North Atlantic right whale was found dead on a beach two kilometers west of Sandy Cove, Digby County, N.S. on Aug. 13.

Fisheries and Oceans met with a local fishing vessel, which hauled the whale to Gulliver’s Cove.

A group from Holland College on Prince Edward Island, including a wildlife pathologist, and a second group from a whale institute on Campobello Island performed a necropsy on Aug. 15, said DFO fisheries officer Philip Bouma.

The researchers started the necropsy at 9 a.m. and stopped 7:30 p.m. that night and then wrapped up by 4 p.m. the next day.

New England Aquarium senior scientist Moira Brown was among those from Campobello Island, and said the whale was about 45 feet long and male.

“There were fractures in the skull and in the rostrum, the upper part of the head and also in the ear bones,” Brown said.

Samples were taken back to Holland College to determine if the fractures occurred before or after the whale died.

“We will try to see if we can match this whale to an individual in our catalogue and we’ll take skin samples to see if we can match the whale with its DNA. If we’ve already sampled it we are probably able to match it,” Brown added.

“It was quite interesting to see,” said onlooker Wanda VanTassell. “They were really good, they’d answer questions people had.”

The DFO’s Bouma said this was the third right whale to be found dead in three weeks along the Atlantic seaboard.

The numbers of right whales are up from 10 years ago, but there are only 450 of them now, he said."

{Press} Dead right whale washes ashore in Washington County

Bangor Daily News | Bill Trotter | August 21, 2010

"MACHIAS, Maine — More than a month after it was first reported, the carcass of an endangered right whale has washed up along the Washington County shore.

The whale, a female between 2 and 3 years old, was found last week, according to Sean Todd, director of Allied Whale at College of the Atlantic. The carcass has two large gash marks on its underside, but Todd cautioned on Thursday that these marks may have been made after the whale died, while it was still floating at sea.

“It was first spotted [floating in the Gulf of Maine] one month ago, and it was decomposing then,” Todd said. “It is now very decomposed.”

Researchers have yet to fully examine the whale’s carcass, according to Todd.

At the request of Allied Whale, Bangor Daily News agreed not to disclose the whale’s location in order to reduce the risk of anyone tampering with the carcass, which remains where it was found.

Todd said the whale’s skeleton remains intact and that researchers plan to clean it, piece it together and donate it to a museum.

Todd said a necropsy has not been performed on the whale carcass and that a cause of death has not yet been determined. Because right whales are listed as an endangered species by the federal government, investigators will try to determine whether anyone may be responsible for the whale's death. Only about 400 right whales remain in North Atlantic waters. Because of their low reproduction rates, scientists are concerned they may go extinct.

“When a dead right whale is found, the stakes go up,” Todd said. “Whenever an [endangered] animal dies, there is always an investigation into the cause of death.”

After receiving reports about a floating whale carcass, researchers with Allied Whale found it a few weeks ago floating at sea 25 miles southeast of Great Wass Island, according to Todd. Allied Whale began towing it back to shore with its boat Borealis but had to cut it loose for safety reasons when weather worsened, he said. The whale, about 25 feet long, is estimated to weigh approximately 25,000 pounds. Even though Borealis has a 400-horsepower engine, for about 10 hours it could only move at about 2 knots, or less than 2½ mph, while towing the whale.

“These things are very heavy,” Todd said.

The Coast Guard assisted in hunting for the whale the next day, but with no success.

“We spent three days trying to find that animal,” he said.

It reappeared last week when a kayaker came across the whale’s body washed up on a beach, according to Todd."

Thursday, August 19, 2010

{Press} Whale Crossing | Melissa Gaskill

"When a container ship strikes a 60-ton right whale, no one on board usually notices. The whale, however, may die from massive trauma, hemorrhage, and broken bones. Ship propellers slice whales up “like a loaf of bread,” says Michael Moore of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

North Atlantic right whales—one of the world’s most endangered species, with only about 400 living in the wild—are particularly vulnerable. They feed, breed, and migrate along the Eastern Seaboard, where, as the map at right shows, they encounter increasingly heavy ship traffic. In 2008, eastern U.S. ports saw 23,362 calls from large oceangoing vessels, and that number is expected to roughly double by 2023.

In response, scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration are testing a range of creative ideas to reduce ship strikes, including aerial surveys, whale-sighting hotlines, acoustic buoys that detect whale calls, and new shipping lanes that direct heavy traffic away from whale habitats.

But perhaps NOAA’s most important step, taken in December 2008, was mandating speed restrictions in vulnerable areas. The probability that a strike will cause serious injury or death increases with ship speed—from roughly 45 percent at 10 knots to more than 90 percent at 17 knots—and targeted speed restrictions have reduced deaths of other species, like manatees. Preliminary data suggest that the rule may be working. But because of pressure from the shipping industry—which argued that the restrictions would cause costly delays—the Bush administration ensured that the rule would expire in 2013.

That may be too soon for the whales. According to the New England Aquarium, ship strikes and fishing-gear entanglement until recently were killing the whales faster than they could reproduce. “Laws aside, there are fundamental reasons not to knowingly and willingly destroy a species,” says Moore. “Once it’s gone, it is forever.”

Monday, August 16, 2010

{Press} Scientist sees hope for rare right whales | August 4, 2010

"HALIFAX—A scientist who studies rare North Atlantic right whales says measures aimed at protecting them could be having the desired effect.

Amy Knowlton of the New England Aquarium says there are early signs fewer of the animals are dying from ship strikes — one of the large animals’ greatest threats.

The United States and Canada have both introduced initiatives to divert ships around the whales or slow vessels down when the animals have been spotted.

Knowlton says a dead whale discovered last month in U.S. waters appears to have died from a ship strike.

But that was the first one she was aware of since 2008 when some of the protections came into effect.

The research scientist says more needs to be done to protect the remaining 400 whales from fishing gear that can ensnare them and cause lethal infections."