Monday, November 21, 2011

{Press} Right whale guardians may be endangered

The Post and Courier | Bo Petersen | November 21, 2011

"The giants soon will arrive offshore. The rare right whales have begun to head south to calve.

An airplane survey crew already is in place in the Lowcountry, waiting on the weather to lift before beginning a winter of flights looking for the mammoths and alerting nearby ships to their presence. For the next five months of calving season, that lone propeller plane and its cramped spotters are on the lookout for some of the most endangered animals in the world and the busy commercial ports of three states.

Starting next year, the crossing guard might not be out there so often. The five-year State Ports Authority grant that has been paying half the $440,000-a-year cost of the Sea to Shore Alliance flights will run out next year. For that money, the group will turn to uncertain National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration grants that now pay the other half.

Dianna Schulte, the survey crew leader, frankly concedes the job can't be done effectively for $200,000. Cynthia Taylor, the research scientist in charge of the effort, said the alliance is hoping NOAA makes up the difference. But more NOAA funds aren't certain, and there might be fewer flights, she said. There's no telling what will happen down the road with budget-crunched public money.

"We might not always fly," she said.

The right whale is the nearly extinct 40-ton, 50-foot-long mammal that whalers all but wiped out in the 19th century. Only about 400 are known to exist today, so few that researchers consider every whale vital to the survival of the species. The whales travel back and forth from their summer feeding grounds off New England to calve in the warmer winter waters off the Southeast coast.

Those waters are heavily trafficked. The presence of the whales and rules to protect them are disrupting everything from commercial shipping to naval warfare training.

Partly because of the aerial survey work, NOAA in 2008 mandated that large ships within 23 miles of the coast must slow to half-speed when the whales are around. Shipping and ports interests fought the rule. Observers say it is sometimes violated by both military and commercial vessels.

The Ports Authority offered the grant in 2007 as part of its proposal for a new shipping terminal at the former Navy base in North Charleston, because of environmentalists' concerns about increased shipping traffic's impact on the whales. That terminal is now in development.

SPA spokesman Byron Miller said there are no plans to renew the grant. "We had an agreement. This is the final year of the agreement," he said.

Taylor said the best protection for the whales is for ships to slow down.

"I know my colleagues, including the State Ports Authority, aren't happy about that," she said. But "we can't change the whale's behavior. We can only change human behavior."

{Press} Whale migrating season under way

JDNews.com | November 19, 2011


"The calving season for the endangered right whale has begun and mariners are asked to report any sightings of the whale as it migrates south along waters off the East Coast.

According to NOAA, whale calving season begins in mid-November and runs through mid-April, which means these large whales are on the move, making their way down the southeast coast.

Boaters are asked to report sightings of the endangered whale and keep a distance of at least 500 yards from the protected species. Scientists estimate as few as approximately 360 right whales remain, making the right whale one of the most endangered marine mammals in the world.

Each winter pregnant right whales migrate south from their feeding grounds off Canada and New England to the warm coastal waters of South Carolina, Georgia and northeastern Florida, to give birth and nurse their young.

These southern waters are the only known calving area for the species, according to a news release from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Right whales are large but because they are dark with no dorsal fin they can be difficult to see.

North Atlantic right whales are protected under the U.S. Endangered Species Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act. Federal law prohibits approaching or remaining within 500 yards of right whales, either by watercraft or aircraft.

Federal law also requires vessels 65 feet long and greater to slow to 10 knots or less in Seasonal Management Areas along the U.S. Eastern Seaboard and follow seasonal ship speed restrictions.

NOAA Fisheries Service encourages people to report sightings of dead, injured, or entangled whales to NOAA at 877-433-8299."

{Press} Endangered right whales back in southern waters

The St. Augustine Record | November 16, 2011

"Right whales are returning to area waters for calving season, giving residents a chance to see one of the most endangered marine mammals in the world and giving boaters a reason to proceed with caution.

The whales, which can be found as close as three miles offshore, depending on water depth, spend the summer in the cooler waters off New England and Canada.

Pregnant whales return to the warm coastal waters of South Carolina, Georgia and Florida from mid-November through mid-April to give birth and nurse their young.

These southern waters are the only known calving area for the species.

Only 360 right whales remain in the world, scientists estimate.

Boaters are urged to be cautious and follow laws on speed and distance regulations when they encounter right wales.

“Right whales are dark with no dorsal fin and they often swim slowly at or just below the water’s surface,” said Barb Zoodsma, NOAA Fisheries Service’s Southeast right whale recovery program coordinator. “Many mariners mistakenly assume that because of their large size, right whales would be easy to see, but often a slight difference in texture on the water’s surface is the only clue that a whale is present.”

To reduce the risk of collisions between right whales and vessels, NOAA and its partners conduct aerial surveys over northeastern Florida and Georgia waters from December through March, and in New England waters from January through December.

Also, surface buoys are deployed to acoustically detect right whales. The nearly real-time information from these aerial surveys and buoys is used to alert mariners of the presence of right whales, enabling ships to alter their course to avoid potential collisions with the whales.

**

How did right whales get their name?

Whalers gave the name “right” whale to this species because they thought it was the right, correct, whale to hunt. The whale was easy to kill because it swam slowly and once dead, it floats. This made it easier for the whalers to pull the whales onto ships and to shore to boil the blubber for oil. Whale oil was used in lamps and for heat until the late 1800s.

— From NOAA



**



Boating restrictions and tips

■ Boaters should report right whale sightings and keep a distance of at least 500 yards from the protected species, as federal law requires.

■ Report dead, injured or entangled whales to the U.S. Coast Guard via marine radio VHF Channel 16 or call the NOAA Fisheries Service Stranding Hotline at 1-877-433-8299.

■ Federal law requires vessels longer than 65 feet to slow to 10 knots or less in seasonal management areas along the U.S. Eastern Seaboard, including the calving and nursery area in the southeastern U.S. Speed restrictions are in place in various places along the mid-Atlantic from Nov. 1 through April 30 and in the southeastern U.S. calving area from Nov. 15 through April 15.

■ For information on seasonal ship speed restrictions, go to http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/shipstrike.





How to spot a right whale



■ Black to dark gray skin sometimes with white splotches on belly or neck

■ Large white bumps on the head called callosities

■ Black, paddle-shaped, short, stubby flippers

■ Black, deeply notched, triangular tail

■ No dorsal fin on its back

■ V-shaped blow from blowhole when whale exhales, which is visible only when positioned directly in front of the whale or directly behind



How they act



■ May not move away from boat’s path

■ Movement may be unpredictable

■ Mothers and calves travel together

■ Calves may be curious and approach vessels

■ Calves have limited diving ability, so mothers and calves spend a lot of time near the surface

— From NOAA

Saturday, November 12, 2011

{Press} Boaters beware: Endangered right whales heading south for calving season

The Island Packet | Tom Barton |November 11, 2011

"Be mindful of the whale. There's a baby onboard.

Federal officials are asking boaters and fishermen along the southern Atlantic coast to keep an eye out for endangered right whales, which are heading south for their calving season.

Pregnant North Atlantic right whales start arriving off the coasts of South Carolina, Georgia and Florida in mid-November to give birth to their calves in the warmer southern waters, and stay through mid-April. The southeastern coast is their only known calving ground.

With only 300 to 400 in existence, right whales are among the most endangered whales in the world, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. They are protected under the U.S. Endangered Species Act of 1973 and the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972.

Barb Zoodsma, NOAA right whale recovery program coordinator, warns that the whales can be tough to spot and tend to swim just below the surface. That puts them at risk of fatal collisions with boats.

Propeller strikes and entanglement in fishing gear are the two greatest threats to the whales, according to NOAA.

Zoodsma said boaters should report any sightings of right whales and keep at least 500 yards away.

An injured right whale bearing gashes where it had been mauled by a propeller was spotted off the coast near Beaufort in January. It was photographed by an aerial survey crew Jan. 20 about 15 miles southeast of St. Helena Sound.

NOAA scientists and researchers in February performed an autopsy on a 31-foot, 15,000-pound right whale pulled from the water after being found floating dead off St. Augustine, Fla. Initial observations showed the whale had been entangled for months in fishing rope, preventing it from feeding and making it easy prey for sharks. Numerous lesions and shark bite marks were found on the carcass, according to NOAA.

Survey crews track the animals from the air in partnership with the S.C. Ports Authority, the Georgia Department of Natural Resources and NOAA's National Marine Fisheries Service to study the whales and help warn boaters of their presence.

Follow reporter Tom Barton at twitter.com/EyeOnHiltonHead

Read more: http://www.islandpacket.com/2011/11/11/1860247/boaters-beware-endangered-right.html#ixzz1diSGlIH0"

Friday, November 11, 2011

{Press} Whale calving season advisory for Southeast coast

The Digitel Myrtle Beach | Paul Reynolds | November 10, 2011

"There are only 360 North Atlantic right whales that are known to exist making them one of the most endangered whales in the world. Every year from November until April, they migrate over a 1000 miles to our warm waters to give birth to their calves.

“Right whales are dark with no dorsal fin and they often swim slowly at or just below the water’s surface,” said Barb Zoodsma, NOAA Fisheries Service’s southeast right whale recovery program coordinator. “Many mariners mistakenly assume that because of their large size, right whales would be easy to see, but often a slight difference in texture on the water’s surface is the only clue that a whale is present.

The right whale can weigh up to 70 tons and measure over 50 feet in length. Read more about the right whale here. If you see a right whale out on the water, it may be tempting to get a closer look. But approach with extreme caution and don't get too close.

North Atlantic right whales are protected under the U.S. Endangered Species Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act. Federal law prohibits approaching or remaining within 500 yards of right whales, either by watercraft or aircraft. Federal law also requires vessels 65 feet long and greater to slow to 10 knots or less in Seasonal Management Areas along the U.S. Eastern Seaboard. More information is here.
Right Whale Identification

Black to dark-grey skin sometimes with white splotches on belly or neck.
Large white bumps on the head called callosities.
Black, paddle-shaped, short, stubby flippers.
Black, deeply notched, triangular tail.
No dorsal fin on its back.
V-shaped blow from blowhole when whale exhales, which is visible only when positioned directly in front of the whale or directly behind."

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

{Press} Off-shore slow speed zone aims to add protection for whales

Gloucester Times | Richard Gaines | November 8, 2011

"Seeking to add new protections for the habitat's endangered right whales, NOAA Fisheries Service on Monday announced a vessel speed restriction zone in the vicinity of Jeffreys Ledge, which runs from about 10 miles due east of Cape Ann north-northeast for about 30 miles.

The action comes one week after the Humane Society of the United States and other environmental groups filed suit against NOAA Fisheries, asking a federal court in Massachusetts to hold the NOAA Fisheries accountable for continuing to allow four federal fisheries to injure and kill endangered whales, including the northern right whale.

NOAA Fisheries said there are less probably less than 400 northern right whales in today's ocean.

The suit argues that allowing fixed gear and ropes in the lobster, dogfish, monkfish and multispecies fisheries — ranging along the entire Atlantic Coast south to the Carolinas — puts whales in danger.

Whales and porpoises entangle in lines to pots and traps, and in gillnets that hang from the surface to the bottom with small mesh.

"Already, 2011 has seen the death of two right whales from entanglement, as well as at least seven additional new entanglement reports for right whales," the Humane Society said in a prepared statement. "Since June alone, eight endangered humpback whales have been reported with first-time entanglements.""

In a related development, organizers have filed appropriate language with the Massachusetts Attorney General's Office for a binding referendum in the 2012 ballot that would bar the use of fixed fishing gear in state waters — the three miles from shore to the inner border of the 200-mile U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone.

NOAA Fisheries said the speed zone limit would remain in effect through Nov. 16.

The voluntary speed zone for boats in the Jeffreys Ledge area was set at 10 knots. The zone itself was outlined to run from latitude 43 degrees, 26 minutes north, to 42 degrees, 39 minutes north, and 070 degrees, 41 minutes west to 069 degrees, 37 minutes west.

Like Stellwagen Bank, which Jeffreys intersects at its southern extension, Jeffreys is also a bank of relatively shallow water — with depths of 100 to 180 feet, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. It is covered with boulders, gravel and ridges that resemble terminal moraines, droppings from glacial ice at the forward edge.

At the western edge is a well-defined scarp — a steep sandy slope of 75 to 100 feet, somewhat like an underwater sand dune.

The fish, fishermen and whales that prey on fish tend to gather on Jeffreys no less than they do on Stellwagen.

"Mariners are requested to avoid or transit at 10 knots or less inside the following areas where persistent aggregations of right whales have been sighted," NOAA Fisheries' announcement said

Sponsors of the initiative petition that would ask voters to bar fixed gear for fishing and lobstering from state waters need to file 68,911 signatures from certified voters by Dec. 7. That would compel the Legislature to either approve the ban on or before the first Wednesday in May, or see it go on the 2012 state ballot.

The northern right whale migrates from along the Atlantic Coast heading north in the spring and south in the fall. The animals are known as "right" whales because they were the most inshore of the great whales and in the 18th and 19th centuries were harvested first, and most easily. They were the right whales to the whalers.

Richard Gaines can be reached at 978-283-7000 x3464, or at rgaines@gloucestertimes.com."

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

{Press} Right Whale Sighting off Maine Coast Prompts Mariner Alert

The Maine Public Broadcasting Network | November 7, 2011

"A group of about 12 endangered right whales was sighted last week in the vicinity of Jeffreys Ledge off the Maine coast, prompting federal fishery regulators to request that mariners slow down in the area or avoid it altogether.

Federal fishery regulators are asking vessels in the vicinity of Jeffreys Ledge off the Maine coast to slow down.

NOAA Fisheries Service says a group of 12 endangered right whales was spotted in the area last week, prompting the agency to establish a voluntary vessel speed restriction zone.

The agency is asking mariners to slow down to 10 knots or less in areas where right whales have been sighted, or to avoid the areas altogether. The so-called Dynamic Management Area, or DMA, is in effect through Nov. 16.

Only about 400 right whales are known to exist in the North Atlantic. The whales are often sighted feeding this time of year near Jeffreys Ledge, a rich fishing area off the Maine coast."

Friday, November 04, 2011

{Conference} North Atlantic Right Whale Consortium



Spent two great days being inspired by ideas and research from the world's leading authorities on the North Atlantic Right Whale. Obviously there was a ton of information but a really really quick summary of the year in the life of the right whale is:

490 Middle estimate number of individuals based on photo-id (up from 473 last year!)

22 New calves born this year (including 5 to first time mothers!)

5 Documented right whale mortalities this year

11 Right whales documented with new entanglements in fishing gear

We still have a lot of work to do but the population is slowly slowly increasing...

Thursday, November 03, 2011

{Press} Federal agency sued for whale protection

Cape Cod Times | Mary Ann Bragg | November 02, 2011

"BOSTON — A lawsuit filed in federal court Monday could push the National Marine Fisheries Service to do more to protect endangered whales from fishing gear entanglements off Cape Cod.

Three nonprofit whale advocacy groups filed the lawsuit in Boston seeking better protections for North Atlantic right whales, humpbacks, fin and sei whales in seas roughly three to 200 miles off the coast from Maine to Cape Hatteras, N.C.
Related Stories

Fishing industries that receive federal authorization to land lobster, ground fish, monkfish and spiny dogfish use gear that entangles the whales, according to the lawsuit.

In 2011, at least seven right whale entanglements and 10 humpback entanglements have occurred in the region, as well as at least two right whale deaths from injuries related to the errant fishing gear, the lawsuit states.

The Humane Society of the United States, Defenders of Wildlife and the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society filed the suit.

The groups want to force the fisheries service, a division of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, to do a complete analysis of the effects of the four fishing industries on the endangered whales.

A spokeswoman for the service declined comment Tuesday, saying the federal agency doesn't speak about pending litigation."

{Press} Fishermen Kill Rare Whales, Enviros Say

Courthouse News Service | Kevin Koeninger | November 02, 2011

"BOSTON (CN) - The Humane Society says commercial fishing in the Atlantic threatens the recovery, and the very existence, of endangered whales. Fewer than 400 North Atlantic right whales survive, and the defendant National Marine Fisheries Service acknowledges that the "'loss of even a single individual may contribute to the extinction of the species,'" according to the federal complaint.
The Humane Society of the United States, the Defenders of Wildlife and the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society seek an injunction and declaratory judgment that the federal agencies that are supposed to protect the whales violated the Endangered Species Act.
The National Marine Fisheries Service, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration assistant administrator Eric Schwaab and Secretary of Commerce John Bryson are named as defendants.
"Each year, critically endangered North American right whales and endangered humpback, fin, and sei whales become entangled in commercial fishing gear," the complaint states. "In these incidents, fishing line wraps around whales' heads, flippers, or tails, often impending basic movement, feeding, and reproduction, causing infection, and sometimes preventing the animals from resurfacing, resulting in drowning.
"The North Atlantic right whale is one of the world's most endangered large whales, with an estimated population of less than 400 individuals. In fact, the National Marine Fisheries Service ('NMFS') has previously stated that the 'loss of even a single individual may contribute to the extinction of the species.' 69 Fed. Reg. 30,857, 30,858 (June 1, 2004). NMFS has cited entanglements in commercial fishing gear as one of the most significant threats to the right whale's survival and recovery. Yet, almost every year since 2002, at least one entangled right whale has been found dead or so gravely injured that death is deemed likely. Entanglements also continue to threaten the recovery of endangered humpback, fin, and sei whales.
"Nevertheless, and only after litigation over NMFS's nine-year delay in completing consultation, NMFS issued four biological opinions on October 29, 2010 that conclude that the continued operation of four federal fisheries - the American Lobster Fishery, the Northeast Multispecies Fishery, the Monkfish Fishery, and the Spiny Dogfish Fishery (collectively, 'the fisheries') - is not likely to jeopardize the continued existence of any listed species."
The environmentalists say the deaths and injuries are continuing: "Indeed, so far in 2011 there have been at least seven new right whale entanglements, ten new humpback entanglements, and at least two right whales have died from entanglement-related injuries.
"The agency's continued authorization of these fisheries that it acknowledges will
cause the take of endangered species without an incidental take statement violates Section 9 of the ESA. 16 U.S.C. § 1538. The agency's continued authorization of these fisheries that it acknowledges will cause the take of marine mammals without a take authorization pursuant to Section 101(a)(5)(E) of the MMPA, is also arbitrary and capricious, an abuse of discretion, and otherwise not in accordance with the MMPA, in violation of the APA, 5 U.S.C. §§ 701-706."
They add: "These recent deaths, serious injuries, and entanglements demonstrate that NMFS's key assumption underlying its 'no jeopardy' finding for right whales is erroneous and thus that its 2010 Biological Opinions are arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, or otherwise not in accordance with the law, in violation of the Administrate Procedure Act."
Despite the continuing deaths, and new information about them the "NMFS has failed to reinitiate consultation as to the effects of these fisheries on endangered whales, as required by ESA's implementing regulations," the complaint states.
The environmentalist say the fisheries have failed to follow guidelines of the Marine Mammal Protection Act, whose "central purpose ... is to prevent marine mammal stocks from falling below their 'optimum sustainable population' levels" and which prohibits "actions that kill or injure mammals or disrupt behavioral patterns, such as migration, breathing, breeding, or feeding."
The NMFS claims that reducing ship speed and decreasing the amount of fishing in the areas will reduce risk to the whales. But the plaintiffs say, "NMFS fails to consider the times and areas that do not receive the protection of ship speed restrictions, the impacts from exempted vessels, and the gross lack of compliance with the speed restrictions in the places they do apply. Moreover ... NMFS also fails to consider that while federal fishing restrictions may lead to an overall decrease in federal fishing efforts, fishing is actually increasing in areas in which whales are known to frequent. NMFS's assumption that these measures will be sufficiently protective of endangered whales is misplaced, as evidenced by a series of recent deaths and injuries."
The plaintiffs seek an order "compelling NMFS to (1) reinitiate and complete consultation regarding the effects of the American Lobster, Northeast Multispecies, Monkfish, and Spiny Dogfish Fisheries on endangered North Atlantic right whales, humpback whales, fin whales, and sei whales, in order to insure the fisheries are not likely to jeopardize the species' continued existence as required by the ESA, (2) complete the analyses necessary to determine whether take of these endangered whales may be legally authorized pursuant to the ESA and MMPA, and (3) require operation of the fisheries in compliance with any mitigation measures necessary to insure compliance with both the ESA and MMPA.
They are represented by Humane Society senior attorney Kimberly Ockene, of Auburndale, Mass."

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

{Press} Groups File Lawsuit to Prevent Illegal Deaths of Endangered Whales

"BOSTON--(ENEWSPF)--November 1, 2011. Conservation and animal protection groups filed a lawsuit yesterday asking a federal court in Massachusetts to hold the National Marine Fisheries Service accountable for continuing to allow four federal fisheries to injure and kill endangered whales, including the critically endangered North Atlantic right whale.

Each year, endangered whales become entangled in commercial fishing gear. Entanglement makes it harder for them to swim, feed and reproduce and it can cause a chronic infection or even drowning.

Already, 2011 has seen the death of two right whales from entanglement, as well as at least seven additional new entanglement reports for right whales. Since June alone, eight endangered humpback whales have been reported with first time entanglements.

“Every single right whale counts when it comes to ensuring the species’ survival, but the Fisheries Service continues to place whales at risk of injury and death,” said Sharon Young, marine issues field director for The Humane Society of the United States. “Safeguarding the right whale from entanglements in fishing gear is a vital step towards moving this species out of the emergency room and onto the path to recovery.”

“The Fisheries Service is well aware that North Atlantic right whales need better protections, yet it is allowing these fisheries to continue to operate without them,” said Sierra Weaver, attorney for Defenders of Wildlife. “The Fisheries Service needs to take immediate action to put protections in place to make the fisheries safer. If they don’t act now, we will see the extinction of the right whale in our lifetime.”

“In an increasingly busy ocean, the survival and recovery of the North Atlantic right whale depends on protecting each individual from entanglement-related injuries and deaths,” said Regina Asmutis-Silvia, senior biologist for Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society.

Background:

The North Atlantic right whale is one of the world’s most endangered large whales, with an estimated population of less than 400 individuals. In fact, the National Marine Fisheries Service (“NMFS”) has previously stated that the “loss of even a single individual may contribute to the extinction of the species.”

NMFS has cited entanglements in commercial fishing gear as one of the most significant threats to the right whale’s survival and recovery. Yet, almost every year since 2002, at least one entangled right whale has been found dead or so gravely injured that death is deemed likely.

In addition to right whales, fishing gear used by the American lobster, northeast multispecies, monkfish, and spiny dogfish fisheries continues to injure and kill endangered humpback, fin, and sei whales.

Today’s lawsuit was filed by Defenders of Wildlife, the Humane Society of the United States and the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society in the federal district court for Massachusetts."