whales tagged posts

Enormous Value of Living Whales to Ocean Ecosystems

The International Whaling Commission (IWC) was founded to regulate whaling. Today, it increasingly focuses on the value of live whales for planetary health. A new workshop report confirms the great ecological value of whales to help mitigate climate change, transport nutrients, enhance marine productivity, and promote biodiversity in marine ecosystems.

The world’s leading experts gathered for a three-day workshop in April that was co-hosted by the IWC and the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS). The meeting came in response to a 2016 IWC resolution, introduced by the government of Chile, to compile scientific information about the ecological roles of cetaceans (whales and dolphins). 

The workshop discussions focused on a number of primary ecos...

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A gray whale swam halfway across the world, setting a new record

A gray whale has swum the longest distance ever recorded in a marine vertebrate—more than 16,700 miles—over halfway around the world. The male cetacean, spotted off Namibia in 2013, is the first gray whale ever recorded in the Southern Hemisphere. But it took several years of genetic research to confirm the whale originated in the North Pacific, according to a study published today in the journal Biology Letters.

There are two known populations of gray whales: eastern gray whales, whose numbers are stable, with around 20,500 individuals, and western gray whales, which are endangered, with an estimated 200 individualsleft in the wild, mostly due to decades of commercial whaling...

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Whales defy the odds of getting cancer

Humpback whales, shown here, are a species of baleen whales.

Cancer should be a near certainty for whales, the longest-living and largest mammals there are — but scientists are finding that cetaceans are excellent at protecting themselves against the deadly disease. Just how do they do that? It could all come down to good genes, according to a new study published by The Royal Society.

“The odds of developing cancer increase with longevity and body mass,” explained lead study author Daniela Tejada-Martinez, a postdoctoral researcher at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia. Having more cells means having a higher probability that some of them may develop dangerous mutations as they grow and divide over the course of their life cycle.

“Paradoxically, big and/or long-lived species have lower cancer risk...

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How whales help cool the Earth

Seeing a whale stranded on a beach often provokes a strong reaction. It can make people curious – beached whales can do strange things, like explode. It can also be upsetting to witness a creature so magnificent in water reduced to lifeless blubber on land. What rarely registers, however, is the lost opportunity for carbon sequestration.

Whales, particularly baleen and sperm whales, are among the largest creatures on Earth. Their bodies are enormous stores of carbon, and their presence in the ocean shapes the ecosystems around them. 

From the depths of the ocean, these creatures are also helping to determine the temperature of the planet – and it’s something that we’ve only recently started to appreciate.

“On land, humans directly influence the carbon stored in terrestrial ec...

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Preventing Whale Collisions With Vessels

Humpback whale near surface of the ocean

A groundbreaking new online tool called Whale Safe has been created by marine scientists and top whale researchers from across the country, including Texas A&M University at Galveston’s Dr. Ana Širović. The tool allows users to detect the endangered animals in order to mitigate vessel strikes and increase conservation efforts of the endangered marine species.

Displaying near real-time data to help prevent ships and whales from colliding, Whale Safe is an analysis and mapping tool designed to lessen the chance of a strike or collision...

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Rare Video of Humpback Whales Nursing Their Calves

Whale and calf in UH Manoa Marine Mammal Research Programme

Whales, as we all know, are different from most other sea creatures. They are mammals, and give birth to live babies… and then they nurture and raise those babies, nursing them on rich, fatty milk so they can grow big and strong. But we can’t just put whales in an aquarium and watch them raise their families. They are large beasts with complex societies, and their migration can take them around the world.

While the ocean isn’t exactly hospitable to humans, though, we can send our technology. Through the use of whale-mounted cameras, scientists from the University of Hawaiʻi, Stanford University, and UC Santa Cruz were able to capture breathtaking video of humpback whales nursing their calves as they wintered in their breeding grounds in Maui.

Every year, around 10,000 humpback whales r...

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What if whale migration isn’t for food or calves?

This killer whale in the Antarctic Islands shows the yellowish discoloration caused by a layer of diatoms.

Sometimes it feels like we know all there is to know about the natural world. But when you talk to researchers in biology, ecology, geology or other science subjects, they’ll tell you what we know only scratches the surface. There’s so much more to discover. In the animal world, whale migration is a great example.

Thus far, marine biologists have never been sure why whales migrate. They hypothesized that it had something to do with where they prefer to give birth (many whales calve in warmer waters), or maybe was connected with food supplies. But whales are large enough animals that the cold waters where they tend to live should be fine for giving birth, and during migration, whales eat a lot less because they’re busy moving and not finding hunting grounds.

But there’s a new theory: Maybe ...

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‘Astonishing’ blue whale numbers at South Georgia

To see so many blues back in the waters around South Georgia is tremendously encourgaing

Scientists say they have seen a remarkable collection of blue whales in the coastal waters around the UK sub-Antarctic island of South Georgia. Their 23-day survey counted 55 animals – a total that is unprecedented in the decades since commercial whaling ended. South Georgia was the epicentre for hunting in the early 20th Century.

The territory’s boats with their steam-powered harpoons were pivotal in reducing Antarctic blues to just a few hundred individuals.

To witness 55 of them now return to what was once a pre-eminent feeding ground for the population has been described as “truly, truly amazing” by cetacean specialist Dr Trevor Branch from the University of Washington, Seattle.

“To think that in a period of 40 or 50 years, I only had records for two sightings of blue whales around S...

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Saving whales also saves humans about $3 million per whale

A great whale is worth US$2 million (NZ$3.1 million). The size of that number so terrified Ralph Chami, the economist who appraised the whales, that he sought refuge in a church for the first time in 30 years. Inside St. Matthew’s Cathedral here, a few blocks from Chami’s office at the International Monetary Fund, the economist said he had “a conversation with the Maker. I said: ‘If you aim to humiliate me, there are other ways of doing it.’ “

Chami had, after all, veered outside his lane to make a first-of-its-kind claim. He studies macroeconomic policies in developing countries, not ecology...

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Sperm whale washed up on beach had plastic sheeting in stomach

Baby Sperm Whale swimming in open water

A baby sperm whale found washed-up on a beach in Wales had plastic sheeting and other marine rubbish in its stomach, experts have said. The 22-foot long male calf washed up near Abersoch, Gwynedd, on Tuesday and is the first sperm whale to wash up on the Welsh coast in over 100 years. A post-mortem examination found that the animal was malnourished and below a healthy weight.

Experts from the Cetacean Strandings Investigation Programme and the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) who conducted the post-mortem were perplexed as to how it had found its way to such shallow waters given the species generally lives in deeper southern waters which are hotter and where they feed on giant squid.

Rob Deaville, of the ZSL, said: “A large piece of blue plastic sheeting was found in the stomach and ...

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