Cetacean Society International

Whales Alive! - Vol. X No. 3 - July 2001


News Items

Compiled by William Rossiter


Right Whale Entangled. A fatally entangled right whale foraging at Cultivator Shoal, almost 100 miles east of Cape Cod, Massachusetts, prompted in mid-June the world's first effort by experts to sedate a whale at sea. Perfectly injected, the sedation failed. The whale, a male first seen in 1980 and known as #1102, simply continued to tow a rescue boat at three knots as if nothing had happened. Without the removal of a thick, synthetic line that has abraded into and infected the whale's upper jaw, the many associated vets concur that the whale will die. Before the sedation attempt the Center for Coastal Studies (CCS) whale rescue team coordinator David Mattila had said that to "rescue this whale was like a doctor using a scalpel at the end of a fishing pole trying to perform surgery on a running patient."

With the help of the U.S. Coast Guard and others, the continuing effort by the courageous team of CCS began when the whale was first seen entangled on 8 June. Weather and difficult logistics have caused some delays, but there have been several dangerous, difficult and sophisticated disentanglement efforts. The satellite VHF tag continues to pinpoint the whale's location as last resort options are planned.

Why the enormous effort? Because there are only 325 right whales in the western North Atlantic. For current information see http://www.coastalstudies.org

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ACCOBAMS, the international Agreement on the Conservation of Cetaceans (whales, dolphins and porpoises) in the Black Sea, Mediterranean Sea and Contiguous Atlantic Sea, entered into force on 1 June. Its purpose is to reduce the threats to cetaceans. In the 20th century an estimated four million dolphins were killed in the Black Sea alone. ACCOBAMS is the second regional agreement to conserve whales and dolphins under the framework of the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS). The text of the Agreement was adopted in 1996 by consensus. Included is a prohibition on hunting, plus steps to minimize incidental capture, establish protected areas, and limit chemical pollution, habitat degradation, and disturbance. ACCOBAMS will stimulate research and develop conservation action plans to protect cetaceans. For further information see: http://www.accobams.mc

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South Africa now has more international tourists visiting to see whales than to see the five big game animals that make the region famous. South Africa's Dolphin Action and Protection Group (DAPG) reports that Hermanus is one of the world's leading land-based viewing areas, with photos of frolicking right whales seemingly just out of reach. From August to November over 100 southern right whales can be seen at one time at Walker Bay. In March beach goers witnessed perhaps six orcas hunt dolphins 50 meters from the beach. Trapped near shore for over three hours the dolphins suddenly coordinated a rush almost to the beach, then split into groups going both ways. One unaware tourist was very pleased to be in the water as the dolphins rushed by in the shallows, until he heard about the orcas just offshore. Confused by the dolphins, or disinterested in the tourist, the orcas moved away.

DAPG also reported the apparently successful release of a beach-stranded dolphin calf in March. The calf was moved to a lagoon, checked by an experienced vet, and taken by the National Sea Rescue Institute to a pod offshore. The presumed reunion included excited calls and aerial displays. Don't you wish that you could have been there?

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Thursday's Child landed safely at the Japanese port of Misake, Japan on 3 June, after a 35-day voyage from San Francisco. CSI congratulates Michael Reppy on his incredible and adventure-filled "single-handed" crossing of the Pacific Ocean. His voyage, dedicated to the welfare of the oceans and their inhabitants, was to draw attention to ocean pollution, commercial whaling, threats to dugong habitat, naval sonars, and the plight of captive cetaceans.

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Protected Species are listed in NOAA's $278 million budget request for 2001, including the line item for "Supporting sustainable communities that conserve and recover protected species through Native American co-management of marine mammals by Alaska natives and Makah tribe." In English doesn't this mean subsidizing native communities that kill protected species? The Endangered Species Coalition, including CSI, continues to struggle against the Bush moratorium against doing anything good for the Earth. This includes acting on or listing endangered species, or designating critical habitats through the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Recent actions removed the 1982 congressional requirement to act on petitions to list or designate critical habitats, specifically put in place because the ESA was being delayed. 22 species are currently languishing on the "warranted but precluded" list, part of the 258 plant and animal species whose existence is threatened. In the President's Budget Proposal to the Congress, page 567 of the Appendix to the Budget for the Fish and Wildlife Service, a species' legal protection under ESA is totally discretionary, without public comment, Interior Secretary Norton has total discretion to determine "listing priorities", and $8 million have been allocated instead of the $80 million the experts need. For more information contact the Endangered Species Coalition, 202-682-9400, http://www.stopextinction.org

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Orcas Continue To Decline: Washington state's famous Southern Community Orca population has lost seven more members. As reported for the Center for Whale Research by Orca Conservancy (http://www.orcaconservancy.org) in mid-June, six are missing from L-pod, and K-pod's November calf did not survive the winter. The total population numbers for the southern community in June was 78. L-pod has 41, K-pod 17, and J-pod 20. In 1976, there were 71 whales, rising to 99 whales in 1995, followed by a rapid decline. No calves in L-pod born since 1996's L-95 have survived.

These are not numbers; these are individuals, all from one of the world's most famous and dramatic of cetacean populations, exploited or impacted by people for over a quarter of a century. Their fame has not brought protection. While the sophisticated and detailed database from continual research has illuminated some of what has happened, and perhaps why, it has not enabled solutions.

The population decline could be caused by: (1) thirteen separate capture operations on the southern orca community between 1965 and 1976 that took at least 36 whales for aquariums throughout the world. An unknown number died during the captures; (2) many salmon stocks have been reduced to dangerously low levels, with several species recently listed as endangered; (3) high levels of Persistent Bioaccumulative Toxins (PBTs) including Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs) have been found in samples taken from recovered bodies of several members of the J and L-pods; (4) a dramatic increase in the number of whale watching and research vessels following the whales may add stress, but this is still unclear despite continued research. Up to 100 boats have been reported following one pod.

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Dolphin Cognition: "Mirror self-recognition in the bottlenose dolphin: A case of cognitive convergence," by Drs. Lori Marino and Diana Reiss, was recently published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. To quote the abstract for this significant result: "Mirror self-recognition (MSR) is an exceedingly rare capacity in the animal kingdom. To date, only humans and great apes have shown convincing evidence of MSR. In this study we present the first conclusive evidence for self-recognition outside of the primate domain in a species phylogenetically distant and neuroanatomically different from primates, the bottlenose dolphin. Two dolphins were exposed to reflective surfaces under conditions of control, sham-mark and marking of the body. Analysis included measures of frequency, duration, and latencies of behaviors under different experimental conditions. Behaviors were categorized as either mark-directed or not. Results demonstrate that both subjects are capable of using a mirror to investigate parts of their own body. These results indicate that bottlenose dolphins possess the capacity for self-recognition. These findings provide a striking example of evolutionary convergence in cognitive capacity."


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