Ocean Currents » sperm whale http://blog.oceanconservancy.org News, opinions, photos and facts from Ocean Conservancy Tue, 25 Apr 2017 13:47:57 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.4.2 Why are Whales Stranding in the Gulf? http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2017/01/10/why-are-whales-stranding-in-the-gulf/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2017/01/10/why-are-whales-stranding-in-the-gulf/#comments Tue, 10 Jan 2017 14:00:56 +0000 Matt Love http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=13592

In recent months, two young sperm whales stranded themselves along the coast of Louisiana. These events highlight the importance for quality health and diagnostic information for the marine mammals in the Gulf of Mexico. What could kill one of the greatest predators to ever exist on earth?

These animals are harmed by many of the same factors that harm us, like food scarcity, chronic exposure to pollutants, disease and a poor environment. For humans, we have the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to control and prevent disease and injury. To operate effectively, the CDC relies on consistent and timely data gathered across the U.S. and beyond. Somewhat analogous to the CDC for marine mammals like dolphins and whales, the Marine Mammal Health and Stranding Response Program compiles data on diseases and the well-being of sick or injured animals.

However, there has been a long-standing problem with this program in the Gulf. Appropriately trained staff available to collect priceless data points to understand emerging health concerns, or who have the capacity to help recover a live whale or dolphin, have always been stretched thin. The limited support available to the diverse group of organizations that collect this information has caused problems with data consistency. Lack of consistency inhibits development of an effective database that enables detection of longer-term trends across the region.

But this situation is beginning to change in the Gulf. Much needed capacity is now growing thanks to investments resulting from the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster and partnerships with aquariums in the region. The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation has provided grants to Mississippi, Alabama and Florida to improve rehabilitation capacity and increase the ability to better assess long-term trends in Gulf populations from the condition of stranded animals. SeaWorld has formalized a partnership with the Texas Marine Mammal Stranding Network to provide rehabilitation facilities in San Antonio along with providing additional diagnostic and veterinary capabilities.

Each of these investments is an important step in our ability to diagnose and solve problems that are harming these majestic creatures of the ocean. The Gulf of Mexico is blessed with a diversity of marine mammal species, and with the $144 million included in the BP settlement to help marine mammals recover from the BP oil disaster, we have a real opportunity to improve the health of these animals. However, we cannot claim to spend this money wisely to mitigate harm if we do not understand trends in their overall health. In other words, we can’t manage what we don’t know. To do this we must continue to capitalize on every opportunity to build a world-class network of trained response teams, diagnostic capabilities and epidemiology information systems. Without this capacity we severely hinder our ability to ensure these species are plying the oceans for generations to come.

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Is There a New Species of Whale in the Gulf of Mexico? http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2013/04/05/is-there-a-new-species-of-whale-in-the-gulf-of-mexico/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2013/04/05/is-there-a-new-species-of-whale-in-the-gulf-of-mexico/#comments Fri, 05 Apr 2013 20:17:51 +0000 Alexis Baldera http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=5346

The tan color on this map shows the range of sperm whales in the Gulf of Mexico. The colored areas show the chance of sperm whales utilizing this habitat, with red being the highest.

Not quite a new species, but the population of sperm whales in the Gulf is distinctly different from their relatives. So different that last week, in response to a petition from WildEarth Guardians, the National Marine Fisheries Service announced that it will be taking a closer look at sperm whales in the Gulf of Mexico in order to determine if they should be protected under the Endangered Species Act. Sperm whales across the world are already listed as an endangered species, but this new designation will recognize the Gulf population as a distinct group and protect and monitor it separately from the global population.

There are characteristics of sperm whales in the Gulf that may be sufficient to classify them as a distinct group. Gulf sperm whales do not leave the Gulf and are generally smaller and use  different vocalizations (probably learned culturally) than other sperm whales. Gulf sperm whales also face Gulf-specific threats such as oil and gas development, high levels of shipping traffic and noise, potential effects from the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill, and water quality degradation near the mouth of the Mississippi River. As shown on the map above, the area southeast of the Mississippi River Delta is important for sperm whales. The outflow of nutrients from the river, upwelling along the continental slope and eddies from Gulf currents create unique ecological conditions that make this a productive area where sperm whales go to find food and potentially mates.

We do not know whether the population of sperm whales in the Gulf is growing or declining, or how many human-caused deaths of sperm whales happen in the Gulf. In order to improve our understanding of this amazing species, which is so dependent on the Gulf, we need more long-term research and monitoring. One way to gather information about sperm whales, and other marine mammals, is through tagging and tracking of the animals. Using satellite-linked tags and radio transmitters attached to animals can provide information on habitat use, foraging behavior, distribution and exposure to hydrocarbons. Ocean Conservancy is working to enhance marine mammal tracking and tagging research in the Gulf. We are proposing that some restoration funding from the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill be allocated to tracking and tagging research for marine animals in the Gulf to increase our understanding of these animals and their threats.

Tagging and tracking wildlife over time will put scientists in a much stronger position to learn whether or where changes are happening in the Gulf, and to make sure we are on the right course to recovering from the nation’s largest offshore environmental crisis.

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