Ocean Currents » whale http://blog.oceanconservancy.org News, opinions, photos and facts from Ocean Conservancy Wed, 22 Mar 2017 19:13:26 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.4.2 5 Things You Probably Didn’t Know About Whales http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2017/02/18/5-things-you-probably-didnt-know-about-whales/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2017/02/18/5-things-you-probably-didnt-know-about-whales/#comments Sat, 18 Feb 2017 12:00:35 +0000 Erin Spencer http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=13764

There’s no question that whales are some of the most iconic animals in the sea. From the massive blue whale to the quirky narwhal, these charismatic mammals have captivated people for centuries.

For World Whale Day, we’re taking a moment to celebrate the ocean’s most recognizable residents with five little-known facts about whales.

1. It’s all in the family. Whales are in the order cetacea, which includes whales, dolphins and porpoises. They are all mammals, meaning they breathe air, produce milk for their young and grow hair. They’re also highly specialized for marine environments, and have streamlined bodies with nimble dorsal fins and tails, and compressed neck vertebrae. There are nearly 80 species of cetacea, nearly all of them marine, except for some species of river dolphin.

2. You’re krill’n me. There are two suborders, or types, of whales. Baleen whales (called mysticeti) filter their food through huge baleen plates made of flexible keratin (the same material that makes up your hair and fingernails). They move slowly through the ocean with their mouths open to filter shrimp, krill and other small animals through the baleen to eat. Baleen whales include humpback whales, blue whales, North Atlantic right whales and bowhead whales. The other type is called odonotoceti whales, or toothed whales. Unsurprisingly, toothed whales have teeth that they use to sense, capture and/or eat prey. Whales in this category include narwhals, belugas and sperm whales.

3. Go big or go home. Whales have a big record to their name: The blue whale is the largest animal that ever lived (yes, including dinosaurs). They can grow up to 100 feet long and weigh up to 200 tons. Their heart alone is the size of a small car! Despite their size, they keep their eyes low on the food chain: they eat krill, or small crustaceans that grow to about three inches in size. A blue whale can eat up to four tons of krill in a day.

4. Cold never bothered whales anyway. You can find a few whale species in the chilly waters of the Arctic. To survive, they have specific adaptations that help them eat, mate and live in frigid conditions. Bowhead whales, for example, have massive skulls that can be over 16.5 feet long—or about 30-40 percent of their entire body length—that they use to break through the ice. Beluga whales have a five-inch-thick layer of blubber and dorsal ridge that help them navigate through the harsh icy waters, too.

5. Olympic-level divers. Whales are among the world’s deepest divers. When hunting squid, a sperm whale may spend as much as an hour on a dive to more than 3,000 feet, where the temperature hovers at 36 degrees F and the pressure is more than 1,400 pounds per square inch. Impressive, but not if you happen to be a Cuvier’s beaked whale—scientists recently observed one diving to about 10,000 feet (nearly two miles) and staying under for 138 minutes, a record for both length and depth.

Any impressive whale trivia we missed? Or just want to post some love about your favorite whale species? Let us know in the comments

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World Whale Day: 6 Things to Know About Whales http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/02/13/world-whale-day-6-things-to-know-about-whales/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/02/13/world-whale-day-6-things-to-know-about-whales/#comments Sat, 13 Feb 2016 13:00:05 +0000 Guest Blogger http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=11493

This blog was written by Roger Di Silvestro, a field correspondent for Ocean Conservancy.

As Valentine’s Day nears, let’s interrupt our thoughts about love, roses, and chocolates and turn to a closely related subject: whales.

Yes, whales.

Before there is a Valentine’s Day, there is World Whale Day—a celebration of some of the planet’s most-fascinating, well-loved, and yet elusive creatures, looming large in the popular imagination but still in many ways a scientific mystery. Established on Maui in 1980 to remind people about whales, their lives, and their plight, World Whale Day has been celebrated ever since with parades and various whale-focused events.

In recognition of World Whale Day, here are 6 facts about some of the largest animals that ever lived.

1. Let’s start with the most-basic point—whales are mammals. In his classic work Moby Dick, or The Whale, Herman Melville concluded that whales are fish, proving you can write a Great American Novel and still get your facts wrong. With flippers, fins, and a torpedo-shaped body, whales look like fish, but forget about it: they evolved from an ancient, even-toed hoofed animal, making them relatives of deer, sheep, and gazelles, not guppies, tuna, or whale sharks, which, as the name suggests, are sharks. About 50 million years ago a now-extinct, semi-aquatic mammal species split off in two evolutionary directions, giving rise to the hippopotamus on the one hand and whales on the other, making the hippo the closest living relative of whales. Whales share the signature traits of all mammals: they breathe air, produce milk for their young, and grow hair, however scantly.

2. Scientists divide whales into two general groups, toothed and baleen. The latter lack teeth. Instead, their mouths are fringed with plates made of keratin, same as our fingernails. These plates are the baleen that gives the group its name. Baleen whales are filter feeders, taking in massive quantities of water teeming with such sea life as shrimp, krill, and small fish, forcing out the water through the baleen, and swallowing whatever is held back (filtered out).

3. The blue whale is the largest animal that ever lived, weighing up to 200 tons, more than twice the estimated weight of the largest known dinosaur. However, at no more than 110 feet long, the blue whale is at least 20 feet shorter than the longest dinosaur known, Argentinosaurus huinculensis (also the heaviest, at up to 99 tons). In any event, an adult blue whale is built on a massive scale.

4. The smallest whale species is the dwarf sperm whale, generally less than 8.5 feet long and weighing as little as 300 pounds. Other small whales include the white beluga of the Arctic and the St. Lawrence River and the narwhal, another species of cold, northern seas. Both grow to about 18 feet and 3,500 pounds, small enough to fall prey to polar bears lying in wait on sea ice near whale breathing holes. The narwhal is famed as a tusked whale, males growing a single, spiral tusk that can reach 11 feet long (males rarely grow two; about one in six females grows a tusk). The narwhal tusk gave rise to the legend of the unicorn and was traded for medicinal and magical purposes in medieval times.

5. Sperm whales use sonar (echolocation) to hunt prey and to sense the world around them. The sound waves they emit are so powerful that human divers swimming near the whales can feel the pulses. The sound bounces off objects in the water and returns to the whale, whose brain creates an image based on the signals. (The sperm whale is well equipped for sonar interpretation—it has the largest brain on earth, weighing about 17 pounds in an adult). Sonar images are precise enough that sperm whales can survive even if blind.

7. Whales are among the world’s deepest divers. When hunting squid, a sperm whale may spend as much as an hour on a dive to more than 3,000 feet, where the temperature hovers at 36 degrees F and the pressure is more than 1,400 pounds per square inch. Impressive, but not if you happen to be a Cuvier’s beaked whalescientists recently observed one diving to about 10,000 feet (nearly two miles) and staying under for 138 minutes, a record for both length and depth.

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The Gulf is Home to a Small Group of Really Big Whales http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/10/03/the-gulf-is-home-to-a-small-group-of-really-big-whales/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/10/03/the-gulf-is-home-to-a-small-group-of-really-big-whales/#comments Fri, 03 Oct 2014 19:45:10 +0000 Alexis Baldera http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=9312

When I think of the great filter-feeding whales, I don’t tend to think of the Gulf of Mexico. However, I was recently reminded that the Gulf is home to some of these amazing whales. They are called Bryde’s (pronounced BROO-dus) whales, and they are found around the world, but only 33 of them live in the northern Gulf. A recent genetic study by NOAA biologists reveals that this small group of whales may be a completely unique subspecies!

These Bryde’s whales are unique in their size, as well as in the calls that they use to communicate with each other. Through genetic analysis, scientists have determined that this subspecies has undergone a dramatic decline in population. “It’s unclear based on the genetics exactly when [the decline] occurred,” said Michael Jasny, director of the marine mammal program at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). “It’s possible humans were involved in the decline, through whaling or industrial activities.”

With only 33 whales and little genetic diversity, the newfound subspecies is particularly vulnerable to threats such as ship strikes, noise and pollution. The Bryde’s whales’ home range is also adjacent to the Mississippi Canyon, the area where the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster occurred, raising questions about how this small group of whales may have been impacted by that disaster.

The NRDC has submitted a petition to have the Gulf of Mexico Bryde’s whale federally listed as endangered. As a genetically distinct subspecies, these whales are eligible for additional protections under U.S. law—protections that are necessary if we want to improve their chance for survival and recovery.

Scientists are continuing to study these whales. The information they gain will help them understand the history, biology, status and conservation needs of Bryde’s whales and others that live in the area—such as the Gulf of Mexico sperm whale population discovered last year —because the first step in protecting something is understanding what it needs to survive. This information is also a key part of restoring the Gulf of Mexico to the vibrant, diverse ecosystem that we depend on.

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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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How to help an injured animal http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2012/07/09/how-to-help-an-injured-animal/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2012/07/09/how-to-help-an-injured-animal/#comments Mon, 09 Jul 2012 20:15:17 +0000 Carmen Yeung http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=1374

Note: After receiving questions from readers, I have written a follow-up post here.

While on vacation, I came across a crab entangled in a fishing net at a local, beachside restaurant.  My time working with crustaceans in science laboratories and in the field gave me the necessary familiarity with their movements and behaviors to handle the animal without hurting it or myself. Armed with this knowledge, I quickly and carefully untangled the piece of fishing net that had wound up tightly on the crab and placed him gently back on the local beach.

Without the proper qualifications, attempting to help a hurt animal in the wild could result in further injury. So what should you do if you encounter an entangled animal at the beach?

In cases of marine crustaceans, I wouldn’t recommend picking up a live crab because it’s still a wild animal and you don’t have to be a biologist to know those pinches hurt. The best way to help them is to reduce the chances of entanglement by keeping trash off the beach. If a crab or other small animal is no longer alive (and it doesn’t gross you out), consider disposing of the garbage entangling the animal to protect larger scavengers (such as seabirds) from suffering a similar fate at mealtime.

If you see a sick, injured, or dead marine mammal or sea turtle, please report the animal by calling a stranding center nearest you. Do not touch or move the animal because you could further injure the animal and also hurt yourself. Keep other people and pets at least 50 feet away from the animal because getting too close could stress the animal. Check out The Marine Mammal Center’s seven steps to help a stranded marine mammal for more information.

Many animal injuries are preventable. Most importantly, you and I have the power to reduce those injuries. As the summer rolls on, remember to properly dispose trash (including fishing lines), admire wildlife from a safe distance and enjoy the water!

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Young Gray Whale Rescued From Fishing Line, Future Uncertain http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2012/05/14/young-gray-whale-rescued-from-fishing-line-future-uncertain/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2012/05/14/young-gray-whale-rescued-from-fishing-line-future-uncertain/#comments Mon, 14 May 2012 16:52:09 +0000 Jennifer Savage http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=541  

Credit: NOAA

Discarded fishing gear abounds in the ocean. The problem of whale entanglement is, sadly, not a new one. Just last week, a whale tangled in fishing line, net and buoys traveled hundreds of miles from Southern California all the way to Bodega Bay, where fishermen were able to free the huge creature.

The next day, Humboldt County residents anxiously followed a similar story as agencies descended upon Humboldt Bay’s southern peninsula in hopes of saving a juvenile gray whale spotted tangled in ropes from drifting crab pots. The Coast Guard, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association and California Department of Fish and Game, along with help from Humboldt State University professors worked together to free the whale. Local whale expert HSU professor Dawn Goley reported success, but feared the injuries incurred may be too much for the young whale’s survival. We’re hoping for a happy ending to this sad story.

Those at sea or on the beach who spot a tangled whale are urged to contact NOAA. And to prevent this sort of harm from happening in the future, I urge everyone to help reduce ocean trash, including fishing gear, to protect all species of whales — and every creature inhabiting the ocean!

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