May 2009

Whale Washed up on New Zealand Beach

A rare blue whale has been found dead on a beach in New Zealand this week.   Blue whales are highly endangered,  with less than 2,000 thought to be left in the oceans.   The silver lining to this sad death is that the whale apparently died of old age, rather than being killed by any human activities or environmental changes.

The whale was found by a local fisherman who said that the whale measuring almost 90 feet was the largest he had ever seen.  Researchers are taking samples from the whale carcass in order to study more about the creatures,  although the whale's massive size means that it is not possible to transport the entire body.

Many types of whales and other large sea animals spend time in the warm South Pacific waters around New Zealand, and whale watching is one of the top tourist activities for the area, especially the South Island where blue whales, sperm whales, dolphins and seals can be spotted, often in large numbers.

Greenland: New Home for Right Whales

Though the right whale has thought to have been extinct in the area around Greenland by the scientific community for at least 200 years, underwater scientific microphones, or hydrophones, have detected a group of three of the endangered species in that very place last week.

With only a small surviving population of 300 to 400 right whales total, the number is considered significant.

Perhaps this migration can be attributed to the good news that erika reported earlier this month—that there’s been an increase in the population overall this year. With 40% of the species being wiped out by human hands—mostly through ship collisions—it’s remarkable that the last year may have marked the first period in which no right whales were killed by humans since the 1600s!

Cultural Traditions conflicting with Conservation

May 17th marked the 10th anniversary of Makah tribal whalers pulling ashore the body of a 32-ton gray whale, taken in the first formal hunt in 70 years, at Neah Bay, on Washington state's Olympic Peninsula. Legal challenges since have prevented another such hunt, in spite of the deep cultural ties observed by members of the Makah tribe, and the life-changing nature of the 1999 hunt.

Thar She Blows!

There's some excellent news about the endangered blue whale, this week. Blue whales seem to be re-establishing a regular migration pattern along the west coast of the U.S., as far north as the Gulf of Alaska.

The Marine Mammal Science journal published research documenting fifteen individual blue whales identified between B.C. Canada and Alaska. These would have been regular seasonal territorial waters for the blue whale, before commercial whaling drove the species to the brink of extinction.