The Beacon

Blog Tags: Whales

EU Court Rules Against Italy for Use of Driftnets

driftnetter

A fisherman opens up a driftnet. © Oceana/Enrique Pardo

In a big victory for our colleagues in Europe, yesterday the EU Court of Justice found Italy in violation of EU law for the country's continued use of driftnets, a fishing gear banned since 2002.

Driftnets, which float freely, sometimes for miles, are a serious threat to cetaceans, sea turtles, sharks and fish in the Mediterranean. Hundreds of thousands of whales and dolphins are killed each year by driftnets.

The day before the decision, Oceana presented its latest report on the use of driftnets in the Mediterranean and stressed that the Court's judgment was an essential step in eradicating the use of the fishing gear.

The Oceana report contains photographs from 2008 of 92 vessels with driftnets on board, 80 percent had already been identified during campaigns in previous years.

Xavier Pastor, Executive Director of Oceana Europe, said, “The judgment is an important milestone in the elimination of driftnets from the Mediterranean. At last we may be moving towards the end of this illegal fishing gear, seven years after the EU banned their use."

Over several years of campaigning in the Mediterranean, Oceana has documented and reported how driftnets, despite the ban, continue to be used, not only in Italy, but also in other areas of the Mediterranean such as Morocco, Turkey, and until recently, France.

Congratulations, Xavier and team!


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Whale Wednesday: Talkin' to You

Don't you hate when you're at a party or restaurant, and even without music on, the room grows louder and louder and louder? Until you can barely hear the person standing right next to you? New research shows that sperm whales have evolved to circumvent this cocktail party conundrum.

According to the scientists, whose work will be presented at the Acoustical Society of America next week, the whales are polite conversationalists -- they make a specific effort to keep their calls from overlapping by changing the intervals between their echolocating clicks.

Perhaps humans can try this. It might go something like this:

"Would you - click - like an hors d'oeuvre - click?"

"Yes, one - click - mushroom puff - click - please."

And in other acoustic findings, researchers have discovered the first known instances of male humpback whales singing to one another, similar to songbirds. Whether the whale songs are macho seduction tunes -- like male birdsongs -- is still unclear.

What is clear is that there's a lot we don't know about what's being said and sung under the sea.


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Whale Wednesday: Save the Carbon Sinks

sperm whale

A sperm whale fluke. © Oceana/Jesus Renedo

There’s no shortage of blame to go around when it comes to climate change. Individuals are responsible for poor consumer choices; we drive the wrong cars, use the wrong light bulbs, even wash our laundry on the wrong setting. Even the poor dairy cow shares the blame for having the nerve to burp methane emissions. But Bessie isn’t the only creature catching a bad rap. Sperm whales have been criticized for breathing. Yes, breathing. Apparently the carbon dioxide emitted from the roughly 210,000 sperm whales in the Southern Ocean is contributing to global warming, producing in the ballpark of 17 million tons of carbon a year. But new research suggests that we’re missing a very big factor in the calculation. It’s not just what the whales put out, but also what they take in.


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Whale Wednesday

humpback whale

Image via wikimedia commons

Happy hump day, everyone. A15-year study of humpback whales in the Southern Hemisphere is providing scientists with new insight into the slow giants' mating habits. Researchers analyzed DNA skin samples from more than 1,500 humpbacks in the South Atlantic and Indian Oceans. They found that the highest rate of "gene flow" occurred with whales breeding on either side of Africa, with one or two whales swimming between the Atlantic and Indian Oceans each year to mate. It was the first time a humpback had been recorded travelling between the two oceans. (Now that's what you call a long-distance relationship.) Another interesting conclusion from the study was that the small humpback population of less than 200 in the Indian Ocean, off the Arabian Peninsula, was distinct genetically and unlike other populations did not migrate and therefore was a "conservation priority."


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Whale Wednesday: Baby Blue

scientists look for blue whales

More National Geographic love this week, only this time whale-related. Yesterday I went to NatGeo's "Tuesday at Noon" series, which I've been meaning to go to for a while. Every week they show a free short film, this week's was "Kingdom of the Blue Whale," and it followed scientists in their attempts to tag and photograph blue whales in the Pacific. Not only was it a nice break in the day, but I got my blue whale fix -- which, as you may have noticed, I'm mildly obsessed with -- and I was soothed by Tom Selleck's classy narration.


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Whale Wednesday: the Din Down Below

blue whale

Adding to the clatter about ocean noise comes the first study indicating that whales increase their calls in response to underwater noise. Scientists studying blue whales off the eastern Canadian coast found that the giants changed their calls in response to an underwater seismic survey. On days with seismic surveys, the whales made two-and-half-times more calls than on days without, probably because they have to "repeat information", as some of the communication is lost or degraded by the seismic activity. Sounds a lot like trying to have a conversation on your cell phone while riding the DC Metro. So what do the increased calls mean for the cetaceans? As one of the researchers said, "Our research doesn't say anything about whether this increase in call rate is negative for the animals, but of course it's not positive and it may be stressful."


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Whale Wednesday: Stuck on Salmon

New research out of Canada indicates that some killer whale populations prefer king (a.k.a. Chinook) salmon so much that the whales will actually die when salmon numbers fall. Here's the curious part: killer whales, as apex predators, have their pick of other fish or even other large marine mammals, but still some populations appear to be dependent upon king salmon as their primary food resource. Another study from Hawaii found that killer whales can identify king salmon even when they are swimming alongside Coho and Sockeye salmon. And even in the winter, when king salmon make up just 10 to 15 percent of the salmon in the water, killer whales use echolocation to pick out their favorite fish. That's some impressively picky eating. A recovering picky eater myself, I fully relate. And king salmon are undeniably delicious. Who can blame them? But suffering king salmon populations spell trouble for the orcas. The pollock industry catches enormous amounts of king salmon as bycatch. And due to the low populations, the 2008 king salmon fishing season was cancelled in Oregon and California, and again in 2009 in California. With king salmon lovers abound on land too, something's gotta give.


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The Scanner

loggerhead hatchlings

Happy Friday, all! This week in ocean news, ...The New York Times described the threats facing sea turtles who nest on Miami's popular beaches. ...New research indicates that because killer whales in the Puget Sound must raise their voices to be heard over the din of boats, they may be exhausting themselves as they try to find food. ...Thanks to the loss of Arctic sea ice, two German ships are poised to become the first to go from Asia to Europe in the Arctic waters north of Russia.


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Whale Wednesday: Speed Limits Edition

north atlantic right whale

Here's your zen moment of the day for Whale Wednesday: take a deep breath, a cue from the remaining North Atlantic right whales, and slow it down. A new study indicates that larger areas of speed limits for ships around major ports could significantly help the survival of North Atlantic right whales, whose population numbers fewer than 400 individuals. The study notes that expanding seasonal speed-restriction zones around major East Coast ports by 10 nautical miles would significantly reduce the risk of collisions with ships, which are among the greatest threats to the whales. And not only would expanded speed limits help save these endangered whales, they would also help combat climate change. As Oceana wrote in a report from last year, Shipping Impacts on Climate, reducing the shipping fleet's speed is one significant way to cut fuel costs and reduce emissions of carbon dioxide, black carbon, nitrogen oxides, and nitrous oxide.


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Back to School: Sperm Whale

sperm whale

Sperm whales are named for the waxy oil in their head, spermaceti. Used in many industries ranging from cosmetics to automotive, spermaceti drove whalers to target sperm whales and they are now listed as threatened by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources. Due to their size, however, sperm whales have been known to fight back, famously attacking and sinking the whaling ship, Essex, the ship Moby Dick is based upon. Learn more about these large predators and other animals in the Creature Corner.


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