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The skeleton shapes are fossils, some of at least 40 dead whales washed ashore en masse between 6 and 9 million years ago on a beach that is now slightly inland from Northern Chille Coastline. The skeleton shapes are fossils, some of at least 40 dead whales washed ashore en masse between 6 and 9 million years ago on a beach that is now slightly inland from Nnorthern Chile's coastline.

No, it's not a sand sculpture competition. The skeleton shapes are fossils, some of at least 40 dead whales washed ashore en masse between 6 and 9 million years ago on a beach that is now slightly inland from northern Chile's coastline. They provide the earliest known example in the fossil record of mass strandings of marine mammals.

The area has the greatest density of extinct marine mammals in the world, says Nicholas Pyenson of the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History in Washington DC, who led the research. Unfortunately, much of the site now sits under the northbound lane of the Pan-American Highway.

Discovered in 2010 during excavations for the road, which links Alaska and Argentina, the fossil haul includes over 40 large baleen whales, an extinct species of sperm whale and an extinct walrus-like whale. Also found at the Cerro Ballena site – Spanish for "whale hill" – were skeletons of billfishes, seals and aquatic sloths.

Whale graveyard- researchers doing fieldwork. Whale graveyard- researchers doing fieldwork.

Researchers recorded the skeletons in situ using 3D photography (pictured above) before moving them to Chilean museums.

Pyenson and his colleagues think that the whales died at sea after consuming food contaminated with toxins from algal blooms and their bodies floated onto what was then a beach. So-called "red tides", caused by algal blooms, are also to blame for some modern mass whale strandings, says Pyenson.

There were no large land scavengers in South America at the time, so the bodies lay unmolested until sand buried them. The skeletons were found on four separate levels, suggesting this story was repeated at least four times.

Much of the site is now paved over, but the researchers are confident that the area still conceals hundreds more fossils. The University of Chile in Santiago aims to open a research station near the Cerro Ballena site to work with what's left.[youtube]http://youtu.be/qRLZ29mLdSQ[/youtube]

Skeleton of a fossil whale Skeleton of a fossil whale

Repeated mass strandings of Miocene marine mammals from Atacama Region of Chile point to sudden death at sea

Marine mammal mass strandings have occurred for millions of years, but their origins defy singular explanations. Beyond human causes, mass strandings have been attributed to herding behaviour, large-scale oceanographic fronts and harmful algal blooms (HABs). Because algal toxins cause organ failure in marine mammals, HABs are the most common mass stranding agent with broad geographical and widespread taxonomic impact. Toxin-mediated mortalities in marine food webs have the potential to occur over geological timescales, but direct evidence for their antiquity has been lacking. Here, we describe an unusually dense accumulation of fossil marine vertebrates from Cerro Ballena, a Late Miocene locality in Atacama Region of Chile, preserving over 40 skeletons of rorqual whales, sperm whales, seals, aquatic sloths, walrus-whales and predatory bony fish.

Much of the site now sits under the northbound lane of the Pan-American Highway. Much of the site now sits under the northbound lane of the Pan-American Highway.

Marine mammal skeletons are distributed in four discrete horizons at the site, representing a recurring accumulation mechanism. Taphonomic analysis points to strong spatial focusing with a rapid death mechanism at sea, before being buried on a barrier-protected supratidal flat. In modern settings, HABs are the only known natural cause for such repeated, multispecies accumulations. This proposed agent suggests that upwelling zones elsewhere in the world should preserve fossil marine vertebrate accumulations in similar modes and densities.

Narwhals are sometimes referred to as the unicorns of the sea because of the long, pointed horns that extend from their heads. Narwhals are sometimes referred to as the unicorns of the sea because of the long, pointed horns that extend from their heads.

The nerve-filled appendage helps the animals’ sense temperature and perhaps find prey and mates

Narwhals are sometimes referred to as the unicorns of the sea because of the long, pointed horns that extend from their heads. Male narwhals' tusks can grow up to nine feet long,. Male narwhals' tusks can grow up to nine feet long. They are actually modified teeth that protrude out from the corner of their mouth, rather than forehead-centred horns.

Scientists do not know what purpose the narwhal's tusk serves, exactly. They've speculated that it might be used for skewering enemy animals or for breaking through the icy Arctic waters where the animals live. One team hypothesized that the tusk serves as a sort of sensory organ, Wired describes, and recently decided to investigate that idea.

To put their hunch to the test, the researchers devised a "tusk jacket," Drake writes—a sort of plastic hoodie that fit comfortably over the narwhals' tusks but excluded the outside environment. The team changed the concentration of salt in the water that filled the tusk jacket, which acts as a proxy for temperature (more ice equals colder water with more salt, while less ice means warmer water with less salt). Wired:

He found that narwhal heart rates rose in response to high salt concentrations, presumably because these concentrations normally suggest that the sea is freezing and entrapment is possible. The animals’ heart rates dropped when the tusks were washed with fresh water, suggesting they could detect this change.

The team only tested the tusks for a response to salt but think the whales might also use their tusks for seeking out prey or finding mates. Why, what would you do with an extra long, sensitive tooth?

Friday, 01 March 2019 08:28

Dolphins call each other by name

Researchers in Florida say bottlenose dolphins come up with their own names when they are very young and use these names to communicate with one another. Bottlenose dolphins call out the specific names of loved ones when they become separated, a study finds. Bottlenose dolphins surfs the waves Bottlenose dolphins surfs the waves Other than humans, the dolphins are the only animals known to do this, according to the study, published in the latest Proceedings of the Royal Society B. The big difference with bottlenose dolphins is that these communications consist of whistles, not words. Earlier research found that bottlenose dolphins name themselves, with dolphins having a “signature whistle” that encodes other information. It would be somewhat like a human shouting, “Hey everybody! I’m an adult healthy male named George, and I mean you no harm!” The new finding is that bottlenose dolphins also say the names of certain other dolphins.z“Animals produced copies when they were separated from a close associate and this supports our belief that dolphins copy another animal’s signature whistle when they want to reunite with that specific individual,” lead author Stephanie King of the University of St. Andrews Sea Mammal Research Unit told Discovery News. King and her colleagues collected acoustic data from wild bottlenose dolphins around Sarasota Bay, Fla., from 1984 to 2009. The researchers also intensely studied four captive adult male dolphins housed at The Seas Aquarium, also in Florida. The captive males are adults that keepers named Calvin, Khyber, Malabar and Ranier. Bottlenose dolphins communicate through a series of whistles. Bottlenose dolphins communicate through a series of whistles. These bottlenose dolphins, however, as well as all of the wild ones, developed their own signature whistles that serve as names in interactions with other dolphins. “A dolphin emits its signature whistle to broadcast its identity and announce its presence, allowing animals to identify one another over large distances and for animals to recognize one another and to join up with each other,” King explained. “Dolphin whistles can be detected up to 20 km away (12.4 miles) depending on water depth and whistle frequency.” The researchers said dolphins copy the signature whistles of loved ones, such as a mother or close male buddy, when the two are apart. These “names” were never emitted in aggressive or antagonistic situations and were only directed toward loved ones. The whistle copies also always had a unique variation to them, so the dolphins weren’t merely mimicking each other. The dolphins instead were adding their own “tone of voice” via unique whistling. While researchers often hesitate to apply the “l word” -- language -- to non-human communications, bottlenose dolphins and possibly other dolphin species clearly have a very complex and sophisticated communication system. he bottlenose dolphin is probably the most widely recognized marine mammal. he bottlenose dolphin is probably the most widely recognized marine mammal. “Interestingly, captive dolphins can learn new signals and refer to objects and it may be that dolphins can use signature whistle copies to label or refer to an individual, which is a skill inherent in human language,” King said. Heidi Harley, a professor of psychology at New College of Florida, is a leading expert on cognitive processes in dolphins. She agrees with the new paper’s conclusions. Harley told Discovery News that it can be challenging to study dolphin signature whistles, since it’s difficult to identify which particular dolphin is emitting the sounds, and whether or not the sounds are just mimicked copies. Dolphin-speaker-1-640x477 “Interestingly, captive dolphins can learn new signals and refer to objects and it may be that dolphins can use signature whistle copies to label or refer to an individual, which is a skill inherent in human language,” King said. Heidi Harley, a professor of psychology at New College of Florida, is a leading expert on cognitive processes in dolphins. She agrees with the new paper’s conclusions. Harley told Discovery News that it can be challenging to study dolphin signature whistles, since it’s difficult to identify which particular dolphin is emitting the sounds, and whether or not the sounds are just mimicked copies. “This study provides evidence that copies of signature whistles include elements that differ from the whistles of the original whistler, while still maintaining the changes in frequency over time that allow a listener to identify the original whistler,” Harley said. “In addition, that signature whistle copying occurs between close associates, suggesting it is used affiliatively.” King and her team are now using sound playback experiments to see how wild, free-ranging dolphins respond to hearing a copy of their own signature whistle.

 Great White Sharks breach to hunt -- with split-second timing they grab their prey in one swift snatch. Credit: © Morne Hardenberg
Great White Sharks breach to hunt -- with split-second timing they grab their prey in one swift snatch. Credit:
© Morne Hardenberg Sharks are much older than dinosaurs. Their ancestry dates back more than 400 million years, and they are one of evolution’s greatest success stories. These animals are uniquely adapted to their ocean environment with six highly refined senses of smell, hearing, touch, taste, sight, and even electromagnetism. As the top predators in the ocean, great white sharks (Carcharodon carcharias) face only one real threat to their survival: us. The assaults are many. By-catch: the accidental killing of sharks by fishermen's long lines and trawlers. Illegal poaching: selling shark fins for soup. Illegal hunting: sports fishing for shark jaws as trophies. Nets: placed along coastlines to keep sharks away from beaches. Pollution: toxins and heavy metals that build

Life & Natural History

Brains over Brawn

When great whites gather, they seem to show different behaviors, from open-mouthed gaping at one another to assertive body-slams. These sharks are top predators throughout the world's ocean, predominantly in temperate and subtropical waters. Great whites migrate long distances. Some make journeys from the Hawaiian Islands to California, and one shark that swam from from South Africa to Australia made the longest recorded migration of any fish. Great White Sharks are powerful swimmers capable of going 50 kph Great White Sharks are powerful swimmers capable of going 50 kph The torpedo shape of the great white is built for speed: up to 35 miles per hour (50 kilometers per hour). And then there are the teeth -- 300 total in up to seven rows. But more than brawn, the great white shark has a tremendous brain that coordinates all the highly-developed senses of this efficient hunter. Its prey, including seals and dolphins, are very clever animals, and the shark has to have enough brains to outsmart them. Despite their reputation as lone hunters, great whites will cooperate with one another, hunting in groups and sharing the spoils. And some researchers have been surprised by how fast they learn. up in the shark's body. In some areas great white populations have plummeted by over 70%. If not stopped, it could lead to the extinction of this ancient species.

Shark Senses

Many scientists now believe that Great whites became the ocean’s top hunters through the evolution of supremely-adapted senses and physiology. Sharks have six highly refined senses: smell, hearing, touch, taste, sight, and electromagnetism. These finely honed senses, along with a sleek, torpedo-shaped body, make most sharks highly skilled hunters. Sharks have six highly refined senses: smell, hearing, touch, taste, sight, and electromagnetism. These finely honed senses, along with a sleek, torpedo-shaped body, make most sharks highly skilled hunters. SMELL Great white sharks' most acute sense is smell. If there were just a single drop of blood floating in 10 billion drops of water, they could smell it! Their nostrils are on the underside of the snout and lead to an organ called the olfactory bulb. The great white’s olfactory bulb is reported to be the largest of any shark. HEARING Shark external ears are hard to see: they are just two small openings behind and above the eyes. The ears may be small, but they’re powerful. Inside, there are cells that can sense even the tiniest vibration in the surrounding water. Sharks also have an ‘ear stone’ that responds to gravity, giving the animal clues as to where it is in the water: head up, head down, right side up, or upside down. VISION A great white sharks has great vision. The retina of its eye is divided into two areas – one adapted for day vision, the other for low-light and night. To protect itself, the great white shark can roll its eye backward into the socket when threatened. ELECTRO-RECEPTION Sharks have a sense that humans can only be in awe of – they can sense an electrical field. A series of pores on the shark’s snout are filled with cells called the Ampullae of Lorenzini that can feel the power and direction of electrical currents. Scientists have discovered that sharks can use this sense to navigate through the open ocean by following an electrical ‘map’ of the magnetic fields that crisscross the Earth’s crust. TASTE Great white sharks are opportunistic eaters. Depending on the season, area and age, they will hunt seals and sea lions, fish, squid, and even other sharks. They have taste buds inside their mouths and throats that enable them to identify the food before swallowing. TOUCH Great white sharks have an elaborate sense of touch through what’s called the lateral line – a line that extends along the middle of the shark’s body from its tail to its head. This line, which is found in all fish, is made of cells that can perceive vibrations in the water. Sharks can detect both the direction and amount of movement made by prey, even from as far as 820 feet (250 meters) away.

Diversity

Sharks come in all shapes and sizes. Today there are more than 440 known species -- from the 6-inch long dwarf lantern shark (Etmopterus perryi) to the 60-foot long whale shark (Rhincodon typus). The smallest shark, a dwarf lantern shark, is rarely seen and little-known The smallest shark, a dwarf lantern shark, is rarely seen and little-known Unlike typical fish, sharks do not produce large amounts of small eggs. Instead, they invest their resources in fewer, larger eggs which are more likely to grow into adults. Some sharks lay eggs, while others give live birth. Great white sharks gestate their pups for a year before giving birth – that’s longer than humans. Between 2 to 12 babies are born at a time. Great whites can live up to 60 years, maybe more. Most sharks are slow to grow and take a long time to mature. That means that on the whole, sharks reproduce only a few young, making them all the more vulnerable to extinction.

Evolution

Fossil tooth whorl of ancient shark. Fossil tooth whorl of ancient shark.

Shark Ancestors

We may think that great whites are massive, but their ancestors would likely have made them appear midgets by comparison. An ancient shark called the Megalodon (Carcharodon megalodon), appeared on Earth more than 20 million years ago. Based on fossil teeth, scientists believe these sharks could have been as big as a school bus—big enough to probably feast on whales. For a long time, scientists thought the Megalodon was the direct ancestor of great white sharks. But new fossil evidence, announced in November 2012, suggest that it was more closely related to an ancestor of mako sharks—smaller but faster fish-eating sharks. Another shark ancestor swam the ocean 290 million years before today. Picture a shark with a teeth shaped in a ring like a saw. This fossil comes from the long-extinct Helicoprion, a buzzsaw with fins. But what did this animal actually look like? All scientists had to go on was a few fossil specimens and came up with a litany of possibilities, some more plausible than others. The face of Helicoprion was finally uncovered when a well-preserved fossil was brought in for a CT scan, and the result was published in 2013. Most of the toothy spiral is buried in the fish's lower jaw, with just a few teeth emerging. Using the new evidence, the reconstruction is the most accurate to date—and proves some earlier reconstructions wrong. The study also found that Helicoprion is not the ancestor of a great white shark but, rather, to the chimaeras, a group of deep sea shark relatives.

Shark Relatives

An X-ray image of a Monterey skatereveals a spine that extends like a tail out from the pelvic fin. The skeletons of skates, rays, chimaeras, and sharks are made of cartilage, rather than bone. An X-ray image of a Monterey skatereveals a spine that extends like a tail out from the pelvic fin. Just look at these x-rays. Not a single bone. Instead, these are animals with skeletons made from cartilage. These boneless fishesare in a class called Chondrichthyes that includes sharks, skates and rays. Sharks are also distantly related to the mysterious and rare chimaeras, which are found in deep ocean waters. Their enigmatic behavior has earned them names like spookfish or ratfish. The skeletons of skates, rays, chimaeras, and sharks are made of cartilage, rather than bone.

Science

White Shark endangered Credit: Marine Dynamics Infogram -Endangered species: White Sharks
Credit: Marine Dynamics

Research

Geneticist Mahmood Shivji samples confiscated shark fin DNA Geneticist Mahmood Shivji samples confiscated shark fin DNA

DNA Identification

DNA is a key tool in criminal cases. And that’s not just true of crimes against people. It’s true of crimes against sharks. It’s illegal to hunt great white sharks in South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Malta, Namibia, Israel and the United States and DNA testing by scientists like Mahmood Shivji can prove when a fisherman has broken the law. Watch Dr. Shivji talk more about using DNA from shark fins to determine what species of shark are being killed, often for use in shark fin soup.  

Collections

Shark Teeth at the NMNH

An array of teeth from ragged tooth sharks. Credit: © Robert Purdy/Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History An array of teeth from ragged tooth sharks.
Credit: © Robert Purdy/Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History The Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History has one of the largest collections of fossil shark teeth in the world – more than 90,000 different teeth. The oldest date back about 360 million years to the Devonian Period. Shark teeth come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes (pdf), all depending on their purpose. Flat teeth are adapted for crushing and grinding. Sharp and pointy teeth make it easier to grasp and hold slippery prey. Serrated teeth are ideal for ripping and tearing prey too large to swallow in one bite.  

Human Connections

Great white sharks have many more reasons to fear people than people have to fear them. Thousands of sharks are killed every year especially for shark fin soup.

Why We Should Save Sharks

Shark attack headlines in South Africa Credit: © Alison Kock, Save Our Seas Shark attack headlines in South Africa
Credit: © Alison Kock, Save Our Seas Fear of sharks seems to be encoded in our genes. Yet humans are rarely attacked by a shark, while millions of sharks are killed by humans. Some populations of shark species, such as the shortspine spurdog, may have dropped by 95 percent. The sharks’ population decline has a ripple effect – throwing entire marine ecosystems out of balance. Shark species often are especially vulnerable to overfishing because of specific life characteristics, such as not mating until later in life, and giving birth to small litters of live young. Sharks even have allies from a group of people who you would least expect - shark attack survivors are banding together in order to urge people to protect sharks. Why save sharks? The reasons are many. Sharks keep the ocean healthy because they keep different prey species from becoming overabundant. Sharks keep the ocean clean by scavenging on dead animals. Sharks keep other species more fit by weeding out sick and weaker individuals. And sharks are beautiful – like lions and gorillas – crowning achievements of evolution.

Cultural Connections

A fisherman holds a freshly cut dorsal fin from a scalloped hammerhead shark (Sphyrna lewini). A fisherman holds a freshly cut dorsal fin from a scalloped hammerhead shark (Sphyrna lewini).

Shark Fin Soup

Shark fin soup is considered a delicacy in many Asian countries, once reserved only for the wealthy or for very special occasions. But rising incomes in Asia are having a disastrous impact on sharks. To make the soup, the fins of the sharks are sliced off and the rest of the body is tossed back in the water, dead or alive: a method called shark finning. It's estimated that 100 million sharks are killed annually to supply fins for soup. Fins from great whites can fetch the highest prices because of their rarity and size. In Hong Kong, Taiwan and China, conservationists and chefs are leading campaigns to stop serving shark fin soup. Every year, humans kill an estimated 100 million sharks. Removing sharks in large numbers can have ripple effects that throw entire ecosystems out of balance

Threats and Solutions

Dead sharks caught in nets off South Africa Credit: © Thomas Peschak, Save Our Seas Dead sharks caught in nets off South Africa
Credit: © Thomas Peschak, Save Our Seas

Shark Nets

Dozens of shark nets have been installed off the east coast of South Africa and Australia. These nets are meant to protect swimmers from rare attacks. The nets entangle, suffocate and kill sharks as well as indiscriminately kill other animals -- like rays, turtles, dolphins and whales

 

The rocky coast of California’s Farallon Islands. Credit: © NOAA The rocky coast of California’s Farallon Islands. Credit: © NOAA

Shark Sanctuary

Great white sharks are a global species – and saving them will take a global effort. Some steps have already been taken. Countries like South Africa, Namibia, Australia, New Zealand, Israel, and Malta have fully protected great white sharks in their national waters. In California, NOAA is protecting the sharks that feed in the Gulf of Farallones National Marine Sanctuary off the coast of California. And the international organization CITES has implemented a ban on all international trade of products that come from great white sharks.

 

Toxic algal bloom off Washington, US. Left is the natural colour, right has been enhanced to reveal chlorophyll concentrations (Image: SeaWiFS Project, NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center/ORBIMAGE) Toxic algal bloom off Washington, US. Left is the natural colour, right has been enhanced to reveal chlorophyll concentrations (Image: SeaWiFS Project, NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center/ORBIMAGE)

Toxic algal blooms are bad enough on the ocean surface, but now it turns out that the toxin in them sinks to the ocean floor – where it persists for weeks.

Far from degrading soon after the bloom, as previously assumed, new research suggests that the neurotoxin that causes shellfish poisoning, domoic acid, sinks to the ocean floor and could poison marine mammals, birds and humans.

"The first signs of an algal bloom are often birds washing up on the shore or seals acting funny, aggressive and twitching, looking as if they were drunk," says Claudia Benitez-Nelson of the University of South Carolina.

"We used to think that once the bloom died, the danger was over, but now it turns out that domoic acid is a 'gift' that just keeps on giving."

Benitez-Nelson's team are the first to look for the chemical in algae particles sinking through the ocean, as well as in sediment samples on the ocean floor, up to 800 metres down. They found copious amounts of the neurotoxin, reaching concentrations eight times the US federal limit for the substance in shellfish.

Toxic shock

The team also compared the peak of domoic acid levels from the sediment with those of algae blooms at the surfaces. Their findings indicate that the toxin reaches the bottom of the ocean in only three days but stays there for much longer – at least several weeks.

The speedy trip to the bottom is probably driven by dead algae clumping together at the surface to form heavier aggregates, says the team, a process that also protects the toxin from degradation.

Domoic acid gets broken down easily in water and by sunlight, but once the clumped algae are buried in the sediment, the toxin may stay protected until a bottom-dwelling organism eats it.

"Domoic acid is a rich amino acid that will be tasty to worms and other critters, who may suffer no ill effects from it," says Benitez-Nelson.

Raphael Kudela at the University of Santa Cruz in California says that the new work is "the missing link to explain why domoic acid also shows up in bottom-dwelling organisms like crabs and flatfish. These contain lots of commercially important species, but they are not yet monitored for domoic acid."

The new data warrants studies to test if these species should be included in future monitoring efforts, according to Kudela. So far, only shellfish that live close to the water surface are monitored.

To Benitez-Nelson, the most important next step now is to work out in more detail how much longer the domoic acid sticks around and into how many more organisms it gets.

"It is clearly a lot more prevalent and spread out than we thought before and this problem affects many areas, not just California. On top of this, all signs seem to point to further increases in the future as people dump more and more algae feeding nutrients into the ocean."

Friday, 01 March 2019 08:05

Alien like Portugese man-of-war

 

This strange sea creature is the amazing Portuguese man-of-war (Caravela Portuguesa) –.

Despite its outward appearance, the Portuguese man o’ war is not a jellyfish Despite its outward appearance, the Portuguese man o’ war is not a jellyfish

A jellyfish-like marine cnidarian of the family Physaliidae. Its venomous tentacles can deliver a powerful sting.

The venomous tentacles can deliver a painful sting. The venomous tentacles can deliver a painful sting.

Despite its outward appearance, the Portuguese man o’ war is not a jellyfish but a siphonophore, which differs from jellyfish in that it is not actually a single multicellular organism but a colonial organism made up of many highly specialized minute individuals called zooids. These zooids are attached to one another and physiologically integrated to the extent that they are incapable of independent survival.

Sperm whale mass strandings are mysterious events, which raise the concern and curiosity of the public opinion. The causes remain largely unknown, although many hypotheses have been considered and analyzed, including natural factors, such as biologic disease agents ; impairment of the navigation and echo-location systems due to bathymetric features, acoustic dead zones or anomalies of the Earth's geomagnetic field due to solar activity , the effects of lunar cycles meteorological and oceanographic factors like local disturbances or basin-related temperature variations influencing prey distribution and large-scale climatic events. Furthermore, anthropogenic factors like noise pollution or environmental contaminants have been also proposed as possible causes of strandings.

Mass strandings of sperm whales (Physeter macrocephalus) remain peculiar and rather unexplained events, which rarely occur in the Mediterranean Sea. Mass strandings of sperm whales (Physeter macrocephalus) remain peculiar and rather unexplained events, which rarely occur in the Mediterranean Sea.

A strong social component, which may prompt healthy animals to follow sick or disordered members of a pod, has been also considered as an additional relevant feature to be pondered in investigating the causes of mass strandings Mass mortalities involving sperm whales are usually clustered in determined geographical areas, such as the North Sea and in the Southern Australian and New Zealand

The seven sperm whales took the same “wrong way” into the Adriatic Sea, a potentially dangerous trap for Mediterranean sperm whales.

The seven sperm whales took the same “wrong way” into the Adriatic Sea, a potentially dangerous trap for Mediterranean sperm whales. The seven sperm whales took the same “wrong way” into the Adriatic Sea, a potentially dangerous trap for Mediterranean sperm whales.

Although in the Mediterranean Sea the sperm whale is one of eight cetacean species considered to be regular inhabitants, mass strandings are rarely reported. In December 2009, a pod of seven sperm whales stranded along the coastline of the Gargano Promontory (Italy), in the Southern Adriatic Sea. Three animals were still alive and died within 48 hours after stranding.

Sperm whales are considered to be vagrant or absent in the waters surrounding the stranding place, and particularly in the Central and Northern areas of the Adriatic Sea, where the habitat is not proper to this deep-diving species. Sperm whales in the Mediterranean Sea occur preferentially in deep continental slope waters where mesopelagic cephalopods are most abundant .In the Adriatic Sea, sperm whale mass strandings have occurred five times since historical times, with the oldest known instance dating back to 1584. sperm whale standing ancient

In addition, some reports of single individuals stranded dead or alive included mention to one or more other sperm whales sighted at sea in the close proximity to the stranding location, sometimes for several days . Groups stranded on the Adriatic Sea coasts (range 3–8 individuals) are smaller compared to the mean size of groups stranded outside of the Mediterranean Sea .

sperm whale starndings 31 Nocturnal necropsy and gas bubbles.
Fig. A shows a scene of the nocturnal necropsy on animal no. 7. In Fig. B and C gas bubbles in the heart veins (black arrows) and in an intra cardiac clot of animal no. 5 are shown.

Despite all these observations, we were not able to confirm that these stranded sperm whales formed a single stable group with asocial hierarchy, although we would rather suggest that more than one loose male aggregation and/or several solitary individuals could have coalesced in a limited sea area, most likely in the Ionian Sea, between summer and fall. From there they subsequently entered the Adriatic Sea for unknown reasons.

To the best of our knowledge, no relevant unusual natural events (i.e. seaquake or weather storms) or noxious anthropogenic activities (military drills using sonar) that could have caused an avoidance behaviour occurred temporally and spatially associated with the event.

The only relevant anomaly reported by the marine data archives was the increased sea superficial temperature in November and December along the Hellenic Trench and Eastern part of the Adriatic Sea, possibly constituting a thermal front in which upwelling and/or down welling could have been favourable to the development of cephalopod populations.

 

Friday, 01 March 2019 07:46

Counting whales from space

A new method for detecting whales using satellite imagery that’s more reliable and efficient than counting whales from ships or shore.

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A team of scientists from the British Antarctic Survey have demonstrated how new satellite technology can be used to count whales, and ultimately estimate their population size.

The team used Very High Resolution (VHR) satellite imagery, alongside image processing software, to detect and count whales breeding in part of the Golfo Nuevo, Peninsula Valdes in Argentina. Whales are extremely difficult to count on a large scale. Traditional methods, such as counting from ships or land, can be costly and inefficient.

The researchers analysed a single WorldView2 satellite image of a bay where southern right whales gather to calve and mate. The image had a resolution of 4 pixels per 11 square feet (1 square meter), covered an area of 44 square miles (113 square kilometres) and picked up on a broad spectrum of colors, including light from the far blue end of the spectrum which penetrates deep into the water column.

The team first manually identified whales from the image and found 55 probable whales, 23 possible whales and 13 other underwater objects that were not whales, such as rocks. They then tested a series of automated image-processing systems. The scientists say that the best of the methods automatically located 89 percent of the probable whales that they had counted manually.

 

Whale satellite images compared with aerial photographs at the same scale (top right) Image credit: British Antarctic Surevy Whale satellite images compared with aerial photographs at the same scale (top right) Image credit: British Antarctic Survey

Southern right whales, driven to near extinction, have made a limited recovery following the end of whaling. In recent years, however, many deaths have been seen on their nursery grounds at Peninsula Valdes. Their population size is now unknown but with this sharp increase in calf mortality, estimates are needed. The enclosed bays in this region contain calm, shallow waters which increase the chance of spotting the whales from space.

Spotting Whales from Space -British Antarctic Survey 12 February 2014 Scientists have demonstrated how new satellite technology can be used to count whales, and ultimately estimate their population size. Using Very High Resolution (VHR) satellite imagery, alongside image processing software, they were able to automatically detect and count whales breeding in part of the Golfo Nuevo, Peninsula Valdes in Argentina.

The new method, published this week in the journal PLoS ONE, could revolutionise how whale population size is estimated. Marine mammals are extremely difficult to count on a large scale and traditional methods, such as counting from platforms or land, can be costly and inefficient.

Lead author Peter Fretwell from the British Antarctic Survey (BAS), which is funded by the UK’s Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), explains;

“This is a proof of concept study that proves whales can be identified and counted by satellite. Whale populations have always been difficult to assess; traditional means of counting them are localized, expensive and lack accuracy. The ability to count whales automatically, over large areas in a cost effective way will be of great benefit to conservation efforts for this and potentially other whale species.

” Previously, satellites have provided limited success in counting whales but their accuracy has improved in recent years.

The BAS team used a single WorldView2 satellite image of a bay where southern right whales gather to calve and mate. Driven to near extinction, these whales have made a limited recovery following the end of whaling. In recent years, however, many deaths have been seen on their nursery grounds at Peninsula Valdes. Their population size is now unknown but with this sharp increase in calf mortality, estimates are needed.

The enclosed bays in this region contain calm, shallow waters which increase the chance of spotting the whales from space. Three main criteria were used to identify whales: objects visible in the image should be the right size and shape; they should be in the right place (where whales would be expected to be) and there should be no (or few) other types of objects that could be mistaken as whales.

Whales in the image were manually identified and counted, finding 55 probable whales, 23 possible whales and 13 sub-surface features. Several automated methods where then tested against these numbers. A ‘thresholding’ of the Coastal Band of the WorldView2 image gave the greatest accuracy. This part of the image uses light from the far blue end of the spectrum which penetrates the water column deeper and allows us to see more whales. This technique found 89% of probable whales identified in the manual count. This is a semi automated technique that needs some user input to identify the best threshold.

Future satellite platforms will provide even high quality imagery and Worldview3 is planned to be launched this year. This will allow for greater confidence in identifying whales and differentiating mother and calf pairs. Such technological advancements may also allow scientists to apply this method to other whale species.

Friday, 01 March 2019 07:28

SHORE WHALING: A WORLD INDUSTRY

The National Geographic Magazine, May 1911 SHORE WHALING: A WORLD INDUSTRY By Roy Chapman Andrews Assistant Curator of Mammals, American Museum of Natural History With Photographs by the Author

IF THE European and American people could be educated to the point of eating the canned flesh of animals which individually yield as much as 80,000 pounds of meat, what a wonderful food supply would be within reach of the poor in our great cities! In Japan this has actually been accomplished and hundreds of tons of whale flesh are sold in the markets of all the large towns and villages to people who would otherwise have little variety to their diet of rice and fish.

This great meat supply has been put into their hands indirectly by a Norwegian, for it was not until 1864, when Swend Foyn invented the harpoon-gun, that whales could be taken in such a manner as to allow any parts except the oil and baleen (the "whalebone" of commerce) to be utilized.

With the further development of the harpoon-gun grew up a new and great industry, for it made possible the capture of a group of whales known as rorquals, or "finners," in sufficient numbers to warrant the erection of stations at certain points on the shore where the animals could be brought in and the huge carcasses converted into commercial products. Previously these whales had been little troubled by the men who hunted in a small boat with a hand harpoon and land, for the great speed of the animals and their tendency to sink as soon as killed, as well as their thin blubber and short, coarse baleen, made them unpopular with the early whalers.

In a few years stations had sprung up on the coasts of Norway in every available plant, and later reached across the Atlantic to the American shores. Newfoundland became the first hunting grounds for the whalers here, and only a few years ago as many as 18 stations were in operation on that island and the immediate vicinity.

The great success of the Norwegian methods attracted so much attention that stations were erected in every part of the world where conditions were favorable-in British Columbia, southeastern Alaska, Bermuda, South America, and the islands of the Antarctic; on the coasts of Japan, Korea, Africa and Russia. Australia is soon to be invaded, and only a few months ago a company announced their plans for carrying on operations on a large scale in the Aleutian Islands. In New Zealand, humpback whales are being taken in wire nets, and so in nearly every part of the globe the world-hunt goes on.

And what is to be the result of this wholesale slaughter? Inevitably the commercial extinction of the large whales, and that within a very few decades. In some localities this has already taken place and all the whales have been killed or driven from their feeding grounds.

Sulphur Bottom or Blue Whale A Big Blue or Sulphur-Bottom Whale: Japan

"The blue or sulphur-bottom whale found in all our oceans is not only the largest animal that lives today, but is also, so far as is now known, the largest animal that has ever existed on the earth or in its waters. I have heard many stories of the almost incredible way in which these animals can pull, but was at first inclined to doubt them. Later, when I saw a blue whale with a harpoon between the shoulders drag the ship, with engines at full speed astern, through the water almost as though it had been a rowboat, I began to listen with more respect" (see page 427)

This method of capture has, however, made possible a careful study by naturalists of most of the species of large whales and their habits, besides enabling museums to secure skeletons and other specimen for exhibition. Thus, when the American Museum of Natural History in New York city began to gather such material, it led to a series of expeditions which carried the writer to a number of stations in widely separated parts of the world.

THE ENORMOUS BODIES EASILY HANDLED

I will never forget my intense surprise at the extraordinary ease and quickness with which the enormous carcasses are handled when I first saw a whale "cut in." It was at Sechart, in Barclay Sound, on the west coast of Vancouver Island. Here, as at all of the American stations, the operations are carried on in the Norwegian way.

The ship had arrived at 1:30 a.m. with three humpbacks, which were left floating in the water, tied to the end of the wharf, near a long inclined platform called the "slip." Work began at seven o' clock, and, as I had only just been awakened, I ran out without waiting for breakfast, thinking that there would be ample time to eat when the operations were under way. I soon learned, however, that there were no "breathing spells" when whales were being cut in, and every soul was at his work until the whistle blew for dinner at noon.

A heavy wire cable was made fast about the posterior part of one of the whales just in front of the tail, or "flukes," and the winch started. The cable straightened out, tightened, and became as rigid as a bar of steel. Slowly foot after foot of the wire was wound in and the enormous carcass, weighing perhaps 45 tons, was drawn out of the water upon the slip.

One of the Japanese (for men of six nationalities--Chinese, Japanese, Norwegians, Newfoundlanders, Indians, and Americans--are employed at these west-coast stations) scrambled up the whale's side, and balancing himself on the smooth surface by the aid of his long knife, made his way forward to sever at the "elbow" the great side fin, or flipper, 16 feet in length.

Blue Whale A Blue Whale: Vancouver Although the mouth is enormous, large enough in fact to permit 10 or 12 men to stand upright in it, the throat measures only about 9 inches in diameter
Blue Whale A Blue Whale: Vancouver Specimens of this whale have been measured which reached a length of 87 feet, and, in all probability, weighed as much as 75 tons

THE WHALES ARE PEELED LIKE AN ORANGE Before the carcass was half out of the water other cutters, or "flensers," as they are called, had begun to make longitudinal incisions through the blubber along the breast, side, and back, and from the flukes the entire length of the body to the head. The cable was then made fast to the blubber at the chin, the winch started, and the great layer of fat stripped off exactly as one would peel an orange. When the upper side had been denuded of its blubber covering, the whale was turned over by means of the "canting winch" and the other surface flensed in the same manner.

Finback Whale A Finback Whale: Vancouver

The blubber is a layer of fat of varying thickness which covers the entire body of all whales, porpoises, and dolphins and keeps the animal warm. It acts exactly as the feathers of birds or the hair of land mammals--as a non-conductor to prevent the natural heat of the body from being absorbed by the water in the one case, and the air in the other. On the great bowhead, or Greenland right whale, which lives in the intensely cold waters of the Arctic Ocean, the blubber is 12 or 14 inches thick in some places.

When the "blanket pieces," as the blubber strips are called, were torn from the carcass, they were cut into large oblong blocks and fed into a slicing machine, chipped to small bits, carried upward and dumped into enormous vats, to be boiled or "tried out" for oil.

The carcass had meanwhile been split open by chopping through the ribs of the upper side, a heavy hook was attached to the tongue bones at the throat, and the entire mass of heart, lungs, live, and intestines drawn out at once. The body was then hauled to the "carcass platform," at right angles to the "flensing slip," the flesh torn from the bones by the aid of the winch, and the skeleton disarticulated.

Both flesh and bones were piled separately into great open vats which bordered the carcass platform, and boiled to extract the oil. The flesh was then artificially dried and sifted, thus being converted into a very fine guano, and the bones pulverized to form "bone meal," also a fertilizer. Even the blood, of which there are several tons in a large whale, was carefully drained from the slip into troughs, boiled, dried, and made into guano. Finally, the water in which the blubber had been tried out was converted into glue.

Humpback Whales The Carcasses of Five Humpback Whales: Vancouver This whale is considerably smaller than the blue whale, its maximum size being 55 feet. Photo courtesy of World's Work

The baleen, or whalebone, which alone remained to be disposed of, was thrown aside, to be cleaned and dried as opportunity offered. The baleen of all the rorquals is short, coarse, and stiff, and in Europe and America has but little value. In Japan, however, it is made into many useful and beautiful things.

This, with the exception of minor details, is the method of handling whales which the Norwegians developed after years of experimenting, and which is followed in almost all other parts of the globe except Japan.

Humpback Whale A very white Humpback Whale, Vancouver: Note the Crab-like Flipper "It's body is thick and heavy, with enormous side fins, or flippers. These great paddles are one-quarter the length of the entire body, and a single one from a whale 49 feet long weighed on the station scales 956 pounds."
Whaler A Modern Whaler In Port The crew are practicing by shooting at a floating target.

The Japanese Whale Fisheries In the Island Empire shore-whaling as a great industry has developed during the last 15 years, but nowhere else in the world are the by-products so perfectly utilized. The Japanese have not only extracted the best from the European methods of preparing whales and adapted it to their peculiar needs, but have also added much from their own experience which whalemen of other nations would do well to recognize.

The Japanese stations are usually situated in or near one of the little fishing villages which dot the islands in every bay or harbor. In some instances the whales are drawn out of the water upon a slip in the manner learned from the Norwegians, but the more usual way of cutting in is a method of their own adoption.

At the end of a wharf extending into deep water a pair of long, heavy poles are erected, inclined forward, and joined at their extremities by a massive cross-piece. From this the great blocks, through which run the wire cables of the winch, are suspended.

The first whale which I saw cut in by the Japanese was an enormous sulphur-bottom, 80 feet in length. I had been at sea for several days on one of the ships, and as we swung into the bay from the open ocean, the whistle echoing among the hills gave warning of our coming. The little vessel, towing a carcass almost as long as herself, plows slowly up to the wharf, and after a rope from the shore had been made fast to the flukes of the whale, dropped it into the water and backed off to anchor in the bay.

Immediately a heavy chain, was made fast about the body just forward of the tail, the winch started, and the whale drawn slowly into the air over the end of the wharf. As it came upward the eager cutters attacked it, slicing off enormous blocks of flesh and blubber, which were at once seized by "hookmen" and drawn to the back of the platform. Meanwhile two other cutters were at work in a "sampan" dividing the carcass just forward of the dorsal fin. The entire posterior part of the whale was then drawn upward and lowered on the wharf to be stripped of blubber and flesh. Transverse incisions were made in the portion of the body remaining in the water, a hook fastened to a blanket piece, and as the blubber was torn off by the winch the carcass rolled over and over. The disjointed head was hoisted bodily onto the pier. Section by section the carcass was cut apart and drawn upward to fall into the hands of men on the wharf and be slicked into great blocks two or three feed square.

The scene was one of "orderly confusion"--men, women, and girls laughing and chattering, running here and there, sometimes stopping for a few words of banter, but each with his, or her, own work to do. Above the babel of sounds, the strange, half-wild, meaningless chant, "Ya-rå-cü-ra-sa," rose and died away, swelling again in a fierce chorus as the sweating, half-naked men pulled and strained at a great jawbone or swung the hundred-pound chunks of flesh into the waiting hand-cars which carried them to the washing vats. Sometimes a kimona-clad, bare-footed girl slipped on the oily boards or treacherous, sliding, blubber cakes and sprawled into a great pool of blood, rising amid roars of laughter to shake herself, wipe the red blotches from her little stub nose, and go on as merrily as before.

Harpoon Gun The Harpoon Gun used for killing and capturing whales Photo courtesy of World's Work
Whale Spouting A Sei or Sardine Whale Spouting: Japan A Sei or Sardine Whale Inspiring
It was essentially a good-natured crowd, working hard and ceaselessly, but deriving as much fun from their labor as though it was a holiday. The spirit of the place was infectious, and as I splashed about in the blood and grease doing my own work, I talked and joked with the cutters in bad Japanese, causing screams of laughter when I seriously informed them that "the sun was very hot water" by the quite natural mistake of substituting the word "atsui-yu" for "atsui" (hot).

Almost every night we would be awakened by the long-drawn wail of a ship's sire whistle, bringing the news of more whales. If I did not at once stir, the little amah (servant), always devoted to my interests, would quietly slide back and paper screen to the sleeping-room and say "Andrews-sar Go Hogei wa kujira torri mashita" (Hogei, No. 5 caught whales). When I had rolled out of the comfortable futons and begun to dress, I would hear little Scio-san pattering about in the other room, gathering my pencil, note-book, and tape measure. Looking like a beautiful night-moth in her bright-colored kimono, with the huge bow of her obi (sash) always neatly arranged; she would be there to help me into the greasy oil-skins and rubber boots, and clump along in front to the wharf, lighting the way with a "chôchin" (paper lantern) that I might not bump my head on the eaves and rafters of the low station sheds.

Finback Whale A Finback Whale Diving: Japan This species derives its name from the large fin on its back, and which is clearly shown in this picture.
Sei Whale Sei Whale about to take a "surface dive" This species may be easily recognized in the water by the height of the dorsal fin. "It is most interesting to watch these beautiful animals pursuing a school of sardines, twisting their lithe bodies as they whirl along after the terrified, skipping fish, sometimes throwing themselves half out of the water in their eagerness. But, like the other finners, they will always eat shrimp, if it is obtainable, in preference to anything else."
Humpback Pair Humpbacks often swim in pairs while feeding Photo courtesy of World's Work
Humpback Flukes The flukes of a big humpback just disappearing beneath the surface. The smooth spot, or "slick" on the water is the invariable accompaniment of the dive. Photo courtesy of World's Work
Whale Harpoon The Harpoon as it strikes the whale In addition to the rope, the harpoon carries a bomb, which is exploded three or four feet inside the whale and usually kills the huge animal instantly. The black cloud is the smoke from the discharge.

Every day Scio-san religiously went to her ugly little stone joss in the playhouse temple on the hillside and prayed that the "America-san" might catch many whales and porpoises for the hakubutsu-kwan (museum) in the wonderful, fairy city across the Pacific, of which he had so often told her. And when the season was ended and she had ventured to ask the America-san t himself thank the joss, and to please her he had done so, her joy could hardly be contained, and the tip of her little nose was almost red from constant rubbing on the tatami (floor matting) in her bows of thanks and farewell.

Even though it was the very middle of the night when a ship's whistle sounded, long before the whale had been dropped at the wharf paper lanterns, flashing like fireflies, would begin to shine and disappear among the thatched-roofed cottages and a crowd of villagers gather at the end of the wharf. Half-naked men, child-faced geishas, and little youngsters carrying sleeping babies as large as themselves strapped to their backs, formed a curious, picturesque, ever-changing group.

Humpback Carcass Inflating the carcass of a humpback whale to keep it afloat A hollow steel tube is thrust into the whale's side and the animal is slowly filled with air by a steam pump. Photo courtesy of World's Work.
Towing Whale to Factory Towing the inflated whale to the factory.
Fires of coal-fat in iron racks along the wharf threw a brilliant yellow light far out over the bay filled with whale ships, heavy, square-sterned fishing boats, and sampans. The work of cutting in would go on as merrily as in the daytime, for the meat and blubber must be hurried on board fast transports and sent to the nearest city, to be sold in the markets and peddled from house to house.

WHALE MEAT IS VERY POPULAR IN JAPAN Few people realize the great part which whale meat plays in the life of the ordinary Japanese. Too poor to buy beef, their diet would include little but rice, fish, and vegetables were it not for the great supply of flesh and blubber furnished by these huge water mammals. In winter the meat of the humpback whale, which is most highly esteemed, sometimes brings as much as 30 sen (15 cents) per pound; but this is unusual. Ordinarily it can be bought for 15 sen or less. But the edible portions are not only the flesh and blubber. Certain parts of the viscera are prepared for human consumption, and what remains is first tried out to extract the oil, then chipped by girls using hand-knives, and dried in the sun for fertilizer.

Whale meat is very coarse grained and tastes something like venison, but has flavor peculiarly its own. I have eaten it for many days in succession, and found it not only palatable but healthful. The Japanese prepare it in a variety of ways, but perhaps it is most frequently chopped finely, mixed with vegetables, and eaten raw, dressed with a brown sauce.

Sperm Whale The Flensers at work on a Sperm Whale's Head: Vancouver "They make longitudinal incisions through the blubber along the breast, side and back, and from the flukes the entire length of the body to the head. The cable was then made fast to the blubber at the chin, the winch started, and the great layer of fat stripped off exactly as one would peel an orange."

In the summer, when it is impossible to ship the meat to any distance because of the heat, much of it is canned. The flesh is cooked in great kettles, and the cans made, packed, and labeled at the stations. On my desk as I write is a tin of whale meat which I bought from Aikawa, where hundreds of pounds were packed and sent southward to be marketed at Tokyo and shipped to all parts of the Empire.

It is most unfortunate that prejudice prevents whale meat from being sold in Europe and America. It could not, of course, be sent fresh to the large cities; but, canned in the Japanese fashion, it is vastly superior to much of the beef and other tinned foods now on sale in our markets. In New Zealand the Messrs. Cook Brothers, who have developed a most extraordinary method of capturing humpback whales in wire nets, can a great deal of meat and ship it to the South Sea Islands, where it is sold to the natives.

The baleen of the rorquals, which is of little value in Europe and America, has been put to many uses by the Japanese. When I visited the exhibition rooms of the Toyo Hogei Kaisha, in Tokyo, I was astonished and delighted at sight of the cigar and cigarette cases, charcoal baskets, sandals, and other beautiful things created by their clever brains and skillful fingers from the material which, in the hands of western nations, seems to be useless.

Whale Blubber Cross-section of blubber on breast of whale, showing the folds
The whales are going fast, and it is probable that long before the slow-moving wheels of government begin to revolve and legislation is enacted for their protection, they will have become commercially extinct. But since this seems to be unavoidable, my hopes are that the Japanese will get even more than their share while they do last. There the whales are as carefully prepared and utilized for as great a purpose as are cattle and sheep in the Occident. In other countries but little of the real value of the animals is secured, and their great bodies are being spread upon the southern cotton fields instead of feeding thousands of hungry poor.

THE BLUE WHALE

I have been writing of the methods of preparing whales, but have told little of the animals themselves. Few readers, perhaps, realize that the blue or sulphur-bottom whale found in all our oceans is not only the largest animal that lives today, but is also, so far as is now known, the largest animal that has ever existed on the earth or in its waters. Specimens have been measured which reached a length of 87 feet and in all probability weighed as much as 75 tons. Although the mouth is enormous, large enough in fact to permit 10 or 12 men to stand upright in it, the throat measures only about 9 inches in diameter.

Animals, like most of the "whale-bone whales," usually feed on minute crustaceans, a shrimp about three-quarters of an inch long. They probably never eat fish of any kind if other food is to be had, and of the many stomachs which I have examined, never once could anything but the little red crustaceans be found. From the stomach of one blue whale at Vancouver Island five barrels (1,215 pounds) of shrimp were taken, and it was by no means full.

The Norwegians gave the animal the name of blue whale from the bluish cast to the beautiful gray body. Sulphur-bottom, as the whale is called at the American station, is a misnomer and unfortunate, for there is not the slightest trace of yellowish color anywhere upon the animal.

Whale Tail Fastened to Ship Making a whale fast to the side of the ship: Japan

Probably no Cetacean has such wonderful strength as have the blue whales. I have heard many stories of the almost incredible way in which these animals can pull, but was at first inclined to doubt them. Later, when I saw a blue whale with a harpoon between the shoulders drag the ship, with engines at full speed astern, through the water almost as though it had been a rowboat, I began to listen with more respect. Since the tail is used almost exclusively for propelling the animal forward, if the iron strikes far back the whale is greatly hampered in its swimming movements; but with the harpoon between its shoulders it can pull with all its strength.

THE FINBACK, OR "GREYHOUND OF THE SEA" The finback, closely related to the blue whale, has been called the "greyhound of the sea," for its long, slender body is built on the lines of a racing yacht and the animal can equal the speed of the fastest steamship. The back is dark gray, shading into beautiful light gray on the sides and pure white below. A noticeable character about this whale is the asymmetry of the throat coloring; the left side is dark slate and the right pure white like the under parts. The baleen, also, on the right side, for a distance of about 2½ feet, is white, in sharp distinction from the remaining dark places.

THE HUMPBACK IS VERY PLAYFUL The humpback is to me the most interesting of all our large whales, partly because of the fact that its habits are more easily studied than are those of the other members of the family. Its maximum size is under 55 feet, but its body is thick and heavy, with enormous side fins, or flippers. These great paddles are one-quarter the length of the entire body and a single one from a whale 49 feet long weighed on the station scales 956 pounds. The throat, breast, flukes, and flippers of the humpback are almost invariably covered with masses of barnacles, for the hard, shell-like Coronula are themselves the hosts of the soft, pendant goose barnacles.

Tail of a Humpback Bringing In A Humpback: Japan This is not a propeller, but the whale's tail.

Barnacles are not the only parasites which infest these animals, for the humpbacks, and in fact almost all the large whales, bear numbers of crab-like crustaceans (Cyamus), about half and inch in length, called "whale lice." On the right whales these "lice" produce an irritation upon the top of the snout that a large, irregular roughened patch, called the "bonnet," is formed: on the side of the lip and over the eyes are other and smaller patches infested with the troublesome crustaceans.

The most playful of all our large whales are the humpbacks, and consequently that are the most interesting to the photographer. Jumping or "breaching" is one of their most spectacular performances, and it is truly a wonderful sight. The first time I ever saw a humpback "breach" was off the Vancouver Island coast while on board the ship Orion. We had sighted a lone bull whale late in the afternoon, and for two hours the little ship had been hanging doggedly to the chase.

Finback Whale Drawing a Finback up on the ways to be cut up: Japan

The whale seemed to know exactly the number of fathoms at which the harpoon gun was effective and gauged the distance accurately, always coming up just out of range. Sometimes the animal thrust its entire head and fore part of the body out of the water, with a loud, whistling spout, sinking back out of sight before the ship could swing about. Again, it inverted itself and, with the entire posterior part out of the water, began to wave the gigantic flukes back and forth. The motion was slow and dignified at first, the flukes not touching the water on either side. Faster and faster they waved, until they were lashing the water into foam and sending clouds of spray high into the air; then slowly the action ceased and the whale sank out of sight. The ship was not far from the animal as it went down and I stood waiting on the gun platform, when suddenly the water parted directly in front of us and with a rush that sent its huge, black body five feet clear of the surface the whale shot into the air, fins extended, and fell back on its side, sinking slowly out of sight amid a perfect cloud of spray.

Giant Finback Whale Stripping the flesh from the skeleton of a Giant Finback Whale: Japan

THE SEI, OR SARDINE WHALE While in Japan during 1910 I had an opportunity to study in considerable detail a species which has never before been reported in numbers from the North Pacific. This is the sei whale of the Norwegians and the "Iwashi kujira" (sardine whale) of the Japanese. It is not a large animal, seldom exceeding 54 feet, and is formed on slender, graceful lines, much like the finback. Its coloration also resembles in a general way the latter species, but it can be readily distinguished by its high, falcate dorsal fin.

The sei whale has a habit of swimming just below the surface, sometimes with the dorsal fin exposed, and when feeding will travel for a considerable distance in this manner. It is a difficult whale to shoot, because the back is arched but slightly when the animal dives and only a comparatively small part of its body is shown above the water at one time. I have seen a sardine whale, rising almost under the bows of a ship, suddenly check its upward rush and dash along just below the surface, the vessel going at full speed beside it in order to spout.

It is most interesting to watch these beautiful animals pursuing a school of sardines, twisting their lithe bodies as they whirl along after the terrified, skipping fish, sometimes throwing themselves half out of the water in their eagerness. But, like the other finners, they will always eat shrimp, if it is obtainable, in preference to anything else.

Giant Finback Whale Lifting a Giant Finback Whale out of the water so that the cutters can get at it
WHALES ARE DEVOTED TO THEIR CALVES

All the large whales show great affection for their young, and the cows and calves will seldom leave each other when pursued by a ship. I remember at one time in Alaska, on board the steamship Tyce, Jr., we had sighted a female finback with a young one about 30 feet long beside her. They were not difficult to approach, and as the old whale rose to spout not five fathoms from the vessel's nose, the gunner fired, killing her almost instantly. The calf, although badly frightened, continued to swim in a circle about the ship, and finally, when its dead mother had been hoisted to the surface, the little fellow came alongside so close that I could have struck him with a stone. During the time that the carcass was being inflated and the gun reloaded, the calf was constantly within a few fathoms of the ship, swimming around and around, sometimes rubbing itself against the body of its dead mother. Finally a harpoon was sent crashing into its side, and it sank without a struggle.

Giant Finback Whale Hoisting on the wharf parts of the whale shown in the preceding picture

PECULIARITIES OF WHALES The feeding operations of the humpback, blue, and finback whales are carried on in essentially the same way and are most interesting to watch. If the "feed" happens to be floating at the surface, as is frequently the case in the morning and evening, the action can be easily seen. The whale opens its mouth, takes in a great quantity of water containing numbers of the floating shrimp, turns on its side, and brings the ponderous lower jaw upward, closing the mouth. The great, flexible tongue, filling the space between the rows of baleen, forces out the water, leaving the little shrimp, which have been strained out by the bristles on the inner side of the whalebone plates. The fin and one lobe of the flukes are thrust into the air as the mouth is closed, and sometimes the animal rolls from side to side. At this time the whales are careless of danger and pay not the slightest attention to the ship which is hunting them.

The distance traversed by whales when beneath the surface depends entirely upon circumstances. When there is little feed and the animals are constantly moving or "traveling," they may rise to spout several miles from the place of last appearance. If, on the contrary, feed is abundant, they may blow again within a short distance of the point at which they disappeared, and continue for several hours within two or three miles of the same spot.

Head of Sperm Whale Head of the 60-foot Sperm whale sent to the American Museum in New York: This head yielded 20 barrels of spermaceti
Sardine Whale Posterior part of a sei or sardine whale drawn upon the wharf: Japan This picture shows very distinctly the layer of blubber, or fat, which covers the entire body of all whales -- the white layer enveloping the dark flesh.
Bull Sperm Whale A big bull sperm whale: Vancouver Island "The sperm whale is the animal which yields ambergris, the valuable substance used so extensively in the manufacture of our best perfumes. Ambergris is only found in 'sick' whales; that is, its presence is not normal, but is caused by a pathological condition of the intestines." Contrast the huge head and bulky frame of this species with the "racing build" of the finback whale in the next picture.
Female Finback Whale The Greyhound of the Sea: A Female Finback Whale: Alaska "The finback, closely related to the blue whale, has been called the 'greyhound of the sea,' for its long, slender body is built on the lines of a racing yacht and the animal can equal the speed of the fastest steamship" Little is known about the breeding habits of whales, except that the young of whales are born alive, and are suckled and vigorously defended by the mother, as in the case of land mammals.
Head of Sperm Whale Cross-Section of the Head of a Sperm Whale This species of whale carries two rows of 20 or 25 heavy teeth in its lower jaw. The teeth may be observed in the left portion of this picture. The teeth assist in holding the giant squid and cuttlefish, on which the enormous animal feeds. This picture also shows very clearly the layer of blubber surrounding the flesh.
Skull of a Blue Whale Skull of a Blue Whale sent to the American Museum of Natural History from Japan

There is a belief current among fishermen that whales can remain under water for a very long time without coming to the surface. This owes its origin to the fact that whales will suddenly appear when for hours before there had been no sign of a spout, even at a distance. I believe this idea may be accounted for by the hypothesis that the animals frequently swim great distances at considerable speed without appearing to blow. The longest period of submergence for finbacks which I actually timed by my watch was 23 minutes, but there is little doubt but that most large whales can remain under water a considerably longer time.

Both humpbacks and finbacks, when two or more individuals are together, will frequently swim side by side so closely as to almost touch each other, leaving the surface and reappearing again at exactly the same instant. Also a school, when separated by perhaps many hundred yards, will disappear as though at a given signal, double under water, and rise again a mile away, all blowing at the same time. How they communicate with each other--for it seems that they must do it--is a mystery for which I cannot even suggest an explanation.

Skull of a Blue Whale Skeleton of Finback Whale, mounted in the American Museum of Natural History
Skull of a Blue Whale Blue or Sulphur-Bottom Whale: life-size model; Length, 76 feet In the American Museum of Natural History; prepared under the direction of Roy C. Andrews and James L. Clark
In Japan hundreds of tons of whale meat are sold in the markets of all the large towns to people too poor to buy beef. The usual price is 7 or 8 cents per pound. One whale yields as much meat as a herd of 100 cattle.

THE GIANT SPERM WHALE No mammal which inhabits the sea is more extraordinary and grotesque in appearance than is the heavy-bodied, square-nosed sperm whale, and I suppose no mammal could furnish a more interesting study to the naturalist. At very few of the shore stations are sperms taken, but in the north of Japan, during August and September, they are killed in numbers.

Instead of having plates of baleen, this whale carries a row of 20 to 25 heavy teeth on each side of the lower jaw. These fit into sockets in the roof of the mouth and assist in holding the giant squid and cuttle-fish on which the enormous animal feeds. Since the squid seldom gets far out of the warm currents, the sperm does not go into the cold water, but cruises about in the tropics and in the Gulf and Japan streams.

In the upper portion of the head the whale has an immense oil-tank in which the valuable "spermaceti" is found in a liquid condition and from which it may be dipped out with a bucket when an incision has been made. From a sperm whale 60 feet in length which was sent to the Museum from Japan, 20 barrels of spermaceti were taken out of the "case" and surrounding fat. This oil congeals as soon as it is cooled by the air, but the natural heat of the body keeps it in a liquid condition until the case is opened.

The sperm whale is the animal which yields ambergris, the valuable substance used so extensively in the manufacture of our best perfumes. Ambergris is only found in "sick" whales; that is, its presence is not normal, but is caused by a pathological condition of the intestines. It has been found floating upon the water, and is also taken from the intestines themselves after the whale has died or has been killed. It is used as a vehicle for perfumes and not as an odor itself.

 

Friday, 01 March 2019 07:16

Deep Sea Crop circle mystery solved

 

Deep sea crop mystery Deep sea crop mystery

Mysterious geometric patterns on the sandy ocean floor, not created by a human, but an unexpected underwater artist!

Puffer Fish creating circles

The impressive geometric sand patterns are nearly six feet in diameter and at a depth of 80 feet .

The female puffer fish lay their eggs in the centers of the geometric circles The female puffer fish lay their eggs in the centers of the geometric circles

Puffer fish is creating the deep sea circles by flapping a fin and is making a circle, apparently for mating purposes. The female puffer fish lay their eggs in the centers of them.

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