This Week in Great Animal Videos

Best Friends vid has dogs happy at Christmas with their families–and with human hands. Also Santa visits Wolf Park and a penguin escapes to whale-watching boat

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Blue Whale Bonanza

Risso's Dolphin, Grampus griseus

Capt. Dave Beezer says that, despite stories the media hype, this year isn’t so special. They’re starting to see this many blue whales every year. “Santa Barabara is becoming the best place in the world to see blue whales,” he says.

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An Easier Way to Find a Good Whale Watch on the East Coast?

Picking out a whale-friendly East Coast whale watch just got a little easier. NOAA and the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society just started Whale Sense, a voluntary program to ensure tours from Virginia to Maine don’t bother whales.

The rules are complicated–more than just stay back 100 feet, though that is the basic distance. (If the whale approaches you, stay put. If it’s a right whale, back off 1,500 feet.) What I found more amusing were the rules against advertising showing whale watchers touching, swimming with or even chasing the whales. Is Jerry Bruckheimer running a watch somewhere?

So far the group has signed up five companies, mainly in Massachusetts. I count at least 30 tour companies from Virginia to Maine, with 18 going to Stellwagen Bank–not included the odd charters that line the whole coast. So what about the ones not on the list?

Even Frank Kelley, operations manager for Mass Bay Lines (listed) says that right now the program is so new that you can’t judge an operation for not participating. Lots of the tours work with other whale groups. For example, Bar Harbor Whale Watch Company is tied to Allied Whale. The New England Aquarium’s whale watch, which I just went on, isn’t part of the program yet (they’re still examining the details), says spokesman Tony LaCasse. But since they already do most of it and they helped push voluntary standards decades ago, they’ll probably be part of it.

When you’re out on Stellwagen it’s not

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What is Collaborative Whale-Watching and Wildlife Viewing?

Photo of man hugging gray whale in San Ignacio Bay courtesy of Marc Uhlig of Jupiter Labs. Biologist Toni Frohoff has a new way see whales and other wildlife: collaborative watching. That’s right: she wants us to work with whales so we all get something out of the experience. Instead of just being stalkers, we’d interact on mutually agreeable terms. What Frohoff, research director at TerraMar Research and the Trans-Species Institute of Learning, is proposing is an overhaul of eco-tourism standards. She wants the whales (and other animals) to be in on it, to collaborate with the humans that want to watch them.Sound impossible? Well, she does it all the time with gray whales in Baja California. As a behavioral biologist she made an appearance in the much-discussed New York Times Magazine story Watching Whales Watching Us. The gray whales migrate up and down the west coast, seemingly indifferent to humans, but once they reach their nursery harbors off Baja, they suddenly become curious about people. That’s even more remarkable since people once slaughtered whales here–so much so the species was almost wiped out. But now they’ve realized people–or at least the people in these harbors–aren’t throwing harpoons, they are offering hugs.

Photo of whale near row boat courtesy of FarFlungPhotos and Tarnya Hall.What do the whales get out of it? For reasons no one can explain, they seem really into it, coming up to boats curiously and seeking out interaction, not just tolerating it.

What the whales can

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