Meditteranean Gray Whale: Explorer or Lone Lost Soul

Gray whale from Israel Marine Mammal Research and Assistance Center

A lone gray whale showed up in the Mediterranean Sea this week. Biologists are baffled. Gray whales haven’t been seen on this side of the Atlantic for centuries. Is this bad news–just a lone whale hundreds of miles off track? Or good news–a lone explorer, trying out a new migration oute–or, really, an ancient one? Continue reading Meditteranean Gray Whale: Explorer or Lone Lost Soul

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A Whale Wars Horror Flick: Harpoon: The Reykjavik Whale Watching Massacre

We’ve seen the battle between whalers and whale-watchers turned into a reality TV hit in Whale Wars; now it’s moving to the horror film genre. Iceland’s Harpoon: The Reykjavik Whale Watching Massacre features whale watchers cast adrift at sea who are preyed upon by rogue whalers.

You’d think Iceland–where whaling and defying international opinion–are considered almost a patriotic duty, would produce a film with  the Sea Shepherd crew on the rampage. But this film seems to be, dare I say it, more subtle. The family of whalers has gone mad–after they aren’t allowed to hunt whales anymore. The trailer shows the whalers shooting harpoons at someone in the water. And the tourist cries out, “No! Please! I’m a friend of nature! No! Argghh!” So, the tourists pretty much had it coming. I’d want to harpoon anybody who said that.

I haven’t had access to the film, which played at the Glasgow Film Festival in February and is set to be released in the UK on DVD soon. The MonstersandCritics blog horror fan pans it as “just another average horror film with various characters being pitted against a family of psychotic whale hunters.” But I’m glad to see the whale issue now playing out in pop culture. Hey, every movie can’t be The Cove.

Where to Go to See Whales Where to Watch Animals in Europe

To see more animals go to

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Birding Bob: The History of Ravens, Whales and Dolpins in NYC

Manhattan’s Samantha the Raven

Birding Bob (also known Dr. Robert DeCandido) is a biologist who leads popular and easy to understand tours in Central Park. He lets us publish his newsletter that goes out to his many fans.

With all the talk of Ravens possibly nesting in NYC (Queens), we went back into the historical record to see what we could find out about these corvids in NYC. In a dusty, yellowing journal we found a brief note published in the mid-19th century. It seems as though Ravens must have been occasional visitors to Brooklyn and Long Island back then – see below.

This week we add another bird walk to the mix: Tuesday mornings at 9am, meeting at the Boathouse (details below). Meanwhile, our NYC kestrel research is getting some attention – from outside of New York City!  And later this year, Deborah and I will have an article in a national publication about NYC Kestrels.You can find information (in 14 languages!) about NYC kestrels here.We have some very good news to report. Our colleague Chad Seewagen (soon to be PhD) had another scientific paper published on his research here in NYC on how migrant birds fare during stopover times in New York City Parks. The research was published in the prestigious Wilson Journal of Ornithology. Congratulations Chad – may you publish many more.

Another of our bird-walkers, Bill Benish, has created an on-line guide to the largest woodpeckers in the world – here’s the

Keep reading Birding Bob: The History of Ravens, Whales and Dolpins in NYC

Santa Monica Sushi Restaurant Serves Whale, Makers of The Cove Document on Way to Pick Up An Oscar

Kujira Yukke

Sushi @ Tsukiji (Kujira Yukke) [whale sushi in Japan],courtesy of Hajime NAKANO.

The people who made The Cove, the documentary about Japanese Dolphin slaughter that won an Academy Award Sunday, used some of the same techniques to bust a hipster Santa Monica sushi restaurant for selling whale, the New York Times reports. DNA tests confirmed that a $60 piece of sushi that The Hump sold as whale was in fact the endangered Sei Whale (Balaenoptera borealis). that $60 piece of sushi was sei whale.

DNA-testing sushi is now becoming a food investigation mainstay; it’s almost as popular and fun as finding e. coli at food carts. But normally the results are the opposite: the fish is not what the restaurant says. It’s a cheap substitute. In this case it was on the Omakase, or tasting menu, and the wait staff told the undercover diners they were eating whale, sometimes calling it by its Japanese name, kujira.

The food blog Shizuokasushi explains how whale is served casually in Japan, though usually sperm whales. Japan hunts about 100 sei whales a year under the guise of “research,” according to the IUCN Red List.

Louie Psihoyos, photographer and director of The Cove, worked with “director of clandestine operations” Charles Hambleton, who made tiny cameras for diners to wear–once for themselves and a second time for investigators. An affadavit from investigators describes a search of the restaurant and suggests the whale may have arrived via a Mercedes parked out back.

It

Keep reading Santa Monica Sushi Restaurant Serves Whale, Makers of The Cove Document on Way to Pick Up An Oscar

Will Asking People To Text for Dolphins Work Post-Haiti?

Last night dolphins near Taijii, Japan, were oblivious to the break The Cove won an Oscar. The film’s hero, former Flipper trainer Ric O’Barry, has been trying to show Taijii’s dolphin slaughter to the world for years, even if it meant walking around with a TV on his chest. So, it’s no surprise he’d use the stage for the dolphins. O’Barry unfurled a banner saying “TEXT DOLPHIN TO 44144”.

What was the reaction? Twitter immediately ricocheted the message around thousands of time–and it’s still bouncing. This USAToday blogger says the sign–and its inherent naughtiness–got him to look up the film. But over at the Huffington Post, they ran a story explaining “What Happens if You Follow Ric Barry’s Sign?” The answer: you’re signed up for text message updates, up to 30 a month. Call me old-fashioned, but I subscribe to his blog, so that’s about 30 more than I need.

The Haiti earthquake taught the public that the easiest way you can donate money to a cause is by texting a charity. I doubt that causes can ask you to just text them anymore without people worrying how much it will cost. The various charities send you back a confirmation before your cellphone carrier sends off your money, Charity Navigator explains. If you haven’t done it, you won’t know that.

O’Barry wants you to write a letter to Obama. Taiji was, predictably, annoyed at the win. Controversy is swirling, the LA Times says. But what else does controversy

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Where to See Orcas Not in Captivity

Shamu Rocks

Shamu Rocks, at Orlando Sea Worldcourtesy of Miss Quarel.

Want to see a killer whale that hasn’t been captured, trained to do tricks and kept in a tiny tank? You’ve got plenty of options other than Sea World, where their primary breeding male was involved in his third human death last week. Instead of seeing the 42 captive orcas go through their routines for your amusement, wouldn’t you rather see them doing what they do naturally?

The Pacific northwest is probably the best place to see killer whales in the world. The whales hang out just to the west of the San Juan Islands in Washington state. Tour boats run to and from the San Juans from all over the region, including from Seattle 90 miles to the south.

Better yet, you can even see them from the shore. Industrious whale lover Donna Sandstrom corralled a pack of agencies to set up The Whale Trail, a series of sites where you can see whales from the shore. Behavioral biologist and author Toni Frohoff, says land-based whale watching is “the ideal form,” because it doesn’t disturb the whales at all. Plus, it’s basically free.

The orcas can also be found up a little north in British Columbia. You can take boat trips off Vancouver Island that will let you see grizzly bears, eagles, sea lions and other kinds of whale. On the other side of Canada, Battle Harbor, Newfoundland has orca pods visit in September. Killer whales are spotted off Hokkaido, the rugged,

Keep reading Where to See Orcas Not in Captivity

Killer Whale Tilly Father to One-Quarter Captive Orcas

Shamu Rocks

Shamu Rocks, at Orlando SeaWorldcourtesy of Miss Quarel.

The horrific killing trainer Dawn Brancheau at Sea World by the orca Tilikum, or Tilly, prompted Sea World to indefinitely close its killer whale shows. But the Tilly problem is a long-term one. He fathered 10 of the current 42 other captive orcas around the world–nearly one-quarter of the stock.

Many blame the attack on the whole practice of holding these huge, sociable whales captive to entertain us. Jennifer Viegas at Discovery reports that Tilly, a stud whale, may have had high testosterone levels or swings. That’s what made him the most successful male killer whale captive breeder, siring a record 17 calves, 10 of which are still alive, Viegas says. His offspring include Unna, Sumar, Tuar, Tekoa, Nakai,, Kohana, Ikaika , Skyla,  Malia and Ky, who attacked a trainer in San Antonio in 2004. Plus, he has at least one grandchild.

That means nearly one-quarter of the killer whales held in captivity around the world and nearly half the 22 held by SeaWorld are related to a killer whale with high testosterone and high aggression. Even if he weren’t a flawed individual, that’s a terribly inbred population. But now that he’s been very publicly involved in three attacks on people, it highlights how misguided these breeding programs might be. Would you keep breeding the dog that attacks and kills people? 

But breeders probably had little choice but to rely on Tilly. No other male was anywhere near that

Keep reading Killer Whale Tilly Father to One-Quarter Captive Orcas

Australians Geared Up For Years to Fight Japanese Whaling; Sunken Vessel Just Ticked Them Off to Do It

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,The Australian Government collects photos for a potential court case.

When the Japanese whaling ship Shonan Maru 2 mowed down Sea Shepherd’s Ady Gil they ticked off an already anti-whaling Australia. The incident seems to have pushed Australia to threaten Japan with legal action this week, but Australia has been grinding its teeth and preparing for battle for years after watching Japan flout international whaling rules off its shores. The outcome will turn on Australia’s claim over its nearby waters and which international body has jurisdiction.

This week prime minister Kevin Rudd gave Japan a November deadline to cut its whaling quota to nothing. New Zealand may join the fight, too, it announced Feb. 22. Australia is holding some undoubtedly awkward talks with Japanese diplomats this weekend. Some Australians fear a court case could solidify a lack of Australian control over nearby waters.

Australians says they can head to the International Court of Justice at The Hague or the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea in Germany to get an injunction against whaling. Japan, meanwhile, plays down the fight as “unfortunate” and threatens to appeal to the International Commission on Whaling. They banned whaling in 1986 but let Japan continue under the fig leaf of “research,” even in an area Australia considers a whale sanctuary.

The first signs Australia had reached its limit were just after the Sea Shepherd’s skirmishes when Bob Brown, head of the Green Party, started pushing for international court action. He called Rudd’s

Keep reading Australians Geared Up For Years to Fight Japanese Whaling; Sunken Vessel Just Ticked Them Off to Do It

Set out on the Whale Trail: See Orcas from the Shore in Washington State

People may have heard of watching orcas off San Juan Islands,  but Donna Sandstrom wants everyone to realize whales are all over the coastal waters of Washington State, including the Salish Sea. For the last two years she’s been working with seven government groups pulling together The Whale Trail, 15 spots where people can see whales from the shore.

Aside from Lime Kiln Point State Park, which bills itself as the best shore-based whale-watching site in the whole world, the Whale Trail reaches up to Vancouver and down to coastal La Push, where the Quileute Nation welcomes the gray whales when they return from their migration to Mexico.

“They could go extinct in 100 years and that’s heartbreaking to me,” she says. “We are right at the intersection of whether they make it or not.” Yet down the coast from the San Juans people in her native Seattle are largely oblivious to the presence of killer whales, Orcinus orca right outside their doors. “It always makes me a little sad that people are surprised whales are here,” she says.

Now they’ll be able to look up public places where they can see whales from public land–which means the viewing is free for people, environmentally low impact and no hassle for whales. Tour operators, sensing the project will just spur more interest, even helped set it up. Behavioral biologist and author Toni Frohoff, has called land-based whale watching “the ideal form,” noting that it works so well in the area

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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

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