Posts Tagged whales

Aug 20 2015

Spike in Whale Entanglements Along California Coast May Trigger Dungeness Restrictions

— Posted with permission of SEAFOODNEWS.COM. Please do not republish without their permission. —

SEAFOODNEWS.COM [San Francisco Chronicle] By Rachel Swan – August 20, 2015

Record numbers of whales are showing up along the California coastline with fishing line tangled around their blubbery bodies, in a trend that’s bedeviled fishermen, environmentalists and state regulators alike.The entanglements happen when whales run into gear that commercial fishermen use to catch Dungeness crab or other crustaceans. The “line” is a thick rope extending from a buoy on the ocean surface to a heavy trap – or “pot” – on the ocean floor. Whales run into the rope while chasing prey along the coastline, and it gets caught in their mouths.”The whales move where the food is, and they’re feeding, so they’ll have their mouths open,” said Peggy Stap, executive director of Marine Life Studies, a conservation group in Moss Landing. She’s seen whales struggle to eat with line running through their mouths.

In some cases, Stap said, the line tangles around their fins and impedes them from swimming.In one instance in September, Stap said, a fisherman set up 600 feet of line and spot prawn traps in a part of Monterey Bay where humpbacks were feeding. One whale got tangled and marooned, bound by the rope to 25 spot prawn traps and two mud anchors, Stap said. She led the rescue team that disentangled it.”It’s incredibly sad” said Kristen Monsell, an attorney for the San Francisco-based Center for Biological Diversity, one of several conservation groups working to prevent whale entanglement.

Drowning, choking

“If the gear is super heavy, they drown,” Monsell said. “It impedes their ability to feed if it gets in their mouths. If it wraps around their bodies and they continue to grow, they’ll slowly choke.”The surge in whale entanglements evidently began in 2014, when 30 whales were found entangled on the West Coast, and at least seven died from their injuries, according to the National Marine Fisheries Service. The previous decade saw about eight entanglements per year along the West Coast. As of April this year, 25 whales were ensnared off the California coastline, according to the Center for Biological Diversity. Among them was a killer whale that washed up near Fort Bragg with rope wounds around its tail. Distressed by the trend, representatives of the Ocean Protection Council, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration will hold a public meeting Thursday at the Elihu M. Harris State Building in Oakland. They’ll target the Dungeness crab fishery, which has caused the majority of whale entanglements on the West Coast, Monsell said.Local crab fishermen will also attend the meeting, and many say they, too, are concerned about the problem.”The reality is, a fisherman may not even realize this is happening,” said Dan Lawson, a fisheries biologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Among the ideas on the table is a pilot program that would increase the number of crab pots on each fishing line, thereby decreasing the number of lines in the water. Another idea is to create a better logging system to keep track of how much gear is in the water. Many entanglements happen when whales run into broken line or derelict traps that fishermen have long forgotten, Monsell said. Representatives of several conservation groups – including Earthjustice, Oceana and the Center for Biological Diversity – proposed those reforms, and others, in a letter to state officials in April.

Why more entanglements?

Still, experts haven’t yet figured out what caused the sudden rise in entanglements, and some fishermen say they’re being unfairly targeted.”Things have changed, the water’s hot, and the warm water pushed the whales in,” said Larry Collins, a retired fisherman who now serves as president of the Crab Boat Owners Association in San Francisco. “I think this is a one-off.”He may be right, according to Nate Mantua, a Santa Cruz-based research scientist for the NOAA, who also blames changes in the ocean temperature – not the fishing industry – for the recent string of entanglements.Mantua said the same weather pattern that brought drought and increased wildfires in California has also caused the ocean to heat up, leading the “forage fish” that whales eat to seek refuge in a narrow band of cool water by the shoreline. “In the last few months, there have been extraordinary sightings of lots of marine life, and that Blue Planet food-web-type action by the shore,” Mantua said. “Part of that is because the water (farther) offshore has been so lacking in things like anchovies, sardines and squid – the ‘popcorn of the sea.'”Because whales have to follow their prey, many of them are also floating into that narrow band of coastal water, Mantua said. As a result, they risk getting ensnared in the crab pots that fishermen set just a couple miles off the coast.Since scientists still don’t understand what is causing the unusual weather and how long the pattern will persist, the onus has fallen on rescue teams, environmentalists and commercial fishermen to help protect the whales. Some fishermen worry they’ll bear the brunt of the whale-saving effort.

Costly solutions

Jim Anderson, a veteran crabber who mans the Allaine boat in Half Moon Bay, said some proposals, like increasing the number of crab pots per line, would be costly to implement.”It would create all kinds of difficulty for fishermen” Anderson said, indicating that he and his peers would have to purchase fatter rope, heavier buoys and special lifting equipment, just to shift from one to two traps per line. Whales that got entangled would wind up dragging twice as much gear along with them, he said, putting them in more danger of drowning. Anderson also worried that state or federal officials might try to rewrite the regulations for commercial fishing, just to solve a temporary problem. “What if this is something this year because of the drought, and then we get an El Niño and conditions change?” he asked. “And then we’ve rewritten all these laws.”Nonetheless, Anderson said he’d like to find practical ways to help.

Fishermen aren’t villains

Stap stressed that fishermen are not the bad guys.”They’re trying to do their job and earn a living, and they don’t want the whales entangled any more than we do,” she said. Collins, the retired fisherman, said he will attend the meeting Thursday, even though he’s wary of attempts to regulate the fishing industry.”We love the whales,” Collins said. “But we also like making a living, and feeding people Dungeness crab.”


Aug 11 2015

Whales putting on a show off Moss Landing

A 50-foot humpback whale, little over a mile offshore Moss Landing Harbor at Monterey Bay, was one of 15 to emerge in near-shore waters right alongside kayaker Giancarlo Thomae -- and one then swam right under his kayak Photo: Giancarlo Thomae,

Photo: Giancarlo Thomae,

A 50-foot humpback whale, little over a mile offshore Moss Landing Harbor at Monterey Bay, was one of 15 to emerge in near-shore waters right alongside kayaker Giancarlo Thomae — and one then swam right under his kayak

This might be the real “Greatest Show on Earth.”

A pod of 15 humpback whales, many roughly 50 feet long and weighing 40 tons, has been roaming a little more than a mile off Moss Landing in Monterey Bay in the past week.

As the big whales put on a show — rising to the surface to fin slap, tail lob and lunge feed — they were close enough to see from shore for free at the north jetty.

The humpbacks emerged alongside expert paddlers in kayaks, as if to say hello, and at times swam right under the small boats. The location is also an easy trip for the big commercial whale-watching vessels, of course.

A whale fluke -- 15 feet wide -- so powerful, they create a vortex in the water. Humpback whales have swum as a close as a mile from this past week shore at Moss Landing in Monterey Bay Photo: Giancarlo Thomae

 Photo: Giancarlo Thomae

A whale fluke — 15 feet wide — so powerful, they create a vortex in the water. Humpback whales have swum as a close as a mile from this past week shore at Moss Landing in Monterey Bay

It also happened at the same time last year. And like last year, as long as acres of juvenile anchovies remain in the area, the whales will continue to feast within close range through August and September.

The event has put Moss Landing on the map as the No. 1 whale-watching site on the Pacific Coast as news of these near-shore sightings has gained attention around the world.

“It was so warm, so calm, it felt like I woke up on a beach in Hawaii,” said Giancarlo Thomae, a Chronicle field scout who is also a marine biologist and captain at Elkhorn Slough Safari out of Moss Landing. “The ocean and sky were like a perfect mirror, and there were 15 whales out front. I paddled out, and at one point, a 50-foot humpback rose up right next to me and then swam right under my kayak.” Thomae’s photos of whales and great white sharks in the past month have been published across America.

Last year to the week, I paddled with Thomae out of Moss Landing into Monterey Bay and the edge of the Submarine Canyon. We had humpbacks emerge within 20 yards of us and in a few hours, had dozens of sightings. This is one of the most electrifying low-cost adventures I’ve ever had.

Just like last year, acres of juvenile anchovies have arrived at inshore areas along the edge of the Submarine Canyon. There are so many fish that the clear water can sparkle in silvers beneath your boat.

The Submarine Canyon starts 100 feet outside the Moss Landing harbor. Just a mile offshore, it plunges to 800 feet deep and, within a few miles, to 1,400 feet. Breezes out of the west push plankton and other feed against the canyon walls, where the feed is then thrust near the surface. That creates feeding grounds where humpbacks and other marine mammals and shorebirds can put on spectacular shows in calm, easy-to-reach near-shore waters.

Over the years, I have paddled here several times. When the juvenile anchovies arrive en masse, we’ve seen 50 harbor seals, 100 sea lions, a dozen sea otters, 50,000 terns and literally miles of shearwaters in an hour or two — along with dozens of whales, some of which have surfaced alongside. Once I was looking to the left at a giant whale tail that jutted up from the surface, when another, just off to my right, arose and showered water on me from his blowhole.

This past week, the ocean was again as calm as a mill pond. Rays of light filtered through high clouds from monsoonal flow looked something like a scene out of “The Ten Commandments.” The whales started spouting a little more than a mile from the harbor entrance. Kayaks hit the water.

An estimated 15 humpbacks swirled, played, dived and surfaced.

“What they’re doing is taking turns diving down and feeding for 10 minutes,” Thomae said. “Then they’re coming up to exhale and get a breath, visit a bit and then go down again for more food.”

I’m a believer that the whales communicate, and in turn, when they find bait fish in abundance, will call other whales to the site to feed. If so, more humpbacks will be arriving there from across the sea in the coming weeks.

A whale approaches and begins dive directly under kayak of photographer Photo: Giancarlo Thomae

Photo: Giancarlo Thomae

A whale approaches and begins dive directly under kayak of photographer

The water is warm. It is full of food, full of whales. This has been one of the strangest years on record for dislocated wildlife from southern waters, and amid that, here is a rare chance to see these friendly creatures — most as big as a school bus — frolic, feed and even pirouette in the air at close range.

Until just three years ago, it hadn’t happened inshore like this. Could it be the start of a new era for Moss Landing and Monterey Bay with an arrival every August?

Or is this a golden age to be appreciated here and now, and nobody can say for sure when we’ll see the likes of it again.

Read the original post:

Apr 25 2013

Lower fishing limits rejected by judge

A federal judge has rejected an environmental group’s attempt to require the government to lower its catch limits on sardines, mackerel and other forage fish off the California coast.

The organization, Oceana, claimed that the plan approved by the National Marine Fisheries Service in 2010 was based on flawed data and allowed fishing at levels that would deplete offshore populations of several species. Those fish are part of the food chain for other fish, seabirds and whales.

But U.S. District Judge Edward Chen of San Francisco said Friday that the federal agency had simply reaffirmed, or in some cases tightened, the harvesting limits it had set for the same forage species in 2000.

Chen ordered the fisheries service to reconsider its catch levels for one species, the northern anchovy, saying the agency had reopened that subject in 2010 but failed to determine the limits needed to protect the fish. That decision is required, he said, by a 1976 conservation law designed to prevent overfishing.

But Chen said it was too late to challenge the rules the agency had established in 2000 – and reaffirmed in 2010 – for the Pacific sardine, the Pacific mackerel, the jack mackerel and the market squid. Oceana also challenged the fisheries service’s conclusion that its 2010 plan would cause no ecological harm and that a full environmental study was therefore not required. But the judge said the 2010 plan “by its very terms has no negative impact.”

Read the full San Francisco Chronicle article here.

Jul 21 2012

Whales Show Signs of Coping With Man-Made Noise Underwater

By  | Senior Science Writer

Perhaps we can save the whales — or at least their hearing.

Scientists have long known that man-made, underwater noises — from engines, sonars, weapons testing, and such industrial tools as air guns used in oil and gas exploration — are deafening whales and other sea mammals. The Navy estimates that loud booms from just its underwater listening devices, mainly sonar, result in temporary or permanent hearing loss for more than a quarter-million sea creatures every year, a number that is rising.

Now, scientists have discovered that whales can decrease the sensitivity of their hearing to protect their ears from loud noise. Humans tend to do this with index fingers; scientists haven’t pinpointed how whales do it, but they have seen the first evidence of the behavior.

“It’s equivalent to plugging your ears when a jet flies over,” said Paul E. Nachtigall, a marine biologist at the University of Hawaii who led the discovery team. “It’s like a volume control.”

The finding, while preliminary, is already raising hopes for the development of warning signals that would alert whales, dolphins and other sea mammals to auditory danger.

Read the rest of the article online in The New York Times.