Tag Archives: Dolphin

Canadians produce mariner’s guide to whales; can U.S. follow?

If knowledge is power, officials in British Columbia have taken a strong step to protect whales by producing a booklet that can help ship captains reduce the threats to marine mammals.

The “Mariner’s Guide to Whales, Dolphins and Porpoises of Western Canada” (PDF 39.3 mb) was compiled and published by the Coastal Ocean Research Institute, a branch of the Vancouver Aquarium. Financial support came from nearby ports.

The guide is just one step in resolving conflicts between ships and whales, but it seems like a worthwhile move. If people who control the ships are willing to put scientific information into action, they could avoid cumbersome regulations along with unintended consequences that sometimes arise from political battles.

“The purpose of this guide is to help mariners reduce their risk of striking and killing, or seriously injuring a cetacean (whale, dolphin or porpoise),” writes researcher Lance Barrett-Lennard in a preface to the guide. “It includes descriptions of frequently encountered whales and dolphins, locations along the coast where cetacean densities are highest, and simple measures they can take to greatly reduce their risk of striking a whale, dolphin or porpoise.

“I have yet to meet a mariner who doesn’t feel terrible if his or her ship hits a cetacean … so I know the motivation to reduce strikes is there,” Lance continued. “The key is knowing how to do it. To that end, I hope that bridge crews on vessels transiting through B.C. coastal waters will use the information in this guide to reduce the risk of hitting a whale on their watch.”

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Erich Hoyt returns to Puget Sound; whale sign goes up near Hansville

Erich Hoyt, who has spent most of his life studying whales, returns to Puget Sound in October for talks in Olympia, Tacoma and Seattle.

A new signs welcomes whale watchers to Point No Point Lighthouse Park. Photo: The Whale Trail
A new signs welcomes whale watchers to Point No Point Lighthouse Park near Hansville.
Photo: The Whale Trail

I enjoyed interviewing Erich last year before he visited this region. (See Water Ways, May 3, 2014.) We talked about the ongoing capture of killer whales in Russia, where government officials refuse to learn a lesson from the Northwest about breaking up killer whale families and disrupting their social order.

“Much of the rest of the world has moved on to think about a world beyond keeping whales and dolphins captive,” Erich wrote in a recent blog entry. “Not Russia. Not now. It’s all guns blazing to make all the same mistakes made years before in other countries.

“Of course, it’s not just Russian aquarium owners and captors,” he continued. “China, too, is about to open its first performing killer whale show, and Japan aquariums continue to go their own way. There are people opposed to captivity in Russia, China and Japan, but they are not in the majority.”

Erich’s talk in Olympia on Oct. 10 is titled, “Adventures with orcas in the North Pacific.” He will speak again on the topic the next day in Tacoma. On Oct. 13, he goes to West Seattle to speak on “Ants, orcas and creatures of the deep.” For details and tickets, go to Brown Paper Tickets.

The three talks are produced by The Whale Trail, an environmental group, in partnership with local sponsoring organizations. Donna Sandstrom, founder and director of The Whale Trail, said Erich comes to Puget Sound after the births of five new orcas in J, K and L pods. This provides five more reasons to restore the Puget Sound killer whale population, she said.

“The collaborative nature of the Orca Tour demonstrates our shared commitment to restore salmon, reduce toxins and create quieter seas,” Sandstrom said.

Among other things, The Whale Trail is known for promoting shoreside viewing of whales to reduce interference with their activities. The group maintains a map of the best places to watch whales from shore.

With the approval of Kitsap County, the organization has erected a new sign at Point No Point Lighthouse Park near Hansville, a good spot to watch all kinds of wildlife. The sign offers specific information about Point No Point as a viewing site and provides tips for identifying marine mammals.

Will the Navy extend whale protections
to other regions?

UPDATE, Oct. 2, 2015
The Navy has released its final environmental impact statement on Northwest testing and training operations. The document does not consider an option for avoiding “biologically significant areas” when using sonar or explosives, as in the legal settlement for operations in California and Hawaii. It is yet to be seen whether National Marine Fisheries Service will add new restrictions when issuing permits for incidental “take” under the Marine Mammal Protection Act. Here is the news release (PDF 548 kb).
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A legal agreement approved this week to limit the Navy’s use of sonar and explosives in “biologically important areas” of Southern California and Hawaii represents a “sea change” in the Navy’s protection of marine mammals, says Michael Jasny of the Natural Resources Defense Council.

USS Shoup, a Navy destroyer based in Everett. U.S. Navy photo
USS Shoup, a Navy destroyer based in Everett.
U.S. Navy photo

Encouraged by the cooperative effort to reach an out-of-court settlement with the Navy, Michael said the deal could have implications for future Navy activities in the Northwest and throughout the country.

The NRDC and seven other environmental groups filed suit over Navy plans to train with sonar and explosives in Southern California and Hawaii with no specific geographic limitations. The environmental groups argued that one good way to reduce injury and death to marine mammals is to avoid areas where large numbers of whales and dolphins congregate to feed, socialize and reproduce.

A federal judge ruled in favor of the environmental groups, saying “it makes no sense” for the Navy to insist that its training exercises require the use every square mile of ocean. The ruling drew the Navy into settlement negotiations.

“This settlement resulted from a constructive good-faith effort on all sides,” Michael Jasny told me by phone. “That, in itself, represents a real change in the way the Navy has interacted with the conservation community. It took litigation to create this window of opportunity to advance policy to be consistent with science.”

Humpback whales, an endangered species. NOAA photo by Dr. Louis M. Herman
Humpback whales, an endangered species.
NOAA photo by Dr. Louis M. Herman

Michael said research by the Navy and other groups has shown how marine mammals are killed and injured by Navy sonar and explosives. As the science has evolved, so have the tools to reduce impacts — such as maps showing where marine mammals hang out, maps that can help the Navy reduce its harm to many species.

Michael said it has been shameful to watch the National Marine Fisheries Service — the agency charged with protecting marine mammals — stand by and issue permits that allow the Navy to do whatever it wants. Now, he added, the negotiations between the Navy and environmental groups provide a blueprint for how NMFS can better live up to its mission of protecting marine mammals.

“Frankly, after years of fighting about these issues, we are seeing folks on both sides very willing to find solutions,” Michael said. “Folks on the Navy side have generally been willing to come to the table. The Navy would not have entered into this agreement if it believed these measures prevented it from achieving their military readiness objective.”

For its part, the Navy tends to downplay the significance of this week’s settlement.

“After a federal court ruled in favor of plaintiffs’ claims, the Navy faced the real possibility that the court would stop critically important training and testing,” said Lt. Cmdr. Matt Knight, spokesman for the Pacific Fleet. “Instead, NMFS and the Navy negotiated in good faith with the plaintiffs over five months to reach this agreement.”

In a written statement, Knight said the Navy’s existing protective measures are “significant” and the agreement increases restrictions in select areas. Those restrictions will remain in place until the current permit expires on Dec. 24, 2018.

“It is essential that sailors have realistic training at sea that fully prepares them to prevail when and where necessary with equipment that has been thoroughly tested,” Knight said in the statement. “This settlement agreement preserves critically important testing and training.”

In an email, I asked the Navy spokesman how the agreement might translate into special protections in other areas, particularly the Northwest where we know that Navy ships cross paths with many different kinds of whales and dolphins. His answer was somewhat vague.

“The Navy continues to work with NMFS to develop necessary and appropriate measures to protect marine mammals,” he wrote back. “The Navy’s current protective measures afford significant protections to marine mammals. That said, the Navy will not prejudge what measures will be appropriate to address future proposed actions.”

Southern Resident killer whale, an endangered species. NOAA photo
Southern Resident killer whale, endangered.
NOAA photo

The Navy is about to complete an environmental impact statement that outlines the effects of its testing and training operations in Puget Sound and along the Washington Coast. In comments on the draft EIS and proposed permit, environmental groups again called attention to the need to restrict operations in places where large numbers of marine mammals can be found. For example, one letter signed by 18 conservation groups addresses the operational details in the Northwest Training and Testing Range:

“Despite the vast geographic extent of the Northwest Training and Testing Study Area, the Navy and NMFS have neither proposed nor adequately considered mitigation to reduce activities in biologically important marine mammal habitat. Virtually all of the mitigation that the Navy and NMFS have proposed for acoustic impacts boils down to a small safety zone around the sonar vessel or impulsive source, maintained primarily with visual monitoring by onboard lookouts, with aid from non-dedicated aircraft (when in the vicinity) and passive monitoring (through vessels’ generic sonar systems).

“The NMFS mitigation scheme disregards the best available science on the ineffectiveness of visual monitoring to prevent impacts on marine mammals. Indeed, the species perhaps most vulnerable to sonar-related injuries, beaked whales, are among the most difficult to detect because of their small size and diving behavior. It has been estimated that in anything stronger than a light breeze, only one in fifty beaked whales surfacing in the direct track line of a ship would be sighted. As the distance approaches 1 kilometer, that number drops to zero. The agency’s reliance on visual observation as the mainstay of its mitigation plan is therefore profoundly insufficient and misplaced.”

Even before this week’s out-of-court settlement, environmental groups were urging the Navy and NMFS to delay completion of the EIS until they fairly evaluate new studies about the effects of sonar, explosives and sound on marine mammals. Measures to protect whales and other animals should include restrictions within biologically important areas, they say.

This week’s out-of-court settlement included limitations on the use of sonar and explosives in the BIAs of Southern California and Hawaii. For details, check out the signed order itself (PDF 1.5 mb) with associated maps, or read the summary in news releases by NRDC and Earthjustice. Not all BIAs that have been identified are getting special protection under the agreement.

Biologically important areas for whales, dolphins and porpoises include places used for reproduction, feeding and migration, along with limited areas occupied by small populations of residents. For a list of identified BIAs, go to NOAA’s Cetacean and Sound Mapping website. For additional details, see NOAA’s news release on the subject.

Michael Jasny said he is encouraged with the Navy’s acknowledgement that it can adequately conduct testing and training exercises while abiding by restrictions in specified geographic areas. He hopes the Navy uses the same logic to protect marine mammals on the East Coast, including Virginia where seismic exploration increases the risk; portions of the Gulf of Mexico; the Gulf of Alaska; the Mariana Islands; and, of course, the Pacific Northwest.

Zak Smith, an NRDC attorney involved with Northwest sonar issues, said the settlement in California and Hawaii should encourage the National Marine Fisheries Service to apply the same mitigation to testing and training to waters in Washington, Oregon, California and Alaska.

“I would hope when they come out with a final rule that the Fisheries Service would have engaged with the kind of management approach that we did in the settlement,” he said. “The Fisheries Service and the Navy should sit down and review biologically significant areas against the Navy’s training and testing needs.”

Clearly, if you read through the comments, environmental groups are dismayed about the Navy’s potential harm to marine mammals and its failure to address the problem:

“The sonar and munitions training contemplated in the Navy’s NWTT Draft Environmental Impact Statement is extensive and details extraordinary harm to the Pacific Northwest’s marine resources…. Even using the Navy and NMFS’s analysis, which substantially understates the potential effects, the activities would cause nearly 250,000 biologically significant impacts on marine mammals along the Washington, Oregon, Northern California, and Southern Alaska coasts each year – more than 1.2 million takes during the 5-year life of a Marine Mammal Protection Act incidental take permit.”

I’m not sure it is necessary for me to point out that without significant changes to the Navy’s current plans, we are likely to see another lawsuit over routine testing and training operations.

Amusing Monday: Science adventures revealed in videos

Starfish that live symbiotically inside a tube sponge were long believed to assist the sponge with its cleaning activities, while the starfish received a protective home for being such a helpful companion. This type of mutually beneficial symbiosis is called “mutualism.”

But this long-held assumption — that both the brittlestar and gray tube sponge were benefitting from the deal — turned out to be wrong when researchers took a close look at the relationship.

The video describing this whole affair and the research behind it became a finalist in the Ocean 180 Video Challenge, judged by 37,795 students in 1,600 classrooms in 21 countries. Ocean 180 is all about connecting science to people, and the video challenge is designed to help scientists turn their discoveries into stories.

I really like the concept of this contest. Joseph Pawlik, one of the researchers involved, did a good job telling the story of the starfish and the sponge in the video production, assisted by Jack Koch of the University of North Carolina, Wilmington. They called the video “The maid did it! The surprising case of the sponge-cleaning brittlestar.”

I won’t give away who killed whom, but answers to the murder mystery are revealed toward the end of the 3-minute video.

A much more extensive research project involves monitoring the largest active volcano off the coast of Oregon, a location called Axial Seamount. University of Washington researchers and students conducted the research and produced the video about the equipment used in an extreme environment and how the data are transmitted back to land via a fiber optic cable.

While the videos of the starfish-and-sponge and offshore volcano were among the top 10 finalists, neither were among the top award winners.

You may wish to watch the two first-place videos:

“Drones at the Beach” (amateur category), including University of Miami and Delft University researchers.

“Dolphin Research Center Blindfold Imitation Study” (professional category), involving researchers at the Dolphin Research Center, Grassy Key, Florida.

Second place: “How to Treat a Bruised Flipper” by Claire Simeone at Marine Mammal Center, Sausalito, Calif.

Third place: “Rescuing the Gentle Giants,” led by Charles Waters at the University of Auckland, Institute of Marine Science.

All 10 videos can be viewed with links at 2015 Finalists.

First-place winner Kelly Jaakkola of the Dolphin Research Center said Ocean 180 is a way to make a connection with the next generation of ocean scientists:

“For a lot of students, science can have a negative, scary image. They picture people in white lab coats talking about topics that nobody understands in the most boring, unimaginative way possible. If we want to get kids excited about science, we need to change that image.”

Third-place winner Charles Waters said some of the most inspiring science writing uses analogies, metaphors and similes to describe the scientific process and research findings:

“Video helps lift images from print, and the message comes closer to being an experience for the audience in contrast to a mere information stream.”

The Ocean 180 Video Challenge is sponsored by Florida Center for Ocean Sciences Education Excellence.

Amusing Monday: Dolphin becomes friend with dog

I have been intrigued by some unusual animal friendships, which I’ve reported here in Water Ways: a baby hippo and a 130-year-old tortoise, a cat and a crow, an orangutan and a hound, an elephant and a dog. See Amusing Monday, Nov. 12, 2012.

But somehow I missed the tantalizing story of a dolphin named Duggie and a dog named Ben on Tory Island, Ireland. The television show “National Geographic Wild” is now telling the story of this unusual friendship, which began in 2006.

That seems like a long time ago, and I’m trying to find out whether the friendship might still endure or whether the National Geographic people used old footage in their telling of the story.

I like the National Geographic clip (first video on this page), because it includes a discussion by Cesar Millan, known as “the Dog Whisperer.” But I have a greater appreciation for the inquisitive approach taken in an earlier production for BBC’s “Countryfile,” a program mostly about places in and around Ireland (second video).

Additional information was filled in by reporter Anita Guldera in The Independent. She tells us that Tory Islanders believe the female dolphin’s friendship with Ben came about after she lost her mate. It all started about the time a male dolphin washed up dead on the island.

I stumbled across the dolphin-and-dog story after someone emailed me a lovely video about a dolphin saving a dog from a shark attack. The video, called “Dolphin and Dog,” was put together by a Dutch woman named Ine Braat. I say the video was “lovely” because the music creates a mood around this dolphin-and-dog friendship. But it’s fiction, mostly based on clips from the movie “Zeus and Roxanne.”

You may wish to check out some of Ine’s other lovely compilations posted on her website.

Another story about a dog and a dolphin is a more gripping tale, because it involves a human whose life was in real danger. Lynn Gitsham of Carrickalinga, Australia, says she was rescued by a pod of dolphins after falling into the ocean while trying to get to her dog. Reporter Michelle Vella tells the story for Australia’s Seven West Television (below).

Amusing Monday: the many sides of dolphins

Who doesn’t love dolphins? Something about their social, often playful, nature seems to stir the heart and bring smiles all around.

Today, I’d like to share three very different videos of dolphins. Click on full screen to get a good view. The first video shows a woman riding a wake board when a large number of dolphins swim up and surround her.

“We’re going to make a YouTube sensation with this, I’m sure,” says the boat driver. The video has generated more than 5 million views since it was posted a little more than a year ago.

The second includes footage of dolphins blowing bubble rings, then slicing and dicing them in playful ways. Seeing them do this causes me to reflect not only on their intelligence but also their cultural development.

The third video is the story of a surfer who owes his life to dolphins after he is attacked by a great white shark.

I’d also like to share the words of Daniel McCulloch, a leading dolphin photographer who created a website called “Dolphin Synergy”:

“As we aspire to being the most `civilised’ or `evolved’ species on this planet, it is quite humbling to realise that not only has it been inhabited for 30-40 million years compared to our 1 million or so, by another truly sentient species, but that that species is extremely emotionally, mentally & socially developed.

“Rather than being plagued with wars, violent aggression, homicides, rapes, boredom, lonliness, apathy, anger and perpetual survival struggles and starvation of the majority of the species, the dolphins are living a life and social structure of profound joy and harmony, so much so that the ancient Greeks modeled their very advanced democracy on the dolphins’ social structure.”

Read more at McCulloch’s page, “Synchronicity: The Dance of the Dolphins.”

Attack by orcas scatter dolphins near Nanaimo

John Buchanan of Squamish, British Columbia, was in the right place at the right time when a group of transient killer whales mixed it up with hundreds of fleeing white-sided dolphins.

John said it appeared that the orcas had formed a line to herd the dolphins into shallow water in Departure Bay near Nanaimo.

“The only way they could escape was going through the orcas,” he told me. “I was wondering if they would swim right into the ferry. The ferry may have made the escape a little narrower for them.”

John happened to be on the ferry from Horseshoe Bay in West Vancouver to Departure Bay on Vancouver Island when the wild encounter occurred on Monday.

“I was just traveling on the ferry to meet someone at Nanaimo,” said Buchanan, who is active in the environmental groups, including Squamish Stream Keepers. “I always have my camera close by.

“We were just coming into Departure Bay. Someone spotted the orcas, then the water just exploded with all these dolphins in the bay. The orcas had them pinned in.

“I bet there was all kinds of action going on under the water,” he said. “It was spectacular, especially when one orca was breaking in one direction and another was breaking in the other direction.”

John recorded that exciting shot of a double breach on his camera, which you can see toward the end of the video.

Later, he was informed by a biologist at Vancouver Aquarium that breaching is often how the whales celebrate a kill. Although he noticed a lot of chasing at the time, he never spotted any dead or dying dolphins nor was any blood in the water.

John posted the video on YouTube on Monday, the same day he recorded the dramatic encounter. As of this morning, the number of views was approaching 100,000.

CBC News posted the video on its webpage, and John has been approached by people who would like to purchase the footage, but he plans to keep it available for public viewing.

“I’ll never see anything like that again,” he said.

At my suggestion, John sent photos to Ken Balcomb and Dave Ellifrit of the Center for Whale Research. Ken reported that the orcas included T-100s. According to the book “Transients” by John Ford and Graeme Ellis, they are a group of killer whales seen mainly in Southeast Alaska.

Bainbridge’s Izumi Stephens is off to guard ‘the cove’

Izumi Stephens of Bainbridge Island, who appeared in the program “Whale Wars” last year, has returned to her native Japan as a “Cove Guardian” for Sea Shepherd Conservation Society.

Izumi Stephens

Izumi left yesterday, traveling with her daughter Fiona, who will be 14 in April and who shares her mother’s passion to save whales and dolphins.

Cove Guardians are volunteers who document and photograph the slaughter of dolphins in Taiji, Japan, a town made famous by the award-winning documentary “The Cove.”

I talked to Izumi Wednesday before she flew out. She was excited and a little nervous. As a Japanese citizen who has lived in the United States 19 years, she was not sure how she would be received by Japanese residents when she stands alongside Sea Shepherd volunteers.

A year ago at this time, Izumi was serving aboard the Sea Shepherd vessel Steve Irwin as it followed Japanese whaling ships and disrupted their activities in the Southern Ocean of Antarctica. Izumi translated messages between the Japanese whalers and Sea Shepherd and helped coordinate coverage by Japanese reporters.

Izumi was the first Japanese translator who did not conceal her identity from the photographers filming “Whale Wars,” a weekly reality program on Animal Planet. Izumi appeared in several scenes but was not a major character. Check out my initial story for the Kitsap Sun on Oct. 31, 2010, with follow-up reports on Water Ways: Jan. 4, 2011 Feb. 22, 2011 … and June 1, 2011.

Izumi says her language skills may come in handy in Taiji. Also, her understanding of Japanese values may help her build a “bridge of understanding” with the Japanese people. Many see no difference between killing dolphins and killing fish to eat, she said, yet dolphins are intelligent mammals, and the rate of hunting cannot be sustained.

“To them, killing dolphins is a tradition,” she said, “but every country has its horrible traditions. Spain gave up the bull fight, and Japan can give up this.”

Izumi said her daughter Fiona put together a school project about the anti-whaling conflict last year, so she understands the arguments on both sides.

Cove Guardians say they are careful to obey the local laws as they document the daily killing of dolphins, which they claim is about 20,000 per year. Besides documenting and filming the deaths of dolphins and the movement of fishing boats, the general goal is to create a sense of shame among the hunters and local residents, they say.

Suzanne West of Seattle, whose husband Scott is coordinating Cove Guardians in Japan, said Izumi may receive increasesd attention from the Japanese media. Some people will be surprised at her opposition to the hunt. By now, most Japanese are fairly used to seeing Western visitors speaking in opposition to the events in Taiji, said Suzanne, who coordinates efforts in the U.S.

“A big thing is making them aware that the world is watching,” Suzanne said. “We got a lot of footage last year of them actually killing the dolphins.”

Now, the hunters are conducting the slaughter behind tarps, she noted, “but we can still count the actual bodies going in with none coming out.”

Izumi will return to Bainbridge Island on Thursday, March 1. Two days later, she will participate in a gathering of Sea Shepherd supporters at Casa Rojas Mexican restaurant, 403 Madison Ave., on Bainbridge Island. The event is free, with donations going to Sea Shepherd. For reservations, e-mail Seattle Sea Shepherd.

Izumi’s arrival in Japan coincides with the release from jail of Cove Guardian Erwin Vermeulen of the Netherlands, who was arrested in December during a pushing incident while trying to photograph dolphins in the cove.

A judge ruled that Vermeulen should pay a fine of 1,000 euros ($1,315 U.S.), but he cannot leave Japan pending an appeal by the prosecutor. Officials with Sea Shepherd say they may file formal proceedings to protest the two-month detention for a minor crime. See Expatica News.

Update, Feb. 18: After I posted this blog entry, I received an e-mail from Sea Shepherd’s media department that provides additional details and clarifies the Expatica report. See News Release (PDF 24 kb)

"The Cove," Taiji, Japan / Sea Shepherd photo