Tag Archives: John Calambokidis

New reports of whale territory could shape protection strategy

Researchers have listed more than 100 “biologically important areas” for whales and dolphins living in U.S. waters, all reported in a special issue of the journal Aquatic Mammals (PDF 22.9 mb).


The BIAs may provide useful information, but they are not marine protected areas, and they have no direct regulatory effect, said Sofie Van Parijs, a researcher at NOAA’s Northeast Fisheries Science Center and guest editor of the special report.

“They represent the best available information about the times and areas in which species are likely to be engaged in biologically important activities,” Van Parijs said in a news release. “We encourage anyone planning an activity in the ocean to look at this information and take it into consideration to understand and reduce adverse impacts on marine species.”

Project managers can use information in the report for offshore energy development, military testing and training, shipping, fishing, tourism, and coastal construction. Underwater noise, generated by most human activities in or on the water, can affect large areas of whale territory.

Separate articles were written about seven regions of the country, with three of them in Alaskan waters. The lead author for the West Coast regional report (PDF 4.5 mb) is John Calambokidis of Cascadia Research Collective in Olympia.

The West Coast report identified 29 BIAs covering areas important for blue whales, gray whales, humpback whales and harbor porpoises in Washington, Oregon and California. BIAs for blue whales and humpback whales are “based on high concentration areas of feeding animals observed from small boat surveys, ship surveys and opportunistic sources,” the report says.

BIAs for gray whales focus on their migratory corridor from Mexico to Alaska, along with primary feeding areas for a small resident population known as the Pacific Coast Feeding Group, or PCFG. This group, believed to be genetically distinct from the migratory whales, spend most of their time between Northern California and Canada’s Vancouver Island.

The BIAs for gray whales in Washington are around the northwest tip of Washington, including Neah Bay; in Saratoga Passage east of Whidbey Island; and around Grays Harbor on the coast.


The PCFG could be a key factor in determining whether the Makah Tribe of Neah Bay is granted a permit to hunt for gray whales in Washington state waters and limiting potential limits on any hunts approved. It was interesting that the BIA report came out at almost the same time as an environmental impact statement on the Makah whaling proposal.

The impact statement evaluates alternatives for whaling, including a tribal proposal to hunt up to five whales a year but no more than 24 whales in six years. Various alternatives include plans to limit hunting seasons to reduce the risk of killing a whale from the Pacific Coast Feeding Group and to cease hunting if a quota of these whales is reached.

“This is the first step in a public process of considering this request that could eventually lead to authorization for the tribe to hunt gray whales,” said Donna Darm, NOAA’s associate deputy regional administrator, in a press release. “This is the public’s opportunity to look at the alternatives we’ve developed, and let us know if we have fully and completely analyzed the impacts.”

For details on this issue, including the EIS and instructions for commenting on the document, check out NOAA’s website on the Makah Whale Hunt.

Returning to the study of biologically important areas, no BIAs were established for endangered fin whales, because of discrepancies between sightings and expected feeding areas and uncertainty about their population structure.

The BIA assessment did not cover minke whales, killer whales, beaked whales and sperm whales but the authors recommend that future work cover those animals as well as looking into special breeding areas for all the whales.

A future BIA for killer whales could have some connection to an ongoing analysis by NOAA, which recently announced that it needs more information about Southern Resident killer whales before expanding their critical habitat under the Endangered Species Act. See Water Ways from Feb. 24.

In the overall report, BIAs can be established if they have any of the following characteristics:

  1. Reproductive areas – Areas and times within which a particular species selectively mates, gives birth or is found with neonates or calves,
  2. Feeding areas – Areas and times within which aggregations of a particular species preferentially feed. These either may be persistent in space and time or associated with ephemeral features that are less predictable but are located within a larger area that can be delineated,
  3. Migratory corridors – Areas and times within which a substantial portion of a species is known to migrate; the corridor is spatially restricted.
  4. Small and resident population – Areas and times within which small and resident populations occupy a limited geographic extent.

A chance to learn about the ‘Ways of Whales’

We’ve talked a bit lately on this blog about research involving orcas and other whales. For that reason, I’d like to call your attention to the annual Ways of Whales workshop, where you can meet some of the region’s leading cetacean scientists.

Sponsored by Orca Network, the all-day event will be Saturday, Jan. 29, at Coupeville Middle School on Whidbey Island.

This year’s lineup of speakers includes:
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Ethics came into question when rare whale was dying

UPDATE, Dec. 6
Late this afternoon, Cascadia Research posted preliminary results of a necropsy of the Bryde’s whale conducted today. Findings included the following:

  1. “The whale was an immature male measuring 34′ 5” which externally appeared to be a female but which internal examination determined was a male.
  2. “There were at least five significant injuries on the whale, not just the two that were visible when the whale was alive. The most serious was the one visible when the whale was alive and a close examination of this showed that this blow was not only deep but had sheered off the top portion of at least two vertebra. While this injury appeared to be the likely cause of death of the animal, close examination confirmed the sighting reports that this injury had occurred many weeks or months previously.
  3. “The cause of all the major injuries and death of the animal still appears to be one or more vessel strikes.
  4. “The whale was not in great nutritional condition with a fairly thin and not very oily blubber layer.”


The rare 40-foot whale that lingered in Totten Inlet near Shelton apparently died sometime Friday or early Saturday. Up until then, researchers were feeling helpless to assist the dying animal or even put it out of its misery.

A severe injury to the whale in Totten Inlet became apparent last week.
Photo courtesy of Cascadia Research

After its death, the whale was identified as a female Bryde’s whale, an extremely rare species in northern waters, let alone Puget Sound. Curiously, another Bryde’s (pronounced “broo-dess”) whale came into Puget Sound near the beginning of this year and also died in South Puget Sound. Check out the Jan. 19 report by Cascadia Research.

This second Bryde’s whale in Puget Sound was spotted on Nov. 25, although possibly related reports go back to Nov. 13. See Cascadia’s ongoing updates for details. A huge chunk of flesh was missing from the whale’s back, presumably caused by a large boat propeller.

When I talked to Cascadia’s John Calambokidis on Friday, I asked a series of questions about possible medical treatment for the animal and the potential for euthanasia — assuming researchers were convinced that the whale would die anyway. I was a little surprised to learn that John and others — including veterinarians — had already considered and rejected most options. They were feeling pretty helpless to do anything but wait.

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Humpback whale rescue may not be over

Boaters and shoreside observers along the Washington and British Columbia coasts are being asked to watch for a humpback whale dragging lines with buoys attached.

When the Cascadia team first encountered the humpback whale, it had multiple lines wrapped around it. The line around its head was one of those later cut off. (Click to enlarge)
Photo courtesy of Cascadia Research

John Calambokidis of Cascadia Research in Olympia called me last night to report that his crew had failed to find the whale yesterday after helping to free the animal of several tangled lines attached to multiple crab pots the day before.

Work on Thursday off La Push involved cutting lines to free the head, back and tail of the humpback. Short video segments, which can be downloaded from Cascadia’s website, reveal how difficult this work was for the crew, consisting of Calambokidis, Jeff Foster and Annie Douglas.

As the crew struggled to free the lines Thursday, the wind and seas became rough and hard to deal with, so team returned to shore to get additional tools they would need to free the whale, John said in a report on Cascadia’s website. “They had also sustained self-inflicted damage to their boat during the effort (a puncture of one of the pontoons) that was repaired on the 13th (Thursday),” he wrote.

Even though the whale was not found yesterday, John said he was “cautiously optimistic” that the animal is OK, though it probably still has some lines attached.

He said the whale may have become more mobile as a result of the crew’s success in freeing some of the lines. A fisherman Thursday night apparently saw the animal about a mile from where it had become entangled.

Friday’s search by boat failed to spot the whale or pickup a signal from a VHF transmitter that had been attached to one of the buoys. The transmitter has a range of about 10 miles but does not transmit under water, so either the whale moved a good distance from where it was or else the buoy had somehow become submerged.

The Coast Guard has been transmitting a message up and down the coast asking mariners to watch for the whale.

The Cascadia Team as well as Makah tribal boats are on standby this weekend to rescue the whale if it is sighted. Anybody who spots the animal is asked to report the location but not approach the animal or cut any lines, since the VHF transmitter is probably still attached.

The national Marine Mammal Hotline to call with reports is 1-800-853-1964.

You’ve got to see the dramatic video of the baby blue (whale)

National Geographic has posted a remarkable five-minute video of a newborn baby blue whale to promote the its new television production “Kingdom of the Blue Whale” on National Geographic Channel. It’s the first time that such a sight has have been captured on video.

By now, you may have heard of the remarkable discoveries by whale researchers, including John Calambokidis of Cascadia Research Collective in Olympia. National Geographic helped fund the venture, which followed blue whales on a migration route to a social gathering point known as the Costa Rica Dome.

This month’s National Geographic magazine features a story by Ken Brower about the adventure, which includes this description:

The Costa Rica Dome is an upwelling of cold, nutrient-rich water generated by a meeting of winds and currents west of Central America. The location is not fixed; it meanders a bit, but the dome is reliably encountered somewhere between 300 and 500 miles offshore. The upwell­ing brings the thermocline — the boundary layer between deep, cold water and the warm water of the surface — up as high as 30 feet from the top. Upwelling with the cold, oxygen-poor water from the depths come nitrate, phos­phate, silicate, and other nutrients. This manna, or anti-manna — a gift not from heaven but from the deep — makes for an oasis in the sea. The upwelling nutrients of the dome fer­tilize the tiny plants of the phytoplankton, which feed the tiny animals of the zooplankton, which bring bigger animals, some of which are very big indeed.

The blue whale, Balaenoptera musculus, is the largest creature ever to live. Linnaeus derived the genus name from the Latin balaena, “whale,” and the Greek pteron, “fin” or “wing.” His species name, musculus, is the diminutive of the Latin mus, “mouse”—apparently a Linnaean joke. The “little mouse whale” can grow to 200 tons and 100 feet long. A single little mouse whale weighs as much as the entire National Football League. Just as an elephant might pick up a little mouse in its trunk, so the elephant, in its turn, might be taken up by a blue whale and carried along on the colossal tongue. Had Jonah been injected intravenously, instead of swallowed, he could have swum the arterial vessels of this whale, boosted along every ten seconds or so by the slow, godlike pulse.

Calambokidis tells of his personal experience in an interesting radio interview by Boyd Matson on National Geographic Weekend.

I’m eager to see the documentary in high definition. Reviews of the program have been over the top. A collaborative review on “Biochemical Soul” offers this praise: “For those of you who don’t want to read the whole review, here is all you need to know: ‘Kingdom of the Blue Whale’ is stunning! It’s beautiful. It’s sad. It pisses you off. Then it wows you some more. Then it saddens you again. Then it’s uplifts you and then leaves you thinking, ‘We’ve got to save them!’”

Here are some “fast facts” condensed from information taken from the Web site of this production.

Blue whales are the largest animals ever known to have lived on Earth. Their tongues alone can weigh as much as an elephant.

They reach these mind-boggling dimensions on a diet composed nearly exclusively of tiny shrimplike animals called krill. An adult blue whale consumes about 4 tons of krill a day.

Blue whales live in all the world’s oceans, occasionally swimming in small groups but usually alone or in pairs. They often spend summers feeding in polar waters and undertake lengthy migrations towards the Equator as winter arrives.

Blue whales are among the loudest animals on the planet. They emit a series of pulses, groans, and moans. It’s thought that, in good conditions, blue whales can hear each other up to 1,000 miles.

Blue whale calves enter the world already ranking among the planet’s largest creatures. After about a year inside its mother’s womb, a baby blue whale emerges weighing up to 3 tons and stretching to 25 feet. It gorges on nothing but mother’s milk and gains about 200 pounds every day for its first year.

Between 1900 and the mid-1960s, some 360,000 blue whales were slaughtered and nearly became extinct. Since coming under international protection, they’ve managed a minor recovery to between 10,000 and 25,000 in the world today.

Blue whales have few predators but are known to fall victim to attacks by sharks and killer whales, and many are injured or die each year from impacts with large ships.