Saturday, May 9, 2015

A Whale Of A Week

Kate Mara Wants These Nets Out of the Water - Oceana

Click here to add your name.
It’s time we get drift gillnets out of the water, and help save the whales.

Last month, I shot a PSA with Oceana in California waters and saw enormous, beautiful whales, super herds of dolphins, and so much more. I could hear the dolphins communicate with each other!
But, I couldn’t believe what I learned – 100 protected marine mammals, including whales and dolphins, are entangled and killed by drift gillnets off the coast of California every year. Even worse, fishery managers are considering expanding these dangerous nets into protected areas.

How is this possible? Haven’t we already passed laws to save the whales and other marine mammals?

Join me and demand immediate protections for endangered marine mammals, sea turtles and other species, and an end to drift gillnets off the California coast >>

A mile wide, 100 feet deep and virtually invisible, drift gillnets off the California coast are supposed to capture swordfish. But that’s not all they catch.

Thousands of amazing sharks, marlins and other non-targeted fish perish in drift gillnets each year, only to be thrown away along with more than half the animals caught. These nets put endangered sperm, humpback and fin whales at risk of never swimming or singing again.

I’m partnering with Oceana to support immediate protections for whales, dolphins and sea turtles wastefully killed in drift gillnets off California. These deadly nets must be removed and replaced with smarter, cleaner ways to catch swordfish.
The Pacific Fishery Management Council will soon meet to consider this issue, and they need to hear from you now.

Can you add your name to our petition before the May 13 deadline?

Please, help get these nets out of the water.

Kate MaraFor the oceans,
Kate Mara
Actress, Ocean Advocate

Actress Kate Mara ("House of Cards") has always been passionate about the oceans and wildlife. Now she's putting her passion to work alongside Oceana to get drift gillnets out of the water. These nets entangle and kill thousands of other non-targeted marine animals each year, including whales, dolphins and sea turtles. Watch Kate's powerful call to action.
For decades, scientists have tried to solve a deadly puzzle: Why can’t highly intelligent blue whales avoid the collisions with ships that are a leading cause of mortality for the endangered marine mammals?

The short answer, according to a first-of-its-kind study, is that they have never learned to steer clear of big objects like ships. The largest animal that’s ever lived, at more than 100 feet long and 320,000 pounds, the blue whale for 30 million years never had to move out of anything’s way.

The main point for me is that these are animals supremely adapted to surviving in a challenging marine environment, and fast, large ships is something they have not had to deal with or are evolved to deal with,” said Megan McKenna,  a coauthor of the study and a researcher with the National Park Service in Fort Collins, Colorado. “There is little opportunity for an animal to learn about this threat, since a ship strike will often be fatal.”

The scientists used suction cups to attach GPS trackers and dive-logging recorders to blue whales that frequent the ocean near Los Angeles, a feeding hot spot for the animals between May and October. Researchers followed the whales’ movements for 24-hour periods and cross-referenced the data with information about boat traffic, including the tonnage and speeds of ships passing through the area.

“Los Angeles is one of the busiest ports in the world, so we knew this would be an ideal place to study the interactions of whales and ships,” said McKenna, a member of the interdisciplinary team that conducted the research, which was published in the journal Endangered Species Research. In 2007, for instance, ship strikes killed four of California’s estimated population of 2,200 blue whales.

The scientists observed 20 ships passing nine whales, at distances ranging from 65 yards to more than 1.9 miles. In each of these instances, the whales exhibited behavior similar to what they do during the tagging process—not moving much. Whales have to dive at least 100 feet deep to avoid a ship’s propellers.

This Technology Could Save Endangered Blue Whales From Colliding With Cargo Ships

“We found no evidence for horizontal movement away from passing ships and a dive response that was slow and shallow, which leaves whales susceptible to ship strikes,” said McKenna.

Other scientists are developing technology to predict where blue whales will congregate so ships can be alerted to their presence to minimize the risk of collisions.

McKenna said blue whales may need to be prioritized as having a greater risk of ship strikes than other species. That may mean rerouting ships to avoid the seasons and places where blue whales travel the most.

The researchers’ future efforts will investigate how other species, such as humpback whales, react to ships. 

Blue whales lack the ability to avoid cargo ships, says Stanford biologist

As the largest animals in the ocean, blue whales have not evolved defensive behaviors. New research by Stanford biologist Jeremy Goldbogen suggests this might explain why the whales are so prone to ship collisions.

For millions of years, blue whales have cruised the world's oceans with hardly a care, their sheer size making them largely free from predator attacks. The downside to being the largest animals in history, however, is that the species was never pressured to evolve defensive behaviors.

Now, the first direct observations of blue whales attempting to avoid cargo ships suggest that this lack of an evasive response might make the whales particularly susceptible to deadly collisions.

"It's not part of their evolutionary history to have cargo ships killing them, so they haven't developed behavioral responses to this threat," said Jeremy Goldbogen, an assistant professor of biology at Stanford's Hopkins Marine Station, and the senior author on the study. "They simply have no compelling response to avoiding these dangerous ships."

The study, published in Endangered Species Research, could help improve methods to protect blue whales and other marine animals from deadly ship collisions.

Collisions with ships are a major threat to whales and pose a significant threat to the recovery of some endangered populations. Efforts to reduce collisions have mostly involved placing speed limits on ships passing through busy whale habitats or rerouting shipping channels around these areas altogether.

However, a critical piece of information needed to make these decisions and evaluate their effectiveness is currently lacking: direct knowledge of how whales behave once they sense an oncoming ship.

To fill that gap, Goldbogen and colleagues from several academic institutions headed to Long Beach, California, home of one of the busiest shipping ports in the world and also a hotspot for blue whales. Just a few miles offshore, the continental shelf drops off and there is a huge upwelling of nutrients that attract krill, a favorite food of blue whales.

The scientists used suction cups to adhere GPS (global positioning system) and dive-logging units to blue whales, and then tracked their movements for 24-hour periods. The scientists then cross-referenced this data with boat traffic, including the tonnage and speeds of ships passing through the area.

In this first run of the experiment, the researchers observed 20 ship passages with nine individual whales, at distances ranging from 60 meters to more than 3 kilometers. In each of these instances, the whales exhibited behavior similar to the "startle response" that scientists observe during the tagging process, in which the whales essentially "play dead."

"Blue whales have a subtle and not very convincing ability to get out of the way of oncoming ships," said Goldbogen. "Instead of diving, where the animal kicks tail up and goes down vertically, they just sink horizontally. This results in a slow dive and leaves them susceptible to ship strikes."

A whale must dive 30 meters below the surface to escape the suction created by a ship's propeller. In the study, the whales sank at about a half a meter per second and showed no evidence for swimming laterally to avoid the ship. In most cases, this was barely fast enough to get out of the ship's way.

This is just the first step in figuring out the behavior of whales in the context of heavy shipping traffic, Goldbogen said. The research team is already planning a second round of tests in which the GPS units will remain attached to the whales for several weeks, and will extend to species such as humpback whales. With more data about both whale behavior and the frequency of near misses, Goldbogen hopes to be able to make a compelling recommendation to pleasure boaters and the shipping industry for how to minimize the risk of collisions.