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Oceans: Study shows whales are ecosystem engineers

A North Atlantic right whale and calf. PHOTO COURTESY NOAA.

A North Atlantic right whale and calf. PHOTO COURTESY NOAA.

Healthy whale populations could buffer oceans from some global warming impacts

Staff Report

FRISCO — Whales may play a much bigger role in ocean ecosystems than previously thought, according to a University of Vermont researcher who studied how the great cetaceans recycle and move nutrients from one region to another.

“For a long time, whales have been considered too rare to make much of a difference in the oceans,” notes University of Vermont conservation biologist Joe Roman.

That was a mistake, he said, explaining how his research shows that whales  have a powerful and positive influence on the function of oceans, global carbon storage, and the health of commercial fisheries. Continue reading

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More whales moving north through Bering Strait

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Scientists see changes in the way marine mammals use the Bering Strait. Photo courtesy NASA.

Scientists say mitigation needed to protect marine life in the region

Staff Report

FRISCO — American and Russian scientists studying the Bering Strait say that global warming is changing the way marine mammals use the area. Species at home farther south are using the narrow passage to the Arctic Ocean much more often, the researchers said after monitoring the area for three years with underwater microphones.

The recordings show Arctic beluga and bowhead whales migrating seasonally through the region from the Arctic south to spend winter in the Bering Sea. They also detect large numbers of sub-Arctic humpback, fin and killer whales traveling north through the Bering Strait to feed in the biologically rich Chukchi Sea. Continue reading

Biodiversity: Counting whales — from space

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New satellite technology could help biologists getter more accurate estimates of whale populations  NOAA photo.

New method could help with marine mammal conservation planning

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — After using satellite images to discover new emperor penguin colonies in Antarctica, scientists with the British Antarctic Survey said they’ve also been able to use similar technology to count whales.

Marine mammals are extremely difficult to count on a large scale and traditional methods, such as counting from platforms or land, can be costly and inefficient, so the new method could lead to breakthroughs in estimating populations of whales and other marine mammals. Continue reading

German travel company says no to dolphin shows

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An orca swims in the Antarctic Sound. bberwyn photo.

Decision based on animal welfare concerns

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Germany’s largest travel agency and tour operator has announced that it won’t be offering any more trips to destinations that keep whales and dolphins in captivity.

TUI Deutschland officials made the decision after aligning themselves with an advocacy group that has highlighted just a few of the problems faced by captive cetaceans, including tiny enclosures and disruption of social structures.

TUI also cited information from the CNN documentary Blackfish, which is set to air once again on Feb. 9. The company also said it won’t offer trips to destinations that advertise swimming with dolphins, according to the German publication Die Welt.

While facilities like SeaWorld and other marine parks see themselves as good stewards of marine mammals, public pressure is growing to end the practice of showing whales and dolphins for entertainment.

German wildlife advocates said recent worldwide attention on the gruesome dolphin slaughter in Taji also helped push the huge tour operator toward the decision.

Speed limit set to protect North Atlantic right whales

A North Atlantic right whale and calf. PHOTO COURTESY NOAA.

A North Atlantic right whale and calf. PHOTO COURTESY NOAA.

Lower speeds reduce deaths from collisions by 80 to 90 percent

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Endangered North Atlantic right whales may have a little better chance of avoiding deadly collisions with ships, as the National Marine Fisheries Service this week set a permanent speed limit for large ships. Under the rule, ships longer than 65 feet have to slow to 10 knots (about 11 mph) when they’re around whales.

“This is really great news for Atlantic right whales and will help put this magnificent species on the road to recovery,” said Brett Hartl, endangered species policy director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Speed limits for large ships are a simple and effective way to avoid deadly collisions that have been a significant threat to these whales’ survival.” Continue reading

Oceans: Shipping lane adjustments may help reduce whale strikes off the coast of California

Gray whale breaching, NOAA photo

Gray whale. Photo courtesy Merrill Gosho/NOAA.

Maritime authorities seek to protect marine mammals, ease shipping flow

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Whales off the busy California coast will get a bit more breathing room, as the International Maritime Organization will adjust several shipping lanes, including  routes that cross three national marine sanctuaries.

“This is a win-win situation, backed by NOAA research, that allows for enhanced protection of endangered whales and natural resources while at the same time increasing maritime safety,” said William J. Douros, west coast regional director of NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries. “We are pleased with the shipping industry and the IMO’s decision to support the proposed amendments.” Continue reading

Morning photo: Oceans

From sea to shining sea …

Teaching my son to swim at the Silverthorne Rec Center here in landlocked Colorado paid off when we visited Jamaica, where he swam with confidence in the surf at the edge of the sea.

SUMMIT COUNTY — I live in a place that’s about as landlocked as you can get, at least 1,000 miles from an ocean in any direction, yet I’m drawn to the seaside and visit every chance I get. There’s something incredibly meditative about sitting on a beach and watching waves roll in and crash ashore, and hardly anything is as invigorating as an ocean swim. I’m pretty sure that if I didn’t live in the mountains close to good skiing, I’d live by an ocean, but in the meantime, I can always visit and revisit some of my favorite spots vicariously, through the many photos I’ve taken. And in honor of World Oceans Day and National Oceans Week here in the U.S. the #FriFotos twitter chat this week is all about oceans — here’s my take.

Continue reading

Save the whales … with ‘cap and trade’

Three humpback whales surrounded by birds in NOAA's Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary. PHOTO COURTESY NOAA.

Economics, marine science professors team up to offer a market-based solution to whale conservation

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — A marine science professor and an economist from California say a market-based approach to whale conservation could help sustain populations of the cetaceans and also help whalers who make their living from killing the  marine mammals.

Anti-whaling groups like Greenpeace, Sea Shepherd, and the World Wildlife Fund spend at least $25 million per years on a variety of activities intended to end commercial whaling, yet every year, commercial whaling not only continues, but grows.

Instead of spending that money on anti-whaling activities, the groups could use the money on an open whale conservation market to purchase a share of the quotas, thus saving whales directly.

Under the current, largely unregulated system, the number of whales harvested annually has doubled since the early 1990s, to about two thousand per year and many populations of large whales have been severely depleted and continue to be threatened by commercial whaling. Continue reading

Right whales make comeback in New Zealand

A North Atlantic right whale and calf. PHOTO COURTESY NOAA.

Remnant individuals recolonizing former habitat after whale slaughter of the 19th century

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Marine researchers are tracking an encouraging comeback of right whales along the coast of New Zealand, where up to 30,000 of sociable and playful animals use to gather and breed before they were slaughtered to near-extinction by whalers in the 19th century.

A study published last month has shown for the first time that whales from a small surviving population around remote, sub-Antarctic islands have found their way back to the New Zealand mainland. The findings were published in Marine Ecology Progress Series.

Before the onslaught of whaling, historical evidence suggests that right whales frequented New Zealand’s many sandy, well-protected bays to give birth and raise their calves. As a particularly social and acrobatic species, they could be seen from shore as they frolicked, slapped their tails and breached almost entirely out of the water. Continue reading

Whales crucial to sustainable ocean fisheries

A breaching humpback whale. PHOTO COURTESY OF WHIT WELLES.

SUMMIT COUNTY — Recovering whale populations could help boost the productivity of coastal fisheries, where the feces of the giant sea mammals adds critical nutrients to the ecosystem.

In the Gulf of Maine, for example, the whale poop adds up to about 23,000 metric tons of nitrogen annually — more than the input of all the rivers combined, according biologists Joe Roman and James McCarthy who recently published a paper describing how whales bring nutrient from the deep waters where they feed back to the surface.

It is well known that microbes, plankton, and fish recycle nutrients in ocean waters, but whales and other marine mammals have largely been ignored in this cycle. The new study shows that whales historically played a central role in the productivity of ocean ecosystems — and continue to do so despite diminished populations. Continue reading

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