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Posts Tagged ‘whales’

Photo: National Geographic for Disney+/Peter Kragh.
Baby beluga. Belugas are the only whale that can use their lips to form different shapes to communicate.

Many of us pay more attention to oceans in the summer as that is the time we go swimming, fishing, or boating in oceans. It’s the time we suddenly start talking about sightings of Great White Sharks or a deadly Portuguese Man-of-War. It’s when my surfer grandchildren report on huge fish they say are nibbling their feet, probably striped bass.

So today I want to share a story about ocean royalty, whales. It’s from the environmental radio show Living on Earth.

“On Earth Day 2021, National Geographic released Secrets of the Whales, a video documentary miniseries that seeks to unravel the secrets of whale behavior and understand whale cultures of orcas, humpbacks, narwhals, belugas, and sperm whales. National Geographic Explorer and wildlife photographer Brian Skerry joins host Bobby Bascomb to talk about the experience of filming this epic project and the breathtaking complexity of whale societies. …

“BASCOMB: A theme that comes up again and again in this series is culture: that whales have distinct cultures. And not just between different species of whales, but between different pods or families. …

“SKERRY: You’re absolutely right. When I created this, I saw this as a game changer that the latest and greatest science was revealing that these charismatic ocean animals are showing behaviors that are really cultures, not unlike humans. My friend, Dr. Shane Gero, who’s a sperm whale biologist, he defines it this way. He says behavior is what we do, culture is how we do it.

“So for example, most humans eat food with utensils, that would be behavior, but whether you use knives and forks or chopsticks, that is culture. So what we see in whales, you know, you might have a family of Orca that live in New Zealand, and their preference for ethnic food is stingrays. And they figured out how to eat those there. And the ones in the Norwegian Arctic, like to eat herring, and they figured out how to predate on herring. And the ones in Patagonia like seal pups, and they are the only ones in the world who have that strategy. They not only figured out this stuff, which is culture, but they pass it on to their children.

So they are not only teaching their offspring the skills that they will need to survive, but they’re teaching them their ancestral traditions, the things that matter to them.

“Whales have unique dialects. Sperm whales that Shane studies in the Eastern Caribbean, he’s identified about 24 families that all speak the same dialect or language, and they belong to a clan. But they don’t intermingle with other sperm whales that might come into those waters that speak another language. …

“BASCOMB: And during your time in New Zealand with orcas there, there was a moment in the series where you were invited to share in the spoils of their hunt. Can you tell us about that experience?

“SKERRY: I can. This was certainly one of the most extraordinary moments of my career of four decades of exploring the ocean. We worked in 24 locations collectively for this series worldwide over three years. And I had just come from six weeks in the Canadian Arctic and I had about 10 days in New Zealand. I was working with a researcher Dr. Ingrid Visser, who is the orca expert, lives in New Zealand, understands these animals. … We drove three hours to get there, got in the boat, went out, found the orca, they were hunting in shallow water. I got in the water and started swimming towards them. And lo and behold, here is this adult female swimming towards me with a stingray actually hanging out of her mouth. My mind is on overload now, I’m thinking, I can’t believe this. And then she drops it. …

“I swim down to the bottom and I knelt on the sandy floor next to the dead stingray just laying there. And then out of the corner of my right eye, I see this orca coming back, and she swings behind my back, I lose sight of her for a moment. And then she emerges on the left side of my view, she swings around directly in front of me.

“And now we’re staring at each other with a stingray between us. And she’s looking at me and looking at the ray looking at me looking at the ray as if to say, ‘Well, are you going to eat that?’ And when I don’t go for it, then she very gently just bends over, picks it up in her mouth and lifts it up in front of me. And then she turns and begins sharing her food with another member of her family. …

“BASCOMB: This series also documents the formation of a surprising cross species adoption between lost Narwhal, a youth, and a pod of beluga whales. …

“SKERRY: Yeah, that’s a really special situation. … I think it speaks to the empathy and the accepting nature of these beluga whale families. I mean, clearly, they know that that’s not one of their own. But yet they saw this narwhal that was alone, and just made it part of the family. They adopted it as one of their own. And, I mean, how wonderful is that?

“I think this is one of the messages that I’ve sort of taken away. You know, I spent three years working on this. As I’ve processed a lot of these moments that we witness in the series, it occurred to me that I’ve been reminded of things that I already knew, and that is that community matters, that family matters, that the whales make time for each other.

“A sperm whale for example, these are matrilineal societies led by the older, wiser females, they spend most of their life in the deep ocean foraging for squid. Life in the ocean is hard, but yet every day or every couple of days, they make time to come together and socialize. You see them rolling around and enjoying each other’s company, reaffirming their family bonds. And for me to reflect back on this was to be reminded of how important social creatures are, that humans and whales can’t do it alone. We need each other, we need family, we need community, and that that alone can bring us the greatest joy in life.”

Lots more whale cultures described at Living on Earth, here.

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Photo: Xinhua/Rex/Shutterstock.
This is a Bryde’s whale, related to the newly described whale species called Rice’s whales. Rice’s whales were previously believed to be a population of Bryde’s but were recently found to be a whole new species.

Lately, I’ve noticed how many mainstream publications reuse stories from other publications, which helps me feel less guilty sharing others’ work at Suzanne’s Mom’s Blog. As a former magazine editor myself, I am pretty scrupulous about providing links and credits and not using the whole original piece.

And if the use of a photo is blocked, I try to find a different photo elsewhere. But I must say that blocking your photo reduces the number of ways people online can find your article.

In an article from Hakai magazine (an online publication about science and society in coastal ecosystems), Joshua Rapp Learn reported on a unique whale. I learned about it from a reprint at the Guardian.

“Genetic analysis and a close examination of the skulls from a group of baleen whales in the north-eastern Gulf of Mexico have revealed that they are a new species.

“ ‘I was surprised that there could be an unrecognized species of whale out there, especially in our backyard,’ says Lynsey Wilcox, a geneticist with the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration who helped uncover the new species. ‘I never imagined I would be describing a new species in my career, so it is a very exciting discovery.’

“The newly described whales weren’t exactly hiding in plain sight. With a population estimated at fewer than 100, the new whales – which researchers have dubbed Rice’s whales after American biologist Dale Rice – aren’t commonly seen even in the corner of the Gulf of Mexico they call home. It doesn’t help that the whales, previously believed to be a population of Bryde’s whales, have a feeding strategy that takes them deep under the water around DeSoto Canyon, about 100km south of Mobile, Alabama.

“Researchers have long known that this group of Bryde’s-like whales in the Gulf of Mexico was different. They seemed to mostly stay put in the north-eastern corner of the gulf, and didn’t mingle with Bryde’s whales, which … typically forage near the surface.

“But it’s difficult even for experts to tell large baleen whales apart in the field – so much so that Bryde’s whales sometimes get confused with fin whales, says John Hildebrand, a biological oceanographer at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California San Diego who was not involved in the recent study. …

“Wilcox’s colleagues first began collecting tissue samples from Rice’s whales in 2000, eventually collecting samples from 36 different individuals.

Comparing their genes with Bryde’s whales, Wilcox says she and her colleagues ‘noticed that they weren’t quite what was expected.’

“To compare their morphologies, the scientists inspected skeletons held in museums. Then, in January 2019, an 11-meter-long Rice’s whale washed up on a key in the Florida Everglades. Examining the whales’ skulls revealed some differences in the shape and size of the bone material around the blowhole. …

“Rice’s whales are already considered endangered by the United States. They were listed under the Endangered Species Act as a population of Bryde’s whales in April 2019, and the discovery that they are a distinct species is unlikely to change much – other than requiring an update of their name. Living in the Gulf of Mexico, the whales face threats from oil spills, ship strikes, ocean noise and entanglement in fishing gear.

“Hildebrand says the whales are particularly vulnerable to ship strikes because they have the ‘unfortunate habit’ of sleeping at night just under the sea’s surface. … Hildebrand speculates that the whales might once have been more widespread in areas with deeper water, but they are now holing up in an area that sees less ship traffic.

“ ‘They are the most endangered, or nearly the most endangered, baleen whales in US waters,’ Hildebrand says. ‘In terms of the responsibility for the health of the whale, it really does fall on us.’ ”

Read some really wonderful stories about sea life at hakaimagazine.com.

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Image: The Art Newspaper
Alexander Ponomarev’s underwater art project, “Alchemy of Antarctic Albedo (or Washing Pale Moons)” was said to be for the edification of whales.

Quirky art projects in quirky places call for quirky reporters. Adrian Dannatt writes entertainingly at the Art Newspaper about memorable moments experienced on a trip to cover underwater art — in the Antarctic.

“Typical barren beach; Joaquin Fargas putting reflective silver sheets over the rocks to try and help stop global warming whilst the young architect Gustav Düsing was busy with his white cotton tent, sprayed with water to freeze rock-solid like salt or Greek marble drapes. …

“Rather effective photo exhibition using special plastic display boxes on tripods mounted in the water and along the beach, the horizon line in a photograph next to actual horizon on the sea. …

“At 4 pm it had been a week since we first came up the gangplank and boarded this boat, now our dear old friend. All gather on the back deck for Alexander-the-Great, Pon-Pon lui-même to launch his own underwater art project, ‘Alchemy of Antarctic Albedo (or Washing Pale Moons).’

“These submerged lit globes will be lowered into the sea in order ‘to clean the moon ash.’ He happily admits that he is making this work just for the whales, typically generous, ‘they are a better audience than so many others.’ …

“Much masculine labour, heaving and pushing, to get the moon-balls out to sea, a sweaty, rather laborious form of three-dimensional poetry.

We went out in our Zods but of course could not see anything of the project because it was all underwater, made for the fishes rather than mere humans.

“However the two Argentine underwater divers, fantastic moustachioed veterans straight out of Hemingway, who had been very dismissive and suspicious of the whole thing, were actually impressed, touched, transformed by seeing the reality. Which makes it a successful art work by any definition, and the whales apparently surely adored it also.” More here.

It feels both silly and sacred. Like liturgical clowns.

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Do you know about the “Great Animal Orchestra“? Rachel Donadio at the NY Times has the story.

“The bioacoustician and musician Bernie Krause has been recording soundscapes of the natural world since 1968, from coral reefs to elephant stamping grounds to the Amazonian rain forest.

“Now, Mr. Krause’s recordings have become part of an immersive new exhibition at the Cartier Foundation here called ‘The Great Animal Orchestra.’ Named after Mr. Krause’s 2012 book of the same title, the show opens on Saturday and runs through Jan. 8, [2017].

“At its heart is a work by the London-based collective United Visual Artists, who have transformed Mr. Krause’s recordings of the natural world into 3-D renderings. Imagine stepping into a soundproofed black-box theater whose walls spring to life with what look like overlapping electrocardiograms, representing different species’ sounds. …

“The installation includes recordings Mr. Krause made in Algonquin Park in Ontario, where he found himself caught between two packs of wolves; in the Yukon Delta, a subarctic area in Alaska, where birds from different continents converge; and in the Central African Republic, where he heard monkeys. He also captured the cacophony of the Amazon, and whales off Alaska and Hawaii. …

“Mr. Krause is a polymathic musician who performed with the folk group the Weavers and helped introduce the Moog synthesizer to pop music — including songs by the Doors and Van Morrison — and film scores. He hears natural sounds with a studio producer’s ear.”

Read more here about Krause and his efforts to get the word out on the disappearing habitats of his featured animals.

This article inspires me to pay better attention to the music of the natural world on my morning walks. So much beauty goes right over my head.

Photo: Tim Chapman
Bernie Krause on St. Vincent Island, Fla., in 2001.
 

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I liked this story from the radio show Studio 360. It explains how recordings of whales making music were used by Judy Collins and others to draw attention to the plight of our biggest mammals.

“If you hear whale songs today, you might be getting a massage or a facial. Some recordings of humpback whales feature slow melodies soothing enough for spa soundtracks. But in the 1970s, whale songs ignited the passions of music listeners and animal activists.

“Biologist Roger Payne still thinks whale songs are the most evocative sound made by any animal. But he may be biased — he discovered them. In 1966, Payne got a recording from a sound designer doing research for the military on undersea dynamite explosions. Caught on the tape were some of the first recordings of sounds made by humpback whales.

“Payne became obsessed with the recording, and made a startling discovery: the sounds were repeating. That means that they weren’t just sounds, they were technically songs — arguably the most complex songs made by any animal. Unlike birds or crickets, the whales’ songs were ten minutes or longer and repeated without a break.

“At the time, whales were being hunted to near-extinction, and Payne saw the discovery of whale songs as a call-to-arms. …

“Over the following years, Payne pressed the recordings on musicians, composers, and singers, including Judy Collins. ‘This tall man walked backstage,’ Collins recalls. ‘And he handed me this little package’ with a tape of the humpbacks. ‘It was very emotional. …

“In 1970, Collins used the recordings on her album “Whales and Nightingales”, which went gold and introduced millions to whale song. … Collins devoted the royalties of those songs to Payne’s conservation work. …  Just as Payne hoped, these strange, evocative sounds inspired the growing Save the Whales movement, and by 1972 the US had banned whaling and whale products.”

More here.

Photo: Phillip Colla, Oceanlight.com
Humpback whale.

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Asakiyume put me on to this offer from the nautical museum in Mystic, Connecticut. They have just finished restoring a whaling ship, and the public is invited to apply for the role of stowaway on its first trip.

Now, as we all know, stowaways stow themselves away in secret, against the wishes of the boat’s owners, but the museum has decided to put a new spin on an old concept.

Here’s what the Providence Journal reports: “Mystic Seaport is looking for a stowaway for its restored 19th century whaling ship. Whoever is hired will sail with the Charles W. Morgan ship next summer on visits to ports across New England. The stowaway will receive a stipend and will share the experience through videos and blog posts.

“The museum in Mystic has spent four years restoring the ship that was built in 1841. The Morgan’s last voyage ended in 1921 and is the world’s only surviving wooden whaling ship.

“The ship … will sail with a mission to raise awareness of the importance of protecting the oceans and its species.” More here.

Kind of counterintuitive to use a whaling ship to promote preserving the ocean and its creatures, but I guess no one is going to hunt any whales. Good thing, too. I read Moby You-Know-Who finally in 2010, and I wouldn’t recommend the life aboard ship.

Stowaway entries must be submitted via e-mail to stowaway@mysticseaport.org by 5 p.m. Eastern Standard Time on February 18, 2014. I like the idea that the stowaway is expected to blog about the trip. S/he just better not be prone to seasickness.

Update 5/11/14: Read here how the whaling ship restoration benefited from special timber stored upright in saltwater at Charlestown Navy Yard in Mass. and rediscovered during the construction of Spaulding Rehab.

Photo: Bob Breidenbach/The Providence Journal
Matthew Barnes of Mystic Seaport examines the billet head on the bow of the whaling ship Charles W. Morgan.

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My husband and I are often drawn to New England’s older postindustrial cities, with their walkable town centers and their old brick warehouses. They are sometimes called Gateway Cities because for generations they have served as immigrant gateways into the American life. We explored North Adams, Massachusetts, with Suzanne and Erik a couple years ago, and this weekend we went to New Bedford with Suzanne.

Once the whaling capital of the world, New Bedford today is home to an anxious fishing industry, clothing manufacturing, and tourism. We went to the Whaling Museum and came out feeling glad that most countries are more focused on whale preservation than whale hunting.

We sought out Portuguese restaurants and sat on the patio near an outdoor fireplace at one place. We knew there would be Portuguese restaurants as Portuguese speakers have come to New Bedford for generations — from Portugal, the Azores, Cape Verde, and Brazil.

At our beautiful Bed & Breakfast, the hosts (who have spent most of their working lives doing economic development overseas with US A.I.D.) told us that a large Guatemalan community has grown up in the city. They said that most of the Guatemalans speak an indigenous language, Spanish being a second language for them. That’s a particular challenge when Guatemalans go to the hospital as none of the staff speak that indigenous language.

My husband and Suzanne and I walked around. We passed lively Pentecostal churches and a storefront church full of dancers and clowns. We noted lamp posts bearing inspirational banners on how to be a good citizen or how to volunteer. I include one on “Responsibility.”

We also liked the cooperative shops run by members of the local arts community. And we had fun checking out a salvage warehouse for cool architectural bits, here. Among other things, it has rather a lot of bathtubs.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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