Save the Whales Campaign Research
A Voice for Animals Contest 2013
By Tiara Driedger
Humpback Whale Status in Canada
The humpback whale in the North Pacific Ocean is designated as Threatened by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada. (COSEWIC)
Migration in British Columbia
The North Pacific population of humpback whales makes long distance migrations. They range from winter breeding grounds in southern latitudes (Hawaii, Mexico, and Southern Asia) to northern feeding areas from California to Alaska where they spend the summer months. Humpbacks show great faithfulness to their feeding areas. The humpbacks whales that feed in British Columbia can be split into two separate regions. The northern B.C. region and the souther B.C. region. The northern region is estimated to have a population of 3,000-5,000 whales, while the souther region population is approximately 200-400 whales. There also appears to be a correlation between feeding and breeding grounds. The majority of humpback whales feeding in northern BC appear to be migrating in Hawaii. The southern BC whales migrate to Mexico, as well as Hawaii.
Whale died White Rock beach June 2012
A young humpback whale became beached and died on White Rock beach, June 12, 2012. The whale was under 3 years old, and approximately 7 meters long. It was found with some major, quarter-inch nylon fish line around its mouth. The whale was said to have died on the beach as the first bystanders said the “whale took one last big gasp and after 20 to 30 minutes they didn’t see any movement whatsoever.”
How did the Whale die?
The whale had an excruciating slow death from starvation due to entanglement in fishing gear. The Scientist from the Vancouver Aquarium say the whale was severely tangled and had probably not eaten properly for weeks or even months. Judging by the state of the animals nutrition, it would have taken weeks or months for the whale to lose that much weight. Also the whale had severe scars from the gear which suggest that these were not fresh wounds. The gear had lacerated into the whale’s skin and had cut deep into the whale’s mouth. Ultimately the whale was beached on at the low tide and died there.
Way to go White Rock!
At the news of the beached whale, huge crowds people came to see the whale. In the early morning people rushed down with shovels in hopes to help the whale back to the water. Later in the day people came with flowers and their deepest apologies for its death. The whale had become so popular that the local police had to monitor traffic. The inspiring part was to see how much people truly cared.
People cared enough to try and save the whale
People cared enough to place flowers on the deceased whale
People cared enough to stand in awe and respect
The whales death attracted great public concern and national media attention, creating a meaningful opportunity for education. It provided an amazing opportunity to raise awareness in our community and across the continent about the threat that is imposed on whales lives due to waste in the ocean.
Was there Research about the Whales Death?
At the time of the Whales death, June 12th 2012, news reports ensured the public that experts would be able to identify the whale by the patterns on its tail fluke. With this information they would be able to tell where it has been in the past. This would then lead them to the information about how the whale was entangled. Scientists also were ambitious to track the net and identify its owner. Ideally all this research would have helped determine future threats to the recovery of humpback whales off the B.C. Coast.
What were the Results of the Research?
While researchers worked hard to find answers, they did not find any results. The fishing gear was unfamiliar to local experts. Scott Landry is one of the world’s experts on entanglements, he shared that the line was very likely from offshore longline fisheries and was more difficult to recognize because the hooks had been in the water so long that they had corroded off the lines. This in itself is a shocking fact, that the whale had been tangled so long that it had outlasted the hooks on the fishing line.
Scientists were unable to identify the whale because he was in neither the Marine Education Research Society Catalogue, nor the Department of Fisheries and Oceans Catalogue. Because no one had seen the whale before they were unable to identify where the whale might have become tangled with the net.
Do Humpback Whales become Entangled Often?
The Recovery Strategy for the North Pacific Humpback Whale in Canada identifies entanglements as a threat. Vancouver Aquarium scientists say that mud flats such as White Rock beach are very common environments for animals to become stranded in. Entanglements have become an increasing problem for large marine animals on B.C.’s coast.
The Marine Education Research Society has an entanglement scar study to determine how often humpback whale entanglements might occur. Scar studies in Southeast Alaska estimate up to 78% of humpbacks are entangled at some point in their lives.
Research to Prevent Entanglements of Whales
The problem is so many entanglements go unnoticed and unreported. Studies show that less than 10% of whale entanglements are reported or witnessed. While many organizations aim to find solutions, it is necessary that the Humpback whales of the North Pacific remain under the Species at Risk Act.
Since so many entanglements go unseen it is hard to justify. With better understanding about the threat of entanglement, fishing gear could be adapted including gear modifications that allow nets and lines to break away. With the case of this young humpback whales death on the beach after months of pain, undetected and unreported, it testifies to how little we know about our oceans and how easy it is to kill a huge mammal, even with a bit of stray fishing line.
The best solution to saving the whales and in turn the ecosystem, is to let the tragedy of stories like these affect our consumer choices. We also need to let it affect our values. As humans, we are often ignorant to our impact on the ocean. We assault the ocean for short-term economy gain. Let this story resinate in your heart and give you motivation to be the change. Help make this world a better place for humans to live in harmony with the animals.
Where is the Whale now?
Whale Interpretive Centre
The skeleton of the humpback whale is now at the Whale Interpretive Centreat Telegraph Cove on Vancouver Island. The Whale Interpretive Centre is non-profit organization dedicated to promoting conservation and education of whales on the BC coast. The whales skeleton will eventually be put on display.
Seeing that beautiful giant on the beach made a lasting affect on me and everyone else on the beach. By conserving the skeleton the Whale Interpretive Centre hopes that it will do the same for a long lasting audience.
What was the process of moving the Whale?
Before the whale could be moved, several thousand pounds of flesh had to be removed. A group volunteers were involved in removing the outer layer of blubber from the whale. Very sharp tools were used to cut through the whales rubbery skin and blubber about three inches. The baleen plates attached to the upper jaws were removed. The bones were removed and cleaned. Even after everything had been done, it would take three more years before are finished assembling the whale into a complete skeleton.
Hope for the Humpback’s
Humpback whales are making a comeback in their numbers along the West Coast of British Columbia. Dr. Barret-Lennard, a marine mammal expert at the Vancouver Aquarium says, “Although, still considered at risk species due to the over-hunting that ended in the 1960s, the population is now doing better.”
Marine Mammal Response Number
Please call 1-800-465-4336, the Marine Mammal Response Number, if you see a distressed, tangled or injured marine mammal. It’s calls from citizens that saves animals lives. While it was too late for the Whale on White Rock beach, it may not be for the next animal. The more eyes and ears out there the better chance we have at getting to a marine mammal before its gets too bad.
Plastic garbage in the sea
The plastic in the ocean is commonly referred to as the plastic gyre, a cloud-like constellations of flotsam that tend to drift beneath the surface of the water. The floating material follows complex current gyres and, depending on the weather conditions, can be driven down from the surface to a depth of up to 30 meters. In stormy conditions hardly any plastic objects are to be seen on the surface. From a ship only the larger pieces are visible with the naked eye – and only if the ship is traveling slowly. This is one of the reasons why the phenomenon of the concentration of plastic in the sea remained undiscovered for so long. Estimates suggest that 80% of the waste from land reaches the sea through rivers. Therefore the problem of plastic waste in the sea does not affect only countries with a marine coastline but essentially all regions where plastic is used. Plastic also becomes a problem in lakes, rivers, streams and wetlands. Plastics, like fishing gear, create a major threat for whale entanglements.
List of Resources
Professional Humpback Whale Research and Organizations:
1. Structure of Populations, Levels of Abundance and Status of Humpback Whales in the North Pacific is a report Published in May 2008. It gives stats and concludes that “populations are depleting due to commercial exploitation and are listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act today.”
2. The Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) Assessment and Update Status Report on the Humpback Whale in Canada is a report published 2003. It lists humpback whales as being threatened in the North Pacific population.
3. National Geographic Article describing Humpback Whales
4. Recover Strategy for the North Pacific Humpback Whale in Canada
5. Marine Education and Research Society is a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting conservation and understanding of marine ecosystems through scientific research and environmental education
6. Marine Education and Research Society Research about entanglements in British Columbia
7. Article describing event of White Rock Whales Death
8. Article stating that the fishing gear that killed the whale is unknown
9. Article stating that the skeleton going to Whale Interpretive Centre
10. Whale Interpretive Centre Website
11. Blog about White Rock Whales Death
12. Gear modification techniques for Complying with the Atlantic Large Whale Take Reduction Plan
13. Blog about the work on whales body so that it can be used for conservation and education purposes in Telegraph Cove’s Whale Interpretive Centre: