Tag Archives: whales

It’s a new whale

30 Jul

Hi blog.

Well, some people get lucky and are able to discover a new species, and get the naming rights.  This little article from the Japan Times is all about that, plus the sobering thought that there is so much in the oceans we don’t know about, and that so much in the oceans goes beyond territorial waters…

http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2016/07/29/national/science-health/japanese-research-confirms-new-rarely-seen-beaked-pacific-whale/#.V5xX7fmLTIV

Japanese research confirms new, rarely seen beaked Pacific whale

 JUL 29, 2016

Genetic tests confirm that a mysterious, unnamed species of beaked whale only rarely seen alive by Japanese fishermen roams the Northern Pacific Ocean, according to research published this week.

The testing shows the black whales, with bulbous heads and beaks like porpoises, are not dwarf varieties of more common Baird’s beaked whales, a slate-gray animal.

Japanese researchers sampled three black beaked whales that washed up on the north coast of Hokkaido and wrote about them in a 2013 paper. The challenge to confirm the existence of the new animal was finding enough specimens from a wider area for testing and matching genetic samples, said Phillip Morin, a National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration research molecular biologist.

He and his team uncovered five other whales, all found in Alaska, that matched the species found in Japan.

“Clearly this species is very rare and reminds us how much we have to learn about the ocean and even some of its largest inhabitants,” he said in an announcement.

The largest beaked whale varieties can reach 40 feet and spend up to 90 minutes underwater hunting for squid in deep water. They are hard to research because they may spend only a few minutes at the surface, Morin said by phone Thursday. They rarely breach, travel in small numbers and blend into their surroundings.

Japanese fishermen reported occasionally seeing a smaller, black beaked whale that they called karasu, the Japanese word for raven, or kuru tsuchi, black Baird’s beaked whale.

The Japanese researchers in 2013 were limited in declaring that they had found a new species because their three samples were from one location, said Morin, who works at NOAA’s Southwest Fisheries Research Center in San Diego.

“My first idea was to go to our collection, where we have the largest collection of cetacean samples in the world,” he said.

In a paper published Tuesday in the journal Marine Mammal Science, Morin and fellow authors describe analyzing 178 beaked whale specimens from around the Pacific Rim. They found five that matched with the Japanese whales.

The oldest was a skull in the Smithsonian Institution recovered from the Aleutians in 1948 and formerly thought to be a Baird’s beaked whale. Another specimen discovered in Alaska was in the collection of the Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History.

The Southwest Fisheries Science Center had tissue from a whale found floating in the Bering Sea. It also had tissue from a black beaked whale stranded on Unalaska Island in the Aleutians in 2004. Local teachers and students had photographed and measured the animal, and its skeleton was put on display at Unalaska High School.

The most recent was a 24-foot, adult specimen that washed up in 2014 on St. George Island, in the Bering Sea. Residents notified Michelle Ridgeway, a marine ecologist with Oceanus Alaska, who documented the animal.

“We knew it was not any whale we knew from our area,” Ridgway said in the announcement.

Little is known about the range of the new species, although the St. George Island whale give a clue. The whale had scars from cookie-cutter sharks, which live in tropical waters and bite flesh from larger creatures, like a cookie cutter out of dough.

Morin said scientists have more questions than answers about the new species, which is about two-thirds the size of a Baird’s beaked whale.

“They’re hard to see, especially if the water is anything but perfectly calm,” he said, adding that acoustic research may help find them so they can be studied.

Japanese researchers are in the formal process of “describing” the species, Morin said. That will include giving the whale a Latin and common name and formally defining its measurements and how it differs from other beaked whales.

Having a wail of a time…

5 Dec

Hi blog.

Bad news again as Japanese conservatives continue to get their way.

Normally I wouldn’t include an article from Japan Today, which has been bought out by the right-wing sympathetic Sankei group, but this one includes some interesting information.  Save yourself the bother of going to the link as the comments section displays the worst vitriol of the human zoo. (Comments by one “tinawatanabe” – who seems to magically appear like a rabid fairy godmother whenever Japan’s actions are criticized – are particularly jingoistic and caustic)

http://www.japantoday.com/category/national/view/japans-whaling-fleet-departs-for-hunt-despite-international-outrage

My comments in bold black.

Japan’s whaling fleet departs for hunt despite international outrage

SHIMONOSEKI —

Japan’s whaling fleet set out for the Antarctic on Tuesday to resume a hunt for the mammals after a year-long hiatus, prompting criticism from Australia as well as key ally, the United States.

Year-long hiatus?  Oh, yes.  The period when Japan – whose officials love to refer as “a nation of law” – actually decided not to ignore the decision of the International Court of Justice.

Japan aims to take more than 300 whales before the hunt ends next year and nearly 4,000 over the next 12 years as part of a scientific program to research the whales.

Research: “What’s the going price for minke whale meat?”

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruled last year that Japan’s whaling in the Southern Ocean should stop and an International Whaling Commission (IWC) panel said in April that Japan had yet to demonstrate a need for killing whales.

Exactly.

But Tokyo retooled its plan for the 2015/16 season to cut the number of minke whales it intends to take to 333, down by two-thirds from previous hunts.

So, somehow, by killing “only” one third of your targeted goal, you think it will make it acceptable even when the ICJ’s ordered Japan to “…revoke any extant authorization, permit or licence to kill, take or treat whales in relation to JARPA II, and refrain from granting any further permits under Article VIII, paragraph 1, of the Convention, in pursuance of that programme”?

“Last year, regrettably, the ICJ made its ruling and we were unable to take whales,” said Tomoaki Nakao, the mayor of the western city of Shimonoseki that is home to the whaling fleet and part of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s election district.

Wait a minute.  Abe’s election district.  Abe, revisionist, who seems to want to drag Japan back to the 1930s.  And if my memory serves me correctly, this is the very same port which received funds siphoned off from the Tohoku Earthquake disaster relief funds, purportedly because the other major whaling port had been damaged by the tsunami.

“There’s nothing as happy as this day,” he told the fleet’s crew at a ceremony prior to their departure.

Roll out that pork barrel!

Shortly before noon the ships sailed away under a clear blue sky, with family members and officials waving from the shore. The hunt is expected to last until March.

Japan, which has long maintained that most whale species are not endangered and that eating whale is part of its food culture, began what it calls “scientific whaling” in 1987, a year after an international whaling moratorium took effect.

Interest groups have always managed to play the “culture” and”tradition” cards, usually with a “race” card and the “racist” card (because being anti-whaling is actually racist, apparently) hidden up their sleeve to draw on the nationalist full house.

The meat ends up on store shelves, although most Japanese no longer eat it.

But plenty of noisy individuals will buy into the “It’s Japan’s sovereign right” argument.  Failing that, they will argue that “fish stocks are at dangerously low levels because the whales are eating them all”.

Officials, including Abe, have long said their ultimate goal is the resumption of commercial whaling – a pledge Abe repeated in a message read at the pre-departure ceremony.

Maybe the “research” is “Just how far can we flout the ICJ ruling?”  This is clearly  a pilot program to resume commercial whaling in Antarctic waters.  (And just how old is this so-called “tradition”?)

Australia and key Japanese ally the United States both opposed the hunt.

“We believe that all of Japan’s primary research objectives can be met through non-lethal activities and continue to oppose their scientific whaling programs,” said Russell F. Smith, the U.S. commissioner to the IWC.

Environmental activists also condemned the move.

“It is completely unacceptable for the Japanese government to ignore the International Court of Justice,” said Junichi Sato, executive director of Greenpeace Japan, in a statement.

This is the same Japanese government that finds China’s flouting of an ICJ decision completely unacceptable.

“This is not ‘scientific research,’ this is straight up commercial whaling.”

You are absolutely correct, Mr. Sato.

(c) Copyright Thomson Reuters 2015.

Article ends

How some people see minke whales.

Kill Something and Eat It

26 Dec

Hi blog.

I ran across this article the other day and would like to put it up here for comment.  Whale is hardly suburban wildlife here in landlocked Saitama, but I’ve seen whale meat in supermarkets, sushi bars, advertised on TV shopping, etc.  I also believe that “research whaling” as conducted by Japan is nothing more than a front for commercial whaling (why else would it get government assistance as a “reconstruction” measure following the 2011 Tohoku earthquake?)

Take note: not all of Japan has traditionally eaten whale meat.  In fact, some coastal villages considered whales to be sacred animals.  Unfotunately, these voices were drowned out in the process of nation-building and consumerism.

There is more to this issue than meets the eye, but I’ll just deal with the article as it stands.

Have a read.  My comments in bold black.

http://the-japan-news.com/news/article/0000872478

Whale meat imports set after 23 yrs

December 21, 2013

The Yomiuri Shimbun

A Japanese firm that has played a central role in research whaling will soon launch full-scale whale meat imports after a 23-year hiatus as a result of a drop in hauls due to obstruction by the Sea Shepherd antiwhaling group, The Yomiuri Shimbun has learned.

Right off the bat we have a company (read: profits first organisation) playing a central role in “research whaling”.  And it appears that the “research” doesn’t require the whales to come from any specific area…

Kyodo Senpaku Kaisha, Ltd., a Tokyo-based shipping company, is expected to import about 30 tons of minke whale meat from Norway early next year, sources close to the deal said.

… or come in any form other than “meat”.

Antiwhaling countries are most certain to file a strong protest against the planned whale imports by Japan, as the International Court of Justice is expected to issue a ruling early next year on a case filed by Australia calling for Japan to stop such whaling, observers said.

Experts said the planned import would mark a turning point for research whaling.

Minke whales are designated as a species threatened with extinction under Appendix I of the Washington Convention. Signatories to the convention are banned from commercial transactions of these species. However, deals between Japan and Norway are possible because neither country is a signatory to the agreement.

Isn’t it nice to not be a signatory to international agreements?  (But only the inconvenient ones)

Since commercial whaling was suspended in 1987, Japan has managed to secure whale meat through research whaling. However, the Sea Shepherd has ramped up its obstructive activities in the Antarctic Ocean since the mid-2000s, leading to a huge drop in hauls to 103 in fiscal 2012, far below the mandatory ceiling of 935 catches.

Incidently, if whaling is a “traditonal cultural activity”, when did the “tradition” of hunting in the Antarctic Ocean begin?

Koichi Matsumoto, 44, the proprietor of a whale specialty restaurant in Tokyo’s Tsukiji district, hailed the whale meat import plan. “If whale meat can be obtained cheaply as a result of imports, it will become possible to spread whale through the dietary culture,” he said.

Of course a perveyor of whale meat will welcome these plans.  It’s not exactly rocket surgery…

Currently, the red meat of minke whales sells at relatively high retail prices of ¥3,000 to ¥4,500 per 100 grams.

One point of concern, however, is that the importer is Kyodo Senpaku. Along with the Institute of Cetacean Research, the shipping company has played a pivotal role in research whaling, as it not only prepared vessels for research whaling, but also was involved in selling of whales.

 

“Research whaling for the year is funded by sales profits from the previous year, so the sale of imported whale meat will be necessary to continue conducting research whaling,” the company said.

Because their main research is discovering the most profitable retail price for whale meat?

However, it is feared that Australia and other antiwhaling countries will criticize the whale meat import plan as signaling that Japan has been conducting commercial whaling under the pretext of research whaling, observers said.

In other words, they’re worried that the rest of the world aren’t as stupid as they hoped.

In 2010, Australia filed a lawsuit with the ICJ calling for Japan to stop its research whaling, arguing that Japan was actually doing commercial whaling. Japan and Australia made oral pleas in the case in June and July this year. The ICJ’s ruling, expected as early as next year, will “have no direct impact,” said Masayuki Komatsu, a former official of the Fisheries Agency. However, he expressed concern about a possible backlash, saying, “Australia and other countries oppose whaling as such, so they will make political announcements opposing the import plan.”

“Japan’s decision to import whale meat means it has become impossible to earn profits from research whaling in the Antarctic Ocean. This marks a major turning point for research whaling,” said Ayako Okubo, an instructor at the School of Marine Science and Technology at Tokai University.

“If the volume of imports rises, it will be necessary to reexamine state subsidies for research whaling,” she said. “I’m afraid sales will not expand if prices are set at a high level for whale meat from research whaling.”

Again, the whole point of this so-called research whaling  seems to be profits.  Just come out an say it – “We’re only in it for the money.”

The planned whale imports by Japan pose no problems regarding international law and will not be affected by the ICJ’s decision, an official of the Fisheries Agency said.

In other words, “We’ve found a back door.”

Wild in Australia

30 Aug

I’m tempted to title this post “Things you can photograph with a proper camera”.  The best ones turned out to be videocaps, thanks largely to the more powerful zoom on the video camera.

I would like to have taken more nature shots, but my wife seems to think that taking photos without the kids in the frame is inherently wrong…

Anyway, none of these involved going off the beaten track.  For example, this photo was taken just outside Goolwa, near the barrage.

A water hen and egret

This one was taken at the barrage, where overflow from the Murray River is released into the sea.

A pair of seals – I think Australian fur seals – on the barrage. There were about 30 of these animals playing around the barrage, no doubt enjoying the fish that make it out.

We could have gotten a shot like this almost anywhere – the Gold Coast was full of them!

A rainbow lorikeet in a banksia tree. We saw many of these in South Australia, and flocks in the dozens at the Gold Coast.

Our trip to the Riverland – Lyrup, Renmark, Loxton and Berri – gave us a different view of river wildlife.

This appears to be a pied cormorant, which tend to hang around estuaries rather than rivers.

This one was a good catch…

A heron with its catch.

And the sunset on the river is wonderful.

A cormorant and dart by sunset.

A return to Goolwa and a day trip to Victor Harbor.

A rainbow near the Bluff, an old lookout for 19th century whalers.

We went across to Granite Island in the hope of seeing penguins. We weren’t in luck – it seems that the penguin population has plummeted. Seals may be partly responsible.
But instead we saw this:

A southern right whale at play, about 1 km off Granite Island.

Two whales?

It was a good trip.

I hope to have some more wildlife from suburban Japan coming soon.

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