Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Whales and New Jersey: Blue Whales

In reaction to the decline of various whale species, the first international agreement to halt whale hunting was reached in the mid-1930s. All six species that I have written about here are listed by the U.S. federal government as endangered as of 1970.

Because of that federal status, all 6 were automatically added to the New Jersey endangered species list following enactment of the New Jersey Endangered and Nongame Species Conservation Act in 1973.

Currently, only Japan and Norway are still engaged in commercial whaling.

Size of blue whale compared to an average human scuba diver

Our sixth and final species from our endangered in New Jersey list to consider in this series is the blue whale. Last but certainly not least, the blue whale is the largest animal alive and probably the largest animal that has ever existed!

The blue whale has reached lengths greater than 30.5 meters (100 ft.) and has reached weights of about 178,000 kg (196 tons). Typically, it averages 23-27 m (70 to 90 ft.) and weighs about 90,000 to 135,000 kg (100 to 150 tons).

The blue whale model in the Museum of Natural History in New York City was my first childhood whale encounter. It makes the dinosaurs seem pretty small. I have yet to see a blue whale in the ocean, but I am sure that will fill me with that same childhood wonder.

Blue whale in the Museum of Natural History, NYC - via

The blue whale's skin is light-bluish gray and mottled with gray or grayish-white. It appears distinctly blue when seen through the water.

Underneath, the belly sometimes has a yellowish tinge as a result of diatoms that have attached themselves in cold water. That gives this whale the nickname "Sulphur Bottom Whale."

The pectoral flippers are long and thin, while the dorsal fin is very small and far back.

When this whale spots through its blowhole it is high and columnar. Like the fin whale and unlike the sei whale, the blowholes appear before (not with) the dorsal fin as the whale surfaces.

Blue whale - Balaenoptera musculus - NOAA photo via Wikimedia

Blue whales were abundant in nearly all the oceans on Earth until the beginning of the twentieth century. For over a century, they were hunted almost to extinction by whalers until protected by the international community in 1966.

A 2002 report estimated there were 5,000 to 12,000 blue whales worldwide in at least five groups. An encouraging IUCN report estimates that there are probably between 10,000 and 25,000 blue whales worldwide today.

Before whaling, the largest population was in the Antarctic, but now there are only much smaller (around 2,000 whales) concentrations in each of the eastern North Pacific, Antarctic, and Indian Ocean groups. There are two more groups in the North Atlantic, and at least two in the Southern Hemisphere. As of 2014, the Eastern North Pacific blue whale population had rebounded to nearly its pre-hunting population.  A 1987 report on the blue whale population in the Gulf of St. Lawrence catalogued 308 individuals.

Whale, North Atlantic right**Eubalaena glacialis**
Whale, blue**Balaenoptera musculus**
Whale, fin**Balaenoptera physalus**
Whale, humpback**Megaptera novaeangliae**
Whale, sei**Balaenoptera borealis**
Whale,sperm**Physeter macrocephalus**
**Federally Endangered

Saturday, July 14, 2018

New Jersey Blogs

New Jersey BlogsWe were happy to discover that the Endangered New Jersey blog was selected as one of the Top 60 New Jersey Blogs on the web by Feedspot.

Feedspot is a service that lets you read all your favorite blogs and websites in one place.

The selection committee was looking for blogs that are actively working to educate, inspire, and empower their readers with frequent updates and high-quality information. The blogs are ranked based on their Google reputation and Google search ranking, influence and popularity on Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites, the quality and consistency of posts.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Family Fishing Classes at Pequest

Family Fishing Basics classes geared towards families new to fishing are offered at the Pequest Trout Hatchery and Natural Resource Education Center this summer.

Topics covered include safety, ethics and casting techniques, followed by actual fishing time on the Pequest Education Pond.

Registration is required and opens two weeks prior to the program date.

All classes begin at 10:30 am and end at 12:30 pm on the following dates:
Tuesday, July 17
Thursday, July 26
Friday, August 10
Thursday, August 16
Tuesday, August 21
Thursday, August 27

For more information visit the DFW website at

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

The Millstone River Fishery

American shad
Recent electrofishing surveys have given us more information on the Millstone River Fishery. In an article by Shawn Crouse, Principal Fisheries Biologist for the Bureau of Freshwater Fisheries, we learn that the American Shad have been on the move in NJ.

Efforts are being made to restore migratory routes of anadromous fish species (those which live in the ocean but spawn in fresh water), including river herring and American Shad.

Several dam removals have taken place along the Raritan, Musconetcong, and Millstone Rivers in recent years, with more on the way, including those along the Paulins Kill (i.e. Columbia Lake).

Shad fishing on the Delaware River has been very good for several spring seasons. Fishing for American Shad is prohibited on all other New Jersey waters, as populations recover.

To restore American Shad and other migratory fishes by reconnecting historic migratory pathways, the Millstone River's Weston Causeway Dam was removed during the summer of 2017.

The Weston Causeway Dam, located just downstream of the Wilhousky Street bridge in Manville, was the first impediment to fish passage on the Millstone River. This 133-foot long and five-foot high dam was originally built to provide power at the Weston Mill. The site included a gristmill, sawmill, the dam, and associated waterpower features. The dam had no current purpose; the mill buildings were claimed by arson in July, 1983. In recent years, the dam had partially failed and was removed in August of 2017 as part of a Natural Resource Damage Assessment settlement agreement.

The Division of Fish and Wildlife (with assistance from the US Fish and Wildlife Service and the Watershed Institute (formerly Stonybrook-Millstone Watershed Association)) are committed to monitor changes to the fish assemblages above and below the dam, before and after dam removal.

The 38-mile-long Millstone River, a tributary of the Raritan River, has a diversity with more than fifty species found in recent years. Migratory species, including American Shad, Gizzard Shad, Blueback Herring, Striped Bass, and American Eel, have been documented passing the Island Farm Weir fish ladder on the Raritan River near its confluence with the Millstone River, approximately 1.5 miles downstream of the former Weston Causeway Dam.

The Millstone River offers an assortment of resident gamefish including both Largemouth and Smallmouth Bass, an abundance of panfish, and trophy-sized carp. The river is stocked annually with Northern Pike, however, those who fish it benefit from some of other nearby waterways stocked by the Hackettstown State Fish Hatchery. Channel Catfish are plentiful in the Millstone, which are presumably transplants from the neighboring annually-stocked Delaware & Raritan (D&R) Canal. Muskies are occasionally captured, possibly originating from the D&R Canal or Carnegie Lake stockings. Transient Walleye, which are not stocked in the watershed, are likely making their way from the Delaware River via the D&R Canal. In fact, sizable Walleye (up to 6 pounds) were found in most surveys in the lower Millstone River. Stocked Rainbow Trout appear as well, coming from any number of trout stocked waters in the watershed. A rigorous fish stocking program is not necessary, as a respectable fishery currently exists, in fact additional stocking of top predators may be counterproductive to the recovering American Shad population.

In the lower reaches, the most numerous species captured were American Eel, Common Carp, Redbreast Sunfish, Bluegills, and Spottail Shiner, with moderate numbers of Largemouth and Smallmouth Bass and Channel Catfish. The surveys near Blackwells Mills and Griggstown, where the river is noticeably smaller in every measurable way, yielded large numbers of American Eel, Redbreast Sunfish, Bluegill, and native forage species such as Spottail Shiner and Tessellated Darter.

Less commonly known species such as the Comely Shiner and Shield Darter (potential for listing as a Species of Special Concern) are also found in the Millstone, along with the Bridle Shiner in its tributaries, a potential State Endangered Species.

Other fishes of conservation interest, and more often found in the Pinelands, are found in the southern-most headwaters including the beautiful Bluespotted Sunfish, Mud Sunfish (potential Species of Special Concern), Swamp Darter, Tadpole Madtom, and the Pirate Perch.

Emily Powers, Hourly Fisheries Technician and Cathy Marion, USFWS biologist, despite their smiles, are holding an invasive Grass Carp that measured 46 inches and weighed almost 52 pounds. The species is fairly common in the lower Millstone River.
This all sounds positive, but while the removal of dams is considered an environmental win, negative impacts also may occur. This action also can expand the range of several invasive species including Grass Carp, Flathead Catfish, Green Sunfish, and Oriental Weatherfish. Other non-desirable fishes, such as Mosquitofish and Common Carp, which have been found in the lower Millstone River, may also extend their range upstream. By rule, anglers are actually required to humanely destroy species regulated as "Potentially Dangerous Fish."

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Whales and New Jersey: Humpback Whales

Whaling in North America was reported as early as A.D. 890. The principal attraction of whaling was the whale's subcutaneous blubber, which yielded oil ideal for lamp oil which was the dominant form of lighting. Much later, it was used in the production of margarine.

The baleen and, in the case of the sperm whale, whale teeth, were also of value. Whalebones were used in the manufacture of glue, gelatin and manure. Besides being eaten by humans, the meat has also been used in dog food and, when dried and crushed, as cattle feed.

Humpback whales may be the best known of all the whales and are easily recognized. These whales, which reach lengths of 16.2 m (53 ft.), have broad, rapidly tapering bodies that are primarily black. Their bellies are sometimes white, and in the North Atlantic the flippers are usually white both ventrally and dorsally (or top
and bottom).

Breaching humpback
Their baleen plates are black, with black or olive-black bristles. Both the top of their heads and lower jaws are dotted with randomly placed fleshy knobs. The lower jaw also has a rounded projection on its tip.

The long flippers are the most distinctive feature of this whale, since at one-third the body length they exceed those of any other species, and they have scalloped leading edges.

The pattern on the underside of the tail varies from all white to all black each pattern is individually distinctive, allowing researchers to identify and track individual whales.

Humpbacks are well known for their songs. We have discovered that these songs can travel across an ocean, and that male humpback compositions are improvised together, from one year to the next.  Check out this PBS Nature video clip to see and hear them - "Songs of the Humpbacks."

Humpback in singing position along with a calf

Whale, North Atlantic right**Eubalaena glacialis**
Whale, blue**Balaenoptera musculus**
Whale, fin**Balaenoptera physalus**
Whale, humpback**Megaptera novaeangliae**
Whale, sei**Balaenoptera borealis**
Whale,sperm**Physeter macrocephalus**
**Federally Endangered