Saturday, July 12, 2014

Whales Off the NJ Coast This Month May Be Threatened By Research

Eubalaena glacialis with calf.jpg

RIGHT WHALE Eubalaena glacialis with calf. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Recent whale sightings off Deal and Lavalette are a reminder that whales are in the middle of their annual migration north past our beaches. Seeing a humpback breaching the surface and landing with thunderous splashes is still rare enough to be news, but the whales are out there.

In what may seem surprising, some environmental groups have opposed a recent "climate change" study by Rutgers University because of whales and other marine mammals.

Environmentalists have joined Governor Chris Christie in opposing research funded by the National Science Foundation and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and conducted by Rutgers University and the University of Texas. They planned to to send ear-shattering sound blasts to the ocean floor off the New Jersey shore to create three-dimensional images of sediment lying thousands of feet beneath the seabed. This will supposedly help determine how the coastline has advanced and retreated during times of historic climate change.

But many environmental groups and some commercial and recreational fishing interests argue that the study would harm dolphins, whales, and other marine life by subjecting them to sounds blasts of 250 decibels or more every five seconds for 34 days.

Cassandra Ornell, a staff scientist for Clean Ocean Action, a coalition of more than 125 groups, conceded that opposing a federally funded climate change study “is kind of unusual for us.”

Whales are more plentiful off the Jersey coast now because of the annual spring migration from their southern winter grounds to their northern summer grounds.

Sightings have been of the dramatic humpback whale. They are feeding on small schooling fishes, such as menhaden (aka bunker). We also have right whales, minke whales and fin whales passing by our coast, though those species tend to stay further offshore.

The research is also of concern because humpbacks are traveling with calves.

Right whale size.svg
 Size compared to an average human - via Wikimedia Commons.

Fishermen can encounter whales while fishing on top of schools of bunker for striped bass. This occurred this summer off Asbury Park when fisherman met up with a fin whale.

The right whale, in particular, is considered highly endangered and boaters are supposed to keep a distance of 100+ feet from all whales and 500 yards from right whales.

The seriously endangered right whale (whose name came from whalers who said it was the "right" whale to hunt) are estimated at only 300 living mainly off the eastern coast of the United States and Canada. The right whale was friendly, slow swimming, floated when killed, and yielded lots of oil and baleen and whalers killed thousands of them. The population in the North Atlantic is the most endangered in the world.

Federally Endangered Whales That Migrate Past NJ
Whale, North Atlantic right**Eubalaena glacialis**
Whale, blue**Balaenoptera musculus**
Whale, fin**Balaenoptera physalus**
Whale, humpback**Megaptera novaeangliae**
Whale, sei**Balaenoptera borealis**

1 comment:

  1. Maybe there is hope