Cetacean Society International
Whales Alive! - Vol. XI No. 4 - October 2002
Keiko and Other Whales' Tales
Keiko has been in the news recently, as if you didn't notice. The rehabilitation project that had brought Keiko in September 1998 to a pen in Klettsvik Bay, in Iceland's Westman Islands, was not progressing well until this June, when the funding and management of the Keiko Project was taken over by the Humane Society of the U.S. As escorted ocean forays continued, the young whale interacted with wild orcas and displayed typical orca foraging dives, but always came back. A fortuitous storm in early August forced the radio tracking boat monitoring Keiko back into port. Keiko continued on, moving up to 100 miles a day, for a while with a congregation of about 40 orcas. The attached satellite tag allowed the team to follow his track, and foraging dives down to 40-60 meter depths. Aerial surveys confirmed on 9 August that he was between Iceland and the Faeroe Islands. Although the plane couldn't pick him out of the crowd of cetaceans feeding on blue whiting and herring, he had found an area teeming with marine life. After passing 100 miles north of the eastern Faeroe Islands in mid August he decided to pay a visit to Norway, showing up in Skaalvik fjord on 1 September. Filling Norway's front-page news every day, he played with children and boats, and charmed a no-nonsense people that may support whaling but proved skeptical of captivity. As public fascination became an onslaught of people, the Norwegian Directorate of Fisheries declared that Keiko "shall not be kept in captivity", commercially exploited, or conflicted by "other interests" and boat traffic. With a protective zone now around Keiko, specialists monitoring him in Halsa are considering where he can spend the winter if he doesn't decide to move on. Meanwhile, his "team" is balancing his conditioning to free food with his need to survive, feeding him 150 pounds of fish per day.
With name recognition that would make Oscar winners envious, Keiko continues to make people think about the welfare of a single wild animal, more than any of us could ever have done. Has any other non- human animal ever been the subject of more well meaning but clueless attention? CSI hopes that he will be left to make his own choices, with whatever support is required but with no interference except for safety. Unfortunately, free food and lots of attention may convince him that he's made the right choice so far. Norway's resolute support for Keiko remaining as free as possible deserves all the praise you can muster. Please write and thank Peter Gullestad, Director of Fisheries, Fiskeridirektoratet, Postboks 185 Sentrum, 5804 Bergen, Norway, email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Luna, or L98 is a member of the southern resident community of orcas who was presumed dead by June 2001, but instead had wandered, alone, to Nootka Sound on the northwest coast of Vancouver Island. When first discovered the two-year-old male's presence was kept secret for fear of human interference (see the April 2002 Whales Alive!). Concerned researchers have been waiting for his L pod family to pass close enough on their summer foraging pattern for a reunion, but the chance of that is passing with October. During the summer, even in the remote sound, up to 30 boats per day were around him as the Marine Mammal Monitoring (M3) Project from Victoria tried to persuade the fascinated public to give Luna space. The real problem is that Luna has decided to interact with the public, allowing touches, eating loaves of bread, getting nicked by propellers, and even shoving his protectors aside to play with a sailboat. It can be difficult for the M3 crew to restrain the public, but it is impossible for them to restrain Luna. Recently the young whale learned to pop up in the path of fast boats, or pace them while begging them to slow and play. Scientists from Canada's Department of Fisheries and Oceans have so far decided to leave him alone. Some researchers believe he will naturally find and prefer his own L pod on his own. He survived alone last winter, although on an unusually heavy run of pilchard. He's healthy and knows the area; can he survive the winter without other orcas? Several environmental groups, including HSUS and the Orca Conservancy, are urging Canada to reunite Luna with his family, which would require a similar capture and transport effort that was used for A-73, Springer. One justification is his contribution to the survival of the entire J, K, and L southern resident clan. Only four mature males survive, assuming that their compromised immune systems haven't reduced their reproductive potential. Earlier decisions by NMFS have implied that this orca population will be written off officially, rather than fight the political inertia against paying for aggressive remedies to the pollution and overfishing that is killing these orcas at an alarming rate. Luna may well represent the future of Washington's orca population, and may be easier to return than Springer, who was reunited with her family this summer after a massive effort. Luna's mother L67, Splash, is still alive. If he hadn't strayed Luna normally would live his entire life at his mother's side.
Newfoundland's solo belugas this summer (see the April 2002 Whales Alive!) include Lenni, who appeared in late August to play with boats and people in Leading Tickles, Notre Dame Bay. Along with several other belugas, Lenni is a repeat visitor to different human settlements. She was first seen at Baie Verte Peninsula in June 2000. Assuming that these solo belugas simply want benign attention, they present conflicting opportunities for understanding and danger. They excite people to do silly things, like putting three year olds into the water with the whale. The belugas often get careless themselves, or can get a little aggressive. These three photos are of Echo, first identified in April 2001.
This year Echo appeared at Codroy, Newfoundland in mid-April, clearly motivated to seek human attention. He interacted with people in boats, or in the water with him. Echo's natural ability to squirt water to find prey in bottom sands became a toy to attract attention, gleefully misunderstood by spectators, but then again maybe he meant it just as it was taken. In late July, after over three months of interacting with people and boats, Echo was seriously injured by propellers. His injuries include the likely loss of his left eye, but as he stayed in Codroy two more weeks, healing wounds gave hope that his good heath may allow him to survive. When he left Codroy many thought he would die, but he showed up at Lark Harbour on 31 August, about 250 km north of Codroy. For further information contact the Whale Stewardship Project, http://www.whalestewardship.org/.
Canada's Marine Mammal Subcommittee of COSEWIC (Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada) had belugas on the agenda in Halifax on 5-6 October 2002. The emphasis was on the current status of certain populations of harbor porpoise, narwhal, right whale, Steller's sea lions, gray whales, sei whales, and belugas, with additional requests for future reports on fin and minke whales. CSI was unaware of any discussions of bowhead whales at this meeting, which Canada has permitted to be whaled on despite low population numbers. The government's response to the few but high profile interactive belugas has been slow in coming, but one "solution" reportedly under consideration has been to capture belugas that show too much comfort with humans and boats and transport them somewhere else, but would this be for the beluga's welfare or to remove a public problem?
West Greenland's beluga whales will vanish within 20 years, warned a scientific committee of the pro-whaling North Atlantic Marine Mammal Commission (NAMMCO) in September. Current hunting kills "are several times the sustainable yield", but there is little current evidence that anyone will do anything to stop it. With the St. Lawrence beluga populations just below NW orcas as the most polluted animals on earth, even as their home range gets so noisy from ships that they can't hear each other, and the survival of the Cook Inlet, Alaska, belugas always in question, we have to wonder why solo belugas still endanger themselves by seeking human contact.
Scotland's 130 Moray Firth's bottle-nosed dolphins, and England's 350 dolphins off Cornwall, could vanish within a decade, according to a July report from the 47 member UK Wildlife Trusts called "Our Dying Seas?". The Cornwall population may have dropped by two-thirds in the last 10 years. In spite of being popular tourist attractions responsible for about £750,000 for the local economy, the dolphins suffer from habit degradation, net entanglements, and human overfishing, while recent government initiatives seem sluggish. The report pointed out that a record 500 dolphins were found stranded on UK shores in the last year, the majority injured or drowned in nets. Salmon poachers' nets were the main threat to the dolphins.
55 pilot whales stranded together on 29 July at Dennis, Massachusetts, one of the world's most notorious mass stranding locations. Nine died while hundreds of vacationers and other volunteers were directed by the Cape Cod Standing Network (CCSN) in an effort to return the other whales to deeper water. Instead they swam NNE in the darkness, perhaps deflected by the seven-mile long east-west shallows of Billingsgate Shoals to the north and the Bay's shoreline to the south. They probably followed deeper channels, perhaps confused by magnetic anomalies, as they entered the shallow Wellfleet Bay. Deep in that bay a channel coaxed the confused and exhausted whales into infamous Blackfish Creek, where 1,500 pilot whales stranded in 1884, and many smaller groups have since. 44 of the 46 survivors of the day before now stranded again. The determined rescuers, pared down to the core of the CCSN and well-trained volunteers, marched over two miles of marsh exposed by the tide to reach the whales, and with great effort managed to get 28 whales off the treacherous mud and grass flats as the tide came in. After a third stranding caring experts were forced to euthanize the whales by injection, as they were now too exhausted and confused to reach the open sea.
Mixed species aggregations of cetaceans have been studied by the Pelagos Institute of Greece in the Mediterranean's Gulf of Corinth since 1995. They found, for example, that while everyone had assumed that Risso's dolphins are responsible for the very visible tooth marks on other Risso's dolphins, other small dolphin species left tooth rake scars on Risso's dolphins also. For more about the "Corinthian Dolphin Project" and the four local dolphin species inhabiting this almost-enclosed sea in Greece, see: http://www.pelagosinstitute.gr/. A recent newsletter of the Monterey, California, chapter of the American Cetacean Society also included notes about sightings of mixed species aggregations, such as Pacific white-sided dolphins possibly harassing humpback whales, Risso's dolphins apparently chasing orcas, and harassing gray whales and short-finned pilot whales. One day in June had Risso's and white-sided dolphins in a vast melee that was either play or aggression. The chapter deserves your membership if for nothing else than their newsletter, which always charts marine mammal sightings in the accessible, prolific and fascinating Monterey Bay.