Humpback Whales

From: Howard Garrett (
Date: Tue May 22 2001 - 19:58:27 EDT

Hi, my name is Amy and I am enrolled in a Biology class in Minnesota and am
working on a project about humpback whales. I was wondering if I could ask
you some questions about the humpback whales and use your answers for part
of my paper. Here are my questions, if you could please respond to them as
soon as possible:

-In your opinion, what is the leading cause of the endangerment of humpback

         Humpbacks are considered endangered due to the massive commercial
whaling worldwide prior to about 1970. They are not presently being hunted
commercially, although small-scale illegal whaling and indigenous hunts
occur every year. Recent studies have shown that humpback populations are
increasing in both the North Atlantic and North Pacific oceans. They are
still in danger though, either from resumption of large-scale commercial
whaling or from general degradation of their marine environment due to
bioaccumulation of pollutants, overexploitation of the foundation of the
ocean food web, or global warming that may reduce phytoplankton or
zooplankton production, which could reduce availability of krill or small
schooling fish, which humpbacks depend on.

         Another, more immediate danger to humpbacks is military use of
high-powered, extremely loud sonars deployed to detect enemy submarines.
Recent evidence demonstrates that these sonars disorient, cause brain
damage and kill cetaceans of all kinds at distances of tens of miles. The
National Marine Fisheries Service is seeking public comment until May 31 on
whether to issue a permit to the US Navy for use of these destructive sonars.

-What are some interesting things you observed or learned while you were in
the Dominican Republic?

         The surprise for me was the density of humpbacks on Silver Bank,
60 miles north of the Dominican Republic, and the extremely energetic
activity of the whales. It's amazing to realize that humpbacks gather from
all across the North Atlantic in shallow, warm waters where there is
nothing for them to eat, just to sing, mate and have calves. "Rowdy groups"
of males chase females for miles, and from a few feet off the water any
time you look out over the horizon you're likely to see humpbacks within a
few miles slapping their huge flippers, breaching, taillobbing, or racing
around in groups. It's a thrill to watch.

-What can we do to save the whales?

         Become aware and learn to care. By that I mean educate yourself
(exactly as you are doing), read books and articles, watch
documentaries, cruise the web, and ask questions to find out all you can
about whales and what we must do to protect them. In addition, at some
point be confident enough in your knowledge to express yourself on specific
issues, or become an educator, to guide our leaders to appreciate and
protect the great diversity of natural life on Earth. Or become a leader

-What is something especially intriguing or amazing about the humpback whale?

         Sometimes, in New England, a whale approached a boat and acted
strangely in ways that brought cheers and laughter from passengers on whale
watch boats. Some humpbacks would blow perfect bubble rings from 20 feet
below the surface, that rose to the surface directly under the eyes of
whale watchers. Also, I was amazed to see 6 or more humpbacks cooperate to
blow a huge ring of bubbles, 100' in diameter, then blow a cloud of bubbles
30-40' across, to catch large schools of sand lance.

Thank you very much for your time.

         Thank you for your great questions.

Howard Garrett
Orca Conservancy
2403 So. North Bluff Rd.
Greenbank WA 98253
(360) 678-3451

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