Vaquita and Gray Whales

From: Pieter Folkens (animalbytes@earthlink.net)
Date: Mon Mar 24 2003 - 13:34:58 EST

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    > Hi! This is Lori again. I e-mailed you the other day about an
    > interview. At the bottom of this page, I've got some questions typed
    > up and was hoping if you can answer them. That would be great. Also,
    > my partner and I are researching the Gray whale and the Vaquite
    > porpoise. If you have any information on either of these two
    > endangered animals, can you please send me it. I appreciate all your
    > help and your time. Thank you.
    >
    > -Lori
    >
    > Interview Questions

    > 1) What is your name?
    Pieter Arend Folkens; it is a Frisian name (northern Netherlands); the
    middle name means 'eagle' and the last name is from a Frisian verb for
    'breeding animals.'

    > 2) What is your job? What is it that you exactly do?
    The big hat is 'science communicator.' I lectured for 8 years in the
    Science Communication Program, Division of Natural Sciences, University
    of California Santa Cruz. I am perhaps best known for my scientific
    illustrations and reconstructions, particularly of marine mammals
    though I have also have accomplishments in the field of human
    osteology. I also write and shoot photographs of wildlife/nature
    subjects. [You may want to check out my latest book: The National
    Audubon Society Guide to Marine Mammals of the World.] My favorite work
    is creating anatomically accurate models of marine mammals. You may
    have seen some of my work in that regard. I designed and sculpted the
    animatronic humpback whales in Star Trek IV, all five killer whales for
    the Free Willy series, and dolphins for Flipper, seaQuest DSV, and Zeus
    & Roxanne. I built a life-sized bowhead whale for the Inupiat Heritage
    Center in Barrow, Alaska. I have authored a number of scientific papers
    on marine mammal anatomy/morphology. I am also a founding director of
    the Alaska Whale Foundation (AWF) and a life member of The Marine
    Mammal Center (TMMC). For both organizations I am a leader of their
    water rescue and whale disentanglement teams. With AWF I study the
    feeding ecology of humpback whales and killer whales in Southeast
    Alaska during the summer. We have a program in association with
    National Geographic Society called CritterCam which will be featured on
    the Geographic Channel this summer.

    > 3) Approximately, how many endangered whales would you say there are
    > today?
    The Marine Fisheries Review, Vol. 61, No. 1, published by the US
    Department of Commerce published the status of Endangered Whales.
    Figure 1 on page 2 lists "Six species of endangered whales" northern
    right whale, southern right whale, humpback, blue, fin, sei, and sperm
    whale. If you count the species you get 7, not six. I suppose this is
    because there is some discussion regarding whether the right whales are
    one or two distinct species. Indeed, the most recent assessment of this
    issue is suggested three species of right whales North Pacific, North
    Atlantic, and Southern.

    This does not include the endangered dolphins which includes the Baiji,
    Vaquita, and others.

    > 4) What are some of the reasons these animals are endangered?
    Over hunting during the previous three centuries reduced their
    populations to dangerous levels in danger of extinction. Habitat
    degradation especially in feeding and breeding areas has inhibited
    their recovery and, in some cases, has caused a further reduction in
    their numbers. For example, pollution can affect their health; over
    fishing can reduce their food resources; and over building resort areas
    (such as Maui, Hawaii, where the humpbacks calve) has an obvious impact
    on successful reproduction.

    > 5) My partner and I are focusing on the Vaquita Porpoise and the Gray
    > Whale. Do you know why
    > these two animals are endangered?
    Vaquita: for starters, Vaquita is the proper common name (with
    porpoise, though they are porpoises). All porpoises are temperate to
    cold temperate animals. Way back when the general climate was much
    cooler than now, porpoises were common in tropical waters, and some
    species very likely crossed over the equator. As the world warmed,
    porpoises moved with the cooler waters as the tropics warmed. As most
    porpoises moved northward on the cooler waters in the Pacific, a group
    became 'trapped' in the Sea of Cortez (Gulf of California). Their range
    became compressed in the upper Gulf. Vaquita were probably never very
    numerous, but they survived in waters replenished with nutrients by the
    Colorado River and the Colorado River Delta where northeast Baja meets
    mainland Mexico. Two things impacted the Vaquita: 1) damming of the
    Colorado reduced water flow into the Gulf, reducing the productivity of
    the region, and 2) a gill net shark and rolling hook fisheries
    incidentally killed most of the Vaquita, as well as place the target
    fish precariously on the brink of extinction.

    Gray Whales are not presently endangered. They were removed from the
    endangered list several years ago and are presently listed as
    threatened. The sole reason for their former status of endangered was
    over exploitation (hunting). The western stock of gray whales (a.k.a.
    the 'Korean stock') is still very much endangered due to over hunting.

    > 6) In which parts of the country or world are they found?
    Vaquita are restricted to the upper Gulf of California.

    Gray whales were once found on both sides of both Oceans in the
    Northern Hemisphere. The first group to go extinct was in the eastern
    North Atlantic. This group migrated along the western European coasts
    between Scandinavia and the Mediterranean. The next to go was the
    western North Atlantic stock thanx to over hunting from Basque and
    English whalers in eastern Canada and New England. The largest
    remaining stock is the eastern North Pacific stock (a.k.a. the
    'California stock') which migrates between feeding grounds in the
    Bering and Chukchi Seas and calving lagoons in Baja California, Mexico.
    A small stock remains in the western Pacific (the Korean stock) which
    migrates from the roughly the South China Sea (southern record: Hong
    Kong) and the Sea of Okhotsk in eastern Siberia.

    > 7) Why are these populations continuing on the downfall?
    The eastern North Pacific population of gray whales is actually stable
    to increasing. The Korean stock is still being hunted, though
    clandestinely or in aboriginal takes (local native hunting).

    Vaquita are in terrible straits due to continued illegal gill netting
    and poor environmental quality.

    > 8) Do you think they will ever be taken off the endangered list?
    Vaquita no; gray whales already are thanx to nearly universal
    protection.

    > 9) What makes these animals stand out from the rest?

    Vaquita really don't stand out. They are among the smallest and most
    plain-looking. An interesting measure of this is the amount of
    resources dedicated to the preservation of the species. Keiko, the
    killer whale from the Free Willy movies received $12 million in
    donations so that this one, not endangered animal could be released
    into the wild. During the same time, less than $15,000 was committed to
    the recovery of the entire Vaquita species. Eight hundred times more
    resources were expended on one individual, nonendangered animal (Keiko
    the Killer Whale), than on an entire endangered species (Vaquita).

    > 10) What needs to be done in preserving the marine life?
    Stop direct hunting of whales. Outlaw gill netting and deep ocean
    trawls where there is a large percentage of incidental marine mammal
    takes or other wasted incidental fish takes. Stop ocean pollution.
    Outlaw fishing on endangered species such as Bluefin Tuna, Chilean
    seabass, trawl-caugh prawns and others.

    > 11) What can people like myself do?
    Become as educated as you can in the subject. Contact the Monterey Bay
    Aquarium Foundation and get information on their Seafood Watch program.
    Keep up on current information regarding whaling by following Cetacea
    Society International and the American Cetacean Society. Share what you
    learn with your friends and family.

    Cheers,

    Pieter Folkens
    Alaska Whale Foundation



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