> 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.
> 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
> 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
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
> 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.
Alaska Whale Foundation
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