Subject: Gray whales may be starving, expert says - May 20, 1999

Michael Williamson (
Sun, 23 May 1999 16:56:03 -0400

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                   See the WhaleNet CD-ROM
    **  <>  **

                      J. Michael Williamson
Principal Investigator-WhaleNet <>
                   Associate Professor-Science
  Wheelock College, 200 The Riverway, Boston, MA 02215
             voice: 617.734.5200, ext. 2256
            fax:    617.734.8666, or 978.468.0073

          "Mother, Mother Ocean, I have heard your call,
   Wanted to sail upon your waters, since I was three feet tall"
                        Jimmy Buffett

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<!--=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D= =3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D= =3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D--> <FONT face=3D"helvetica, arial"><H1>Gray whales may be starving, expert s= ays</H1></FONT> <TABLE border=3D0 ALIGN=3DRIGHT CELLPADDING=3D0 CELLSPACING=3D0 BORDER=3D= 0 HSPACE=3D5 VSPACE=3D5 WIDTH=3D220> = <TR><TD colspan=3D2> <!--=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3DIMAGE=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D= =3D--> <IMG SRC=3D"gray1.jpg" ALIGN=3DTOP WIDTH=3D"220" HEIGHT=3D"168" BORDER=3D= "0" VSPACE=3D"5"> <!--=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D/IMAGE=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D= =3D--> </TD></TR> <TR> <TD> <FONT SIZE=3D"-2" FACE=3D"helvetica, arial"> <B> <!--=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3DCAPTION=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D= --> Gray whales need plenty of fuel for their 12,000-mile journey from Baja t= o Alaska — the longest migration of any marine animal <!--=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D/CAPTION=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D-= -> </B> </FONT> </TD><TD width=3D12>  </TD> </TR></TABLE> <P> <FONT SIZE=3D"1">May 20, 1999<BR> Web posted at: 11:25 AM EDT</FONT> </P> <IMG SRC=3D"/NATURE/enn/ennlogo4.gif" ALIGN=3DLEFT WIDTH=3D"82" HEIGHT=3D= "30" BORDER=3D"0" VSPACE=3D"5"><BR><BR><BR><BR> <P> An increase in the number of gray whale deaths could be the result of a d= iminishing food supply, according to an Oregon Sea Grant researcher. <p> At least 65 whales are reported to have washed up on Mexico's Baja Penins= ula, where the animals migrate each winter to bear their young. And that'= s not all. Additional whale corpses have been discovered along California= shores in March and April during the migration of the whales north to th= eir feeding grounds in the Bering Sea. <P> The apparent higher-than-normal mortality rate has generated widespread s= peculation. Some researchers point to pollution or changes in seawater ca= used by a huge salt-evaporation plant in Guerro Negro. Others suspect tha= t the animals were killed by cyanide in fluorescent dye used by drug smug= glers to mark the sea during airdrops of illegal narcotics. <P> But Oregon Sea Grant whale researcher Bruce Mate said the answer might li= e in changes to the undersea ecosystem in the whales' summer feeding grou= nds off Alaska. <P> Mate, who is based at Oregon State University's Hatfield Marine Science C= enter, says one possibility for the gray whale mortalities might be that = they are not getting enough to eat. The animals spend the summer months i= n the Bering Sea, between Alaska and Siberia, where they fatten up mostly= on bottom-dwelling creatures called amphipods. The whales then fast duri= ng their entire migration south without any additional snacking until the= y reach Alaska again the following summer. <P> "So, gray whales might go without food anywhere from three to five months= ," Mate said, "and those that didn't fill up the tank, so to speak, in th= e Bering Sea may be returning on empty." <P> Researchers have noted huge changes in the Bering Sea at all levels of th= e food chain, and some have theorized that those changes are part of an e= ven larger disruption of ocean temperature and biomass patterns. <P> Mate says those changes might be affecting the amount of food the gray wh= ales can find during the summer -- and they need a lot of food. Not only= do they need to fatten up to get through the months when they don't eat,= they also need fuel for a 12,000-mile migration from Alaska to the Baja = Peninsula -- the longest migration of any marine mammal. <P> Mate reviewed information on the gray whale fatalities during a recent me= eting of the Mexican Society for Marine Mammalogy. Figures indicate that = the number of fatalities is the highest recorded in the 24 years that peo= ple have kept track of gray whale migrations. The numbers may partly refl= ect the fact that, this year, people are keeping better track of the whal= es, said Mate. <P> Most worthy of attention this year, is the number of adult whales found d= ead, Mate said. According to his study, more than half of the 65 dead gra= y whales counted in Mexico were adults and quite a few of the rest were a= t least one year old. That's a marked contrast to most years when observ= able gray whale corpses are typically very young – a few weeks or a = few months old. <P> "Typically, most of the animals you'd expect to see die during the reprod= uctive season would be newborn calves," Mate said. "Only about 50 percent= of calves live to one year of age. But this year, more than half of the= dead animals are adults and quite a significant number of the rest are y= earlings. This is part of the population we're not used to identifying wi= th such high mortality rates." <P> Mate also notes that this year's fatalities were spread out over a long s= tretch of coastline during a four-month period, indicating to him that th= e deaths were not the result of a localized problem such as pollution or = drug-runners' dye. <P> But he admits it's hard to tell just what is going on, particularly on th= e hot, isolated shores of Baja. <P> "Most whales are too far gone by the time they come to shore. It's been v= irtually impossible to get good diagnostic information on the cause of de= ath for these animals because the area is so remote," Mate said. "By the= time a team can identify a mortality and get to it, the warmth of the su= n has caused bloating and deterioration in the physiology of the carcass,= so good diagnostics really can't be done." Mate said sometimes researche= rs are still able to collect blubber specimens, "but even that literally = melts away in the heat." <P> Even those whales that wash up in the more temperate shores of California= can pose a challenge for researchers because they have often been at sea = for several days. <P> Mate hopes to expand his study next summer if he can muster the required = funding. He plans to tag the whales during their northbound migration and= to examine their activity in the Bering Sea. <p> "If [the whales] stay in one spot, it will indicate that they have found = significant quantities of food," Mate explains. "Or if they move around a= great deal it will suggest that they haven't found what they are looking= for either in quantity or quality." Mate also intends to sample the actu= al food supply. <P> Anyone interested in adopting a gray whale to aid Mate's study can write = to the Hatfield Range Science Center, Newport, Ore. 97365.</P> <P><FONT SIZE=3D"-1"><b>Copyright 1999, Environmental News Network, All R= ights Reserved<br></b></FONT></P> <!--=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D= =3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D= =3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D--> <!--=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3DPaste story between here= =3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D--> <!--=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D= =3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D= =3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D--> <BR clear=3Dall><HR size=3D"1"> <font face=3D"Verdana, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif" size=3D"1"> <A name=3D"r"><b>RELATED STORIES:</b></A> <blockquote> = = <a href=3D"">Makah Indians h= arpoon gray whale</a><br>May 17, 1999<BR> <a href=3D"">Tribal whalers b= oth hunters and hunted</a><br>May 15, 1999<BR> <a href=3D"">Northw= est Indian tribe begins hunt for gray whale</a><br>May 11, 1999<BR> </blockquote> <BR clear=3Dall><HR size=3D"1"> <font face=3D"Verdana, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif" size=3D"1"> <A name=3D"r"><b>RELATED ENN STORIES:</b></A> <blockquote> = <a href=3D" sp" target=3D"_blank">Gray whales slow to start winter migration</a><BR> <a href=3D""= target=3D"_blank">Whales stall proposed Mexico salt mine</a><BR> <a href=3D"" = target=3D"_blank">Decision to allow Makah whale hunt appealed</a><BR> </blockquote> <hr size=3D"1"> <b>RELATED SITES:</b> = <blockquote> = <a href=3D"" target=3D"_blank">Year of the Ocean 1998= </a><BR> <a href=3D"" target=3D"_blank= ">California Gray Whale Tutorial</a><BR> <a href=3D" =2Ehtml" target=3D"_blank">Journey North 1998: Gray Whales</a><BR> <a href=3D"" target=3D"_blan= k">Conservation and Development in the Gray Whale Lagoons of Baja Califor= nia Sur</a><BR> </blockquote> <blockquote> = <div align=3D"LEFT"> <b>Note: Pages will open in a new browser window </b> </div> <font size=3D1><em>External sites are not endorsed by CNN Interactive.</e= m></font></font> <BR> </blockquote> = </td></tr></table> = <table cellpadding=3D0 cellspacing=3D0 border=3D0> <tr valign=3Dtop> = <td width=3D"460" bgcolor=3D"#000033" height=3D"13"> <font face=3D"Verdana, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif" size=3D"1"= color=3D"#FFFFFF"> = <b> LATEST HEADLINES:</b></font> </td></tr> <TR> <td width=3D"460" bgcolor=3D"#FFFFCC"> = <!-- latest headlines --> <BR CLEAR=3D"all"> <font face=3D"Verdana, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif" size=3D"1"> = <blockquote> <b><A HREF=3D"/WORLD/">WORLD:</A></b> <blockquote> <A HREF=3D"/WORLD/europe/9905/23/kosovo.refugees.02/index.html">= More lost Albanian men cross out of Kosovo</A><br> <A HREF=3D"/WORLD/meast/9905/23/israel.politics.02/index.html">Ba= rak government begins to take shape</A><br> <A HREF=3D"/WORLD/europe/9905/23/ ">Italian labor aide's killers had inside knowledge, officials say</A><br= > </blockquote> <b><A HREF=3D"/US/">US:</A></b> <blockquote> <A HREF=3D"/US/9905/23/veterans/index.html">Veterans concerned n= ational cemeteries are filling up</A><br> <A HREF=3D"/ALLPOLITICS/stories/1999/05/23/clinton.grambling/ind= ex.html">Clinton touts importance of family to Grambling seniors </A><br>= <A HREF=3D"/US/9905/23/AM-SeatBelts.ap/index.html">Safety campai= gn targets unbuckled children</A><br> </blockquote> <b><A HREF=3D"/TECH/">SCI TECH:</A></b> <blockquote> = <A HREF=3D"/TECH/computing/9905/21/license.priv.idg/index.html">= U.S. Supreme Court takes up driver's license data privacy </A><br> </blockquote> <b><A HREF=3D"/SHOWBIZ/">ENTERTAINMENT:</A></b> <blockquote> <A HREF=3D"/SHOWBIZ/TV/9905/22/daytime.emmys.ap/index.html">At l= ast! 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