SC67A | Bled, Slovenia

Hues of blues and vibrant greens reflect off the calm, clear waters of Lake Bled, a fairytale of a place located in the upper region of northwestern Slovenia. It is this quaint community of Bled, nestled in the foothills of the Julian Alps and famous for its cream cake, that set the stage for nearly 200 scientists from over 40 countries to present their recommendations for whale management policies at the International Whaling Commission’s Scientific Committee meeting in May.

The Scientific Committee (SC) is the body that advises the International Whaling Commission (IWC) on whale stock management and conservation measures. Pacific Whale Foundation (PWF) Founder, Greg Kaufman is an Invited Participant to the SC and serves on several subcommittees including: Whalewatch, Southern Hemisphere whales, Small Cetaceans, Photo-ID and Non-deliberate Human Induced Mortality on Cetaceans. He also serves as the international whalewatch representative to the IWC’s Conservation Committee. Part of PWF’s presence at the IWC is to help ensure scientifically based management of the world’s whale populations.

PWF has been instrumental in providing a comprehensive assessment of the impacts and value of whalewatching. Greg is a team member for the IWC’s Modeling and Assessment of the Whalewatch Industry (MAWI) that will undertake a workshop in the next six months to define a long-term assessment on global whalewatch operations. Since 2010, Greg has also been involved in drafting an international Strategic Plan for Whalewatching. This plan is undergoing further review with an expected international roll-out in the next few years.

A dozen papers authored, co-authored, or using PWF data were presented to the SC this year. One of the most highly regarded papers was focused on photo-identification of Bryde’s whales in Latin America. This work, long thought to be near impossible to conduct, was co-led by PWF Ecuador researcher, Cristina Castro who collected and compiled the data. Barbara Galletti also presented research funded by PWF on Chilean blue whales, focusing on a small population found off the coast of Chiloe Island.

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Exciting matches in South Pacific catalog

We have been busy in the research department adding humpback whales from the 2016 Hervey Bay field season into our South Pacific humpback whale catalog. Along with adding some new animals, we have already made two matches, which is quite a feat considering that each new photo has to be checked against over 6000 others.

The two matched whales were each sighted with a calf during this field season, meaning we can confidently know that they are females. Both females have a long sighting history going back to 1993. Although we don’t know their exact ages, this sighting span means that both animals are at least 23 years old. As we continue to process the 2016 field data, we’re looking forward to making additional matches like these two in order to help us learn more about the South Pacific humpback whales.

Watching Whales from Land

Did you know that Pacific Whale Foundation studies Maui’s humpback whales from land? Using a piece of equipment called a theodolite, we observe the whales’ behavior and recreate their path of travel. You may have seen a theodolite being used on the side of the road—it sits on a tripod and is commonly used for roadwork and construction projects. It has a powerful telescope that allows our researchers to view whales up to three miles away from shore. Using this telescope, we can determine the overall behavior of the pod, how many animals are in the group, and whether there are any calves present. Once the whales come to the surface, the researcher finds them in the telescope, and the theodolite measures angles between the researcher and the whales. These measurements provide a track of the whales’ location without using more invasive methods such as placing tags on the animals.

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Unusual Encounter with Bryde’s Whale in Ecuador

We were welcomed by a beautiful sunny day on the first week of the Ecuador research season. The excitement began when we saw the sun reflecting off of a whales’ dorsal fin, which was quickly followed by the characteristic blow. Echoing the whales blow were the cheers of excitement from the tourists as they knew we were about to experience seeing these amazing animals and confirm the start of our research season.

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When you are in Isla de la Plata it’s easy to tell when the whales have arrived, as the horizon is dotted with white plumes of water vapor from the whales blow. This season, however, humpback whales are not the only species capturing the attention of tourists. The Bryde’s whale (pronounced “broodus” whale) has remained longer than usual and has captured everyone’s attention. Tourists may find the “not so acrobatic” Bryde’s whale less enchanting than the humpback whale, which is known for it’s magnificent breaches. For researchers, being able to study both species simultaneously is a rare occurrence, akin to finding a pot of gold.

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Fluke-Up Feeding in Hawaiian Waters

In the past few weeks our office has received numerous calls from concerned citizens about seeing a whale in distress.  The whale observed is spending long periods of time at the surface with its flukes extended above the water’s surface.  Some have conjectured that it is a whale using its tail flukes to sail; others have suggested it is attempting to cool down using its tail as a thermoregulatory device.

We believe a different hypothesis to be true.  The whale with the extended flukes is most likely a female humpback with a newborn calf. The mother is resting while still allowing her calf access to her mammary glands (located near the posterior portion of her body some 6-8 feet from her flukes).  By extending her tail into the air she is able to keep her body relatively close to the surface, allowing her to rest while minimizing dive depths for her young calf.  The calf is then able to nurse at will and expend less energy.

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Underwater footage of humpback whales reveals penis extrusion

The research team was enjoying a lunch break on the water after completing a morning of transect surveys, when we noticed a nearby competition pod. We realized that the whales were headed towards us and decided to put our GoPro camera in the water to document the behavior. To our amazement, we had filmed something we never expected to see – one of the whales was swimming with its penis out!

A humpback whale penis can be up to 10 feet long and is normally concealed inside the animal’s genital slit. Seeing the penis extrude from this slit is a rare sight, which is why we were so astonished and pleased about the footage.

What is a “competition pod” or “comp pod”? If you have been on a whalewatch you may have heard this term before. It is something commonly witnessed in the humpback whale breeding grounds, such as Hawai`i.

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