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Keep a Lookout for Migrating Whales

Here on California’s North Coast, boaters who venture offshore have been reporting abnormally large numbers of whales in recent weeks. So many, in fact, that they pose a serious potential threat to small-boat operators, while their own safety is potentially threatened by ship strikes.

A pair of humpbacks ‘lunge-feeding’ off the coast. 

© 2016 Cornelia Oedekoven / NOAA

For scientific insights into the apparently abnormal population growth, we checked in with MaryJane Schram, media liaison for the Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary:

"These huge numbers of whales are borne out by our own observations during recent sanctuary ACCESS research cruises, with the highest whale numbers and highest record concentrations of whales in the entire history of our ACCESS (Applied California Current Ecosystem Surveys) cruise series. 

"The [SW Farallon] island biologists did a one-hour ‘snapshot’ of whales last week from the Farallon Lighthouse and recorded the following (with a visibility of 35 nm, in 1.1 hours):

• 95 Humpback Whale
• 3 Blue Whale
• 108 TOTAL Whales

 "While thrilling to experience this, it’s important to keep in mind that while here, they are at significant risk of death or injury from shipstrikes, especially if they are concentrated in the shipping lanes that converge on the Golden Gate, [used by ships] from all over the world. That’s why marine sanctuary and other researchers are carefully documenting their movements, correlating them to prey and ocean conditions, to help prevent collisions. Our science is applied science, with specific conservation objectives. Using this data, we succeeded in getting the shipping lanes changed, and have called for a voluntary 10-knot speed maximum while in the lanes (for vessels 300+ GT), effective from May 1 through November 15. Smaller craft should be careful to maintain a 100-meter distance from all whales, too, all year round.

"Blue whales are endangered, and are still not recovering strongly from intensive hunting. Some of our sanctuary’s humpbacks remain endangered, though others have been down-listed or delisted. All need protection against factors that we can control. They are already running a survival gauntlet with climate change, prey shifts, and other stresses. We’re determined to give them a break, where we can."

If you are fascinated by huge cetaceans and would like to learn more about them, consider attending the "Big Whale Soirée" November 19 at Sausalito’s Bay Model. Promoted as ‘a science and art celebration of big whale biomechanics,’ the program features a presentation by Researcher Jeremy Goldbogen of Stanford University/Hopkins Marine Station, who will share his latest research, and answer questions such as: "How do giant blue whales, the most massive creatures on earth, manage to eat up to four tons of food per day?"

The program runs from 7 to 9:30 p.m. at 2100 Bridgeway, Sausalito; $20 per person admission includes two drinks. Reservations: [email protected] or (415) 530-5366.

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