Flex the magic western grey whale, on to California!

By Edward Johnson
This is our second post on this particular story, unannounced he slipped right by us here in Cannon Beach, and as a crow flies under our nose. It seems he is following a path along our outer continental shelf and heading at a rate much faster than estimated by OSU scientist Bruce Mate. Two weeks ago, he projected him to be off the mid-Oregon Coast by mid-February. Looks like he will be a good hunk of the distance to San Francisco by then. My wife accuses me of speculating too often but it is appearing more likely that he has done this before as his trajectory seems to have picked the shortest distances between two points. Equally important is the source of potential food, which based on my reading and understanding, would be at minimum during migration.  But why has he positioned himself on the line of one of the planets greatest breadbaskets the coastal outer upwelling zone. Granted this time of year generates lower nutrients, sunlight, phytoplankton and zooplankton availability.  Blooms may be sporadic but could provide sustenance (Gray Whales generally consume up to 0.4 % of their body weight per day about 12 lbs or 26 kg). Another source of nutrient pump potential is that of the recent migration of our coastal Gray Whales. Whale poop is big as it provides the same nutrient needs as deep ocean upwelling, which in turn keeps reasonable phytoplankton populations which result in higher invertebrate numbers desired by Flex and his folks.

Our hopes and passions rest with these critters and we have not yet fully debated some of the critical questions that surround this migration. They include: Double barred dart attachment methods and associated risks to the health and well being of marine mammals when extended tracking is required. Should worldwide restrictions be placed on mineral extraction when it will impact critical habitat of endangered species. Sonar is critical for naval operations as well as for the marine mammal food gathering, navigation, securing mates and maintaining families therefore the advancement of the formal leads to the demise of the latter. We need to join together to protection the life potential of Flex and his water brethren.  Ed


Objection to Whale Barbed Dart Tagging NOAA 15616

Below you will find my letter submitted to NOAA and MMPA regarding a research project to be conducted in the Gulf of Alaska which is required under the Marine Mammal Protection Act. It was not until Tuesday of this week that I became aware of this project. Therefore anyone reading this will be unable to submit their comments, as I have done. In searching the internet, outside of the letter submitted by the Whale Museum regarding a similar grant project intended to impact the Southern Resident Killer Whale Pod of Puget Sound, file no 781-1824, enters were scarce.

At this point internet wise I feel connected in degree but am really disappointed that so little was made of this issue in this domain. No question whales our important to the health and well being of the oceans and the planet as a whole. The Marine Mammal Protection Act is being circumvented by military testing and training needs, an issue that needs serious consideration and soon.

RE: Opposition to  Permit Number: 15616 Project Title: Photoidentification, biopsy, and tagging of cetaceans in Alaskan waters

Chief, Permits, Conservation and Education Division Office of Protected Resources
National Marine Fisheries Service, NOAA
Office of Protected Resources
1315 East-West Highway
Silver Spring, MD 20910
Phone: (301)713-2289  Fax: (301)713-0376

Decision makers:

In December 2010 I submitted a letter opposing  tagging of Puget Sound Orca populations using barbed darts among other contentious issues. Recently I became aware of another attempt to use this same invasive method in attempt to track these mammalian creatures.

The application states, “ The attachment of LIMPET tags results in short-term scarring from the time of attachment (approximately 1 month) and then for a short period (< 1 year) until complete healing occurs. Based on the follow-ups of killer whales tagged in 2006 and 2007, which received extensive field time for post-tagging follow-up photos, 20 of 29 whales were resighted after tag loss. Wound healing followed the expected course of hemostasis, inflammation, proliferation, and remodeling. In most cases the remodeling has progressed to the stage of complete repigmentation (from white to grey to black) within 3 – 6 months after tag loss. In all cases the wounds healed quite well – there was no evidence of any prolonged infection nor were there any wounds that never healed. In most cases the wound was not visible within 1 year after tag loss.”

My search has revealed a different assessment  based on materials previously submitted to this agency  by the Board of Directors the Whale Museum, Friday Harbor, Washington, relative to MMPA File No. 781-1824. In that document pictures were included that show some barbs passing completely through the dorsal fin in one case, and of puncture wounds that had not healed within a reasonable period of time on another member to the Southerns Resident Killer Whale Pod.

When you attempt to represent the emotional response of Orcas when being tagged or biopsied as inconsequential, I take further offence. It remains to be seen but the evidence is still accumulating as to just how intelligent and adept their brains have become.  In your application you identify non invasive methods which would result in a greater accumulation of data and less physical risks.  Both surface photographic  identification and acoustical underwater monitoring  have proven very effective. These  non invasive methods have resulted in a huge amount of data. What appears to be missing is the inclusion of this information in subsequent  grant requests. In other words why more funding when previous grant findings have not been utilized to improve survival potential for these creatures.

The method used to attach these double barred hooks is questionable  based on the sea conditions,  marksmanship, and distance between hunter and prey needed for a successful tagging. One NOAA hired researcher described his experience as challenging, given the parameters mentioned above. Once the firing has occurred and it is not successful, the chase is on.  The experiences orcas’ have had with man are suddenly turned upside down as they frantically attempt to escape. The Humane Society would consider this cruelty to animals and subject to punishment by law.

I am alarmed further that the resident pod of Prince William Sound Orcas is not put off limits for any form of tagging. When the population is already so small, with only 8 surviving members from a listed 20 in 1984, and no record births since the Exxon Valdez oil spill, let them be.   Actually I have found no mention of this grant tagging any of this pod specifically so hopefully you have already eliminated this stock from your plan.


Edward W. Johnson