The Whale Report

An Albino, Granny & the
Lonely One, Plus an Arabian Pod

For residents of a planet covered by water, we know little about the sea, and arguably, even less about the creatures that live in it. Not even whales, the biggest of them, – a mammal like us, and a former land animal – we know much about. We should hurry up, though.
Centuries of whaling have cut down their population. Pollution and human habits may finish them off. Before that happens, though, you must learn about three unique individuals, and a very odd pod, still swimming the oceans and challenging all assumptions about them.
To be sure, it’s not easy to study animals who live in another element, plus, there are species so secluded and hard to observe in natura that our only hope to gather insights about them is when their carcasses wash ashore. We’re still to catch a live giant squid, for instance.
In fact, we’re so desperate to know more about whales that we’ve been studying everything we can grab from them: their songs, their breath, their earwax, their vomit, even their poop. Each has shed some light on their behavior, history, even their perception about our presence.
We know now that they can live up to 110 years, possibly more, and that they’re sociable beings. Thus many may have stored somewhere within their giant brains, the memory passed along from previous generations, of how we used to hunt and slaughter them mercilessly.
But even without that memory, they have plenty of reasons to fear and mistrust us. Right now, nine companies are lobbying to use seismic air blasts to look for oil and gas off the Eastern Seaboard, a practice that’s been found to be harmful to Cetaceans and marine life.
We can’t list here all the wrong things about that. But it does make the more urgent to introduce our guests today: a rare Albino humpback; an 103-year-young grandmother Orca; the world’s loneliest whale, and a group that’s been genetically isolated from all others for 70,000 years.

THE BIG ALBINO FELLA
When Herman Melville wrote about the white whale that became Capt. Ahab’s obsession and ruin, he echoed centuries of fear about these giants. It also helped that Moby Dick was loosely based on a terrible event, the 1820 wreck of the Whaleship Essex by a sperm whale.
But Migaloo, a rare white whale that’s been pictured frolicking (and singing) around, is a humpback and has done nothing to inspire fear. Not the sole Albino out there, he’s the only one with no spots, though, and his gregarious personality has delighted those who’ve observed it.
Scientists know that it’s a male because it sings, and his name, the Aboriginal word for ‘white fellow,’ does him justice: at the estimated ripe age rage of 22-25, he’s still growing and may survive another half century. That is, if pollution, human presence, air blasts, etc, etc.

GRANNY DID IT AGAIN
Marine biologists only realized Granny, a matriarch of a pod of Orcas that live in the Pacific, is the oldest known of her species because they’ve followed her, and her calf, Ruffles, since the 1970s, helped by her distinctive patches. She must have been in her 60s, then, they say.
To determine age is not an exact science (rings formed in their earwax offer a more precise picture), and it’s silly to link her to human events (oh, she was born before the Titanic sank, some said). Still, Orcas, also known as killer whales, have had a troubled history with humans.
Organizations such as SeaWorld insist in apprehend them for profit and entertainment, and ignore that they need the vastness of the ocean to thrive. Granny was spotted on an 800-mile trek within just a few days. Thank goodness she was born as free as she should be.

THE LONELIEST SONG
We’ve told you about 52 Herz, the whale who may never find a mate because her songs are sung in a much higher frequency of all other whales. We’ve known about this mysterious creature since 1989 but so far, have failed to capture her on camera.
Judging by her migration patterns, she seems to be a baleem whale, a species to which belong the largest animal that has ever lived, the blue whale, and the fin whale. But because

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Floating Enigmas


Adrift at Sea, Ghost Ship
Carries Crew of Cannibal Rats

Most eerie accounts of ships lost or found abandoned, without a shadow of life aboard, fuel nightmares and horror tales. Take the Mary Celeste, for instance, whose missing crew left all possessions and jumped out of her in a hurry, on a clear night in 1872.
The Lyubov Orlova cruiser, though, belongs to another category of fright: the life left behind is not human but feral. Rodents with sharp teeth run around breeding and eating each other. As they carry on their blood bath, the ship drifts towards the North Atlantic.
The Russian-made vessel is only the latest to be cast adrift, but unlike memorable cases in the past, the fate of her last crew is well known: unpaid by the owners, they all left her at a Canadian harbor, where she remained until she broke lose during a storm.
Penniless and prosaic, or lucky as some would put it, the fate of the Lyubov Orlova crew diverges from accounts of many a ghost ship, found empty, or lost forever and possibly sunk. At least they lived to hopefully find new employment, or another line of business.
Those who manned other legendary ships, however, were never to be seen again. Besides the Mary Celeste, there’s the Caroll A. Derring, with its 1921 swashbuckling tale of possible pirates and the Bermuda Triangle, and the Zebrina, found empty in 1917, with likely hints that the war had come on board.
But just before we lose perspective, the worst possible nightmarish scenarios notwithstanding, nothing at sea can be more terrifying than a shipwreck, both for its potential for unredeeming loss and ability to strike fear into the hearts of sailing souls. Neither has any ship disappeared with a large crew so far. Knock on wood.
And no nautical tragedy encapsulates a higher confluence of fears associated with high seas than the wreck of the Essex in 1820, with its horrific tale of a giant whale hitting it twice, and survivors resorting to cannibalism. The episode inspired at least one masterpiece, Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, published 30 years later.

THE BLOOD OF EARTH
Giving its primordial existence, though, the vastness of the bodies of water that interconnect and divide our receding lands do instil an inordinate amount of irrational fears and spikes in our fright bones, in diametrically ways that terra firma represents hope and redemption when it’s finally within reach.
Thalassophobia is, in fact, one of the arguably most primeval fears for humans, more intense than even the fear of heights. For our inadequate bodies, not made to soar above the clouds or breathe underwater, can still better avoid the former, whereas to drown, one Continue reading

Eerie Impersonation

A Captive Beluga May Have
Learned to Mimic Our Speech

Whales are smart. Or so we’ve been told since we began studying them, instead of killing them, in the 1960s. But a lot of the initial assumptions about cetaceans’ intelligence was based on brain size, and that’s no longer a reliable indication of cognition, scientists say.
Still, self-centered as we are, we’re always impressed when animals begin to sound like humans. The latest example is Noc, a San Diego Beluga whale, whose haunting speech-like pattern, a few octaves lower than his normal ‘voice,’ has been recorded and is all over the Web.
The recording was made by a National Marine Mammal Foundation team of researchers, as part of an online study published on Current Biology. It sounds like the animal was mocking his human handlers, but that’s reading too much in what’s essentially a mimicking exercise.
It took Noc some 16 years to produce what was caught on tape, something that the much smaller brain of a parrot, for example, would produce in just a few months. Still, it gives anyone pause. But before you grow too attached to the whale, a sad note: he died years ago.
SPEECH OR PARROTING?
For the record, cetaceans are indeed intelligent in ways we don’t quite comprehend, and communicate mainly by sounds through long distances in frequencies we can’t hear. Just like elephants and other Continue reading

Whale Watch

New Measures May Be Needed
to Save Whales From Extinction

Lobbying to lift the whale hunting ban was defeated.
So why whales and dolphins continue to be slaughtered
and what else can be done to stop the killings? (*)

Despite a decision by the International Whaling Commission’s annual meeting, which ended Friday in Agadir, Morocco, not to lift the 24-year hunting ban on whales, as global commercial fisheries and dubious scientific concerns were lobbying for, in reality, not much has been accomplished to protect these majestic creatures. On the contrary, a lot still remain in place that is further depleting their worldwide populations.
Beyond the barbaric resolution allowing Greenland’s indigenous Continue reading