Friday, May 08, 2015

'Toontime: 'Merica's Choice

credit: Gary Varvel, Indianapolis Star
Wackydoodle axes: How much for a date with Chelsea?

credit: Nick Anderson
BC Idowanna sez: White man wear war bonnet!
In a world that blames blue whales for ship collisions, the absurd stunts of politicians have lost their ability to inflame or even draw one's attention. So US Person chooses to focus this post on the ability of baleen whales to get out of the way of ships. To put it shortly: it is not very good. Between 1998 and 2012, there were 100 documented collisions. NOAA believes the large majority of whale collisions are unreported. Blue whales, the largest of the baleen whales, can weigh as much as 420,000 pounds and be as much as 82 feet long. They hardly worry about predators or ships as they siphon up tons of plankton with their baleen plates. Evolution has not equipped them with avoidance behavior since they were never prayed upon except by man for a few hundred years. When confronted by a ship, they do not perform a crash dive, but sink horizontally at about half a meter per second according to a recent study. Whales often have to submerge 30 meters below the surface to avoid a ship's hull and its deadly propellers.  So the blues' "startle response" results in a lot of near-misses. Man insists that his ways should dominate Earth without accommodating his fellow inhabitants. Arrogance is the apt description for his overbearing behavior. But there is hope for Earth's largest animal. The number of blue whales off the West Coast are reaching historic levels. Blue whales in this area of the Pacific are estimated at 2200 up from a low of 951 in 1913. They were hunted in the North Pacific until 1971.

North Atlantic right whales are not so lucky. Although protected since 1970, they number only 450. Ship strikes are a major cause of mortality since they inhabit the North Atlantic in busy sea lanes. Federal officials have proposed a critical habitat zone of 39,655 miles along the East Coast to save them from extinction. Southern right whales are experiencing a die-off. Over the past decade 400 whale calves have died for unexplained reasons. Researchers are tagging southern right whales in order to follow their movements in the vast South Atlantic more closely. Hopefully the satellite telemetry will help explain the increased calf mortality rate. Southern rights are still the most abundant of the three species of right whale, rebounding at 7% a year from the end of commercial whaling.

North Atlantic right whales