BY NICOLA GROBE
The Gray Whales’ common name is Pacific Gray Whale, and their scientific name is Eschrichtius Robustus. They are mainly gray with numerous white, yellow or orange patches of barnacles and other symbiotic life forms around the blowhole, on top of the head, and on the back. They normally come up to the surface every 3 to 5 minutes to breathe, but are also able to stay under water for up to 15 minutes. they have a very large muzzle. Instead of teeth there are about 300 long mats hanging from their upper jaws, which are called baleen. The word baleen comes from the name Balaena, which means whale in Latin. The baleen is made out of keratin, the same material which our hair and fingernails are made out of. When they eat, the baleen acts like a strainer letting water out and holding little fish and sea creatures inside the jaw. They scoop up mud from the bottom of the ocean, let water and mud go out and swallows the little ocean animals. They eat 340,000 pounds of tiny amphipod crustaceans like shrimps and other bottom-dwelling animals during their 4 month feeding period in the arctic region.
The female grows as long as 50 feet. She weighs up to 40 tons (= 36300 kg). The male is usually smaller than the female. The new born calf measures about 15 feet and weighs about 1500 pounds.
Whales evolved from land animals, who looked like large wolves with opossum shaped muzzles and very large, thick, wide and long tails, 23 million years ago. They changed very gradually over a long time span throughout millions of generations. Whales, dogs, wolves and humans have common ancestors. We all come from smaller mammals. Continuous small mutations in the DNA produce large phenotypical changes over time.
The Gray Whales migrate about 10,000 to 14,000 miles (16,000-22,530 km) round trip. The Eastern North Pacific Gray Whales leave their feeding grounds in the Bering-, Chukchi-, and Beaufort Seas to move south to Baja California, Mexico, for the winter season. They travel for about 3 months one way. Some individual Gray Whales are found year round in the Straits of Juan de Fuca between the State of Washington and Vancouver Island, Canada, and some gray whales are seen during the summer months off the northern California coast.
About every 2 years the female Gray Whale gives birth to one calf in Baja California, Mexico. She nurses her calf for 7- 8 month. Her milk is 53% fat (human milk is 2% fat). Mother and baby remain in the lagoons for 2-3 months, so the baby can build fat, in order to stay warm in the cold water of the northern regions.
Once threatened by fisher people in Baja California, the Gray Whales enjoy lots of attention and protection in the lagoons today, because one fisher man recognized that the whales attract tourism and bring them much more money than they had gained through their fishing industry. People from all over the world come to Baja to pet the Gray Whale mothers and their calves. The whales turn their bellies up for the people to pet. Whales are very trusting, tame, kindhearted and intelligent animals. Humpback whales, Orcas, Dolphins, Sperm Whales and other whale species have higher cognitive reasoning skills than humans. All whales care deeply about one another. Dr. John Lilly and his team of researchers as well as the current marine biologists have observed dolphins helping humans and other whale species. They observed Orca whales helping humans and other mammals who they regard as friends. One video in particular shows an Orca whale pulling a diver deep into the water, the diver panicked and the whale saw it, recognized her agony and pulled her up in high speed so that she could breathe again.
Whales have very high ethics and their moral reasoning is on Dr. Lawrence Kohlberg’s highest moral reasoning level.
Mother Gray whale and calf travel close to shore on the northbound migration. The mother shields her calf from predators keeping her baby facing the shore. The mother swims with her calf in very close physical contact. When Orca Whales attack them to get to the calf, the mother rotates with her calf close on her belly. Orcas can not reach the calf while they are rotating. Mother and calf keep on rotating until the Orcas give up and leave.
There were once three separate populations of Gray Whales. Each group lived at a different location on the planet: One is the North Atlantic Population, which became extinct in the 18th century due to hunting by fisher people. The second population is the Western North Pacific Stock, which is today very diminished in size with less than 100 whales remaining, among them less than 30 reproductive females. Their population size reduction was caused by hunting. The third is the Eastern North Pacific Population, which is the largest surviving population today. They, too, have been hunted once to the edge of extinction around 1850. Their population was reduced to a few hundred individuals. Beginning in 1947 and throughout the following years environmentalists have established the international laws to protect the whales, which has led to a current population of around 24000 individuals.
Scientists are very concerned about the Western North Pacific Gray Whale Population, because along the Southeast Coast of Sakhalin Island Japanese and western businesses are developing one of the largest oil and gas operations in the world. In 2005 independent scientists confirmed that drilling, oil spills and noise pollution are major threats to whales and dolphins. Noise pollution in the oceans is causing all whales severe stress.
The most dangerous noise source in the oceans is high intensity active sonar, which is a loudspeaker device used by the US Navy to detect submarines. The devices send out a sound as loud as 240 decibels, the same volume as a dynamite blast. It reaches thousands of miles far in every direction in the ocean. Water is an acoustic medium and tests have shown that loud sound can travel from Russia to the Gulf of Mexico and from Heard Island, Australia to Coos Bay, Oregon. Even 100 miles away from the source, active sonar has a volume of 160 decibels, loud enough to cause permanent hearing damage in humans. Particularly ocean mammals like whales and dolphins are affected by this sound. When ocean mammals get into the peripheral range of the sound, it causes them to become disoriented to the degree that they swim into the wrong direction, lose contact to other whales, and cause them to wash up on shore. Active sonar sound has the same frequency as the sonar which the whales use to communicate with one another. Their communication is very important for their survival. The whales’ own biological sonar which they use to communicate with one another has a low sound volume and their systems are overwhelmed with high volume sounds. Whales experience high stress, hearing loss, reproductive impairments, immune dysfunctions and mental debilitation, if they are exposed to high intensity active sonar even in the peripheral range of the sound source. If the whales are closer to the sound source, they become very scared and rise up to the surface too fast, which causes decompression sickness. Nitrogen in their internal tissue expands and causes injuries to their organs. If they are near the active sonar sound source they hemorrhage severely in their organs, particularly in their ear drums and lungs. The blood vessels in their ear drums and lungs burst and cause them to bleed to death internally.
Throughout the years the US Navy has conducted high intensity active sonar tests in different parts of the world oceans and everywhere they tested these devices, whales from different species were found dead. Post mortem examinations revealed that the whales had hemorrhaging in ears and lungs. Their conclusion was and is that the hemorrhaging was caused by high intensity active sonar.
Tests were conducted during father Bush and during junior Bush as well as under Barack Obama. Bill Clinton had outlawed the use of active sonar during his administration.
Against protests, court decisions, and even against environmental laws, the US Navy continues to test active sonar in the world oceans. In 2002 a judge pointed out that the Bush administration’s permit for the use of LFA Sonar, which is one of the most lethal types of the active sonar systems, violates a number of federal laws, including the Marine Mammal Protection Act, the Endangered Species Act, and the National Environmental Policy Act. The judge also agreed that science clearly demonstrates “the possibility, indeed probability, of irreparable injury” to ocean mammals and that it would be devastating if LFA sonar was used on a wide scale.
After a court ruling in favor of the environmental organizations, the US Navy was not allowed to test the LFA Sonar system during the whales’ migration periods, the test range was reduced to less than 1% of the originally approved range, and tests were narrowed down to the eastern seaboard of Asia, including China, Korea, Japan, and the Philippines, an area of about 1.5 million square miles, and the tests were not permitted within the 30 to 60 miles coastline range.
The restrictions become invalid in times of war. War is the alibi, excuse and loop hole for those companies which manufacture weapons including high intensity active sonar. The Bush administration had given the US Navy a permit to use their sonar systems in 75% of the world’s oceans.
The vast dying of sea animals would have a huge impact and domino effect on our ecosystems in the ocean as well as on land. The US Navy is constantly seeking exemptions from the laws they are breaking. They are trying to persuade the legislation to modify the Marine Mammal Protection Act and other laws so they can deploy active sonar more widely. The Defense Department is even in the process of being declared exempt from provisions of the Endangered Species Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act. The Supreme Court keeps on ruling in favor of the US Navy even though marine biologists from all around the world have scientific proof that high intensity active sonar has lethal effects on whales.
High intensity active sonar can be replaced by satellites, which also detect submarines, but without doing harm.
High intensity active sonar destroys the animals in the oceans and has to be completely outlawed. Every person worldwide must help. Together we can achieve this goal by engaging actively in political work. You can write letters to legislators around the world to urge them to do everything in their power to outlaw high intensity active sonar production and deployment.
Information sources: NRDC report >Sounding the Depths II, the Rising Toll of Sonar, Shipping and Industrial Ocean Noise on Marine Life<, Michael Jasny, Joel Reynolds, Cara Horowitz, Andrew Wetzler. November, 2005, (>Sounding the Depths<, Research paper written by a panel of international marine biologists warning about the effects of active sonar and under water mining operations on marine mammals. This research paper is free to download), nrdc.org, greenpeaceusa.org, several reports found on Google, PBS reports by Huell Howser, and Discover magazine.