First gray whale seen in the southern hemisphere

Written by Dr Simon Elwen, of the Namibian Dolphin Project
http://namibiandolphinproject.blogspot.co.uk/

On the 4th of May 2013, marine tour operators working in Walvis Bay, Namibia, reported an ‘odd looking whale, possibly a gray whale’ to local researchers running the Namibian Dolphin Project (NDP). A few years ago, the presence of a North Pacific gray whale in the South Atlantic would have been dismissed out of hand, but the sightings in 2010 of a gray whale in the Mediterranean has changed ideas of what is possible. Analysis of photographs were conclusive, and confirmed that the animal was indeed a gray whale (Eschrichtius robustus). This is the first confirmed record of the species from the Southern Hemisphere that we know of and certainly the first in the South Atlantic.

Gray whale (Eschrichtius robustus) sighted in Walvis Bay, Namibia in 2013

A skin sample has been collected from the Namibian animal. We have no way of knowing the route followed by the whale to get to Namibia, but it seems most probable that it came via the North Atlantic, having arrived there via either the Northwest Passage across North America or the Northeast Passage across Eurasia. Climate change and specifically the reduction in ice coverage in the Arctic is making sightings such as this one less improbable.

Yangtze finless porpoise is listed as Critically Endangered

The Yangtze finless porpoise (Neophocaena asiaeorientalis asiaeorientalis), the world’s only freshwater porpoise, has been upgraded to Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. This follows the recent probable extinction of the other cetacean once found in China’s Yangtze River system, the Yangtze River dolphin or baiji (Lipotes vexillifer). The change in threat status (it was previously classified as EN) is based on analysis of data for 279 stranded porpoises collected from the middle and lower reaches of the Yangtze River from 1978 onwards, which reveal that the porpoise population is experiencing an accelerating decline, and predict a further population decline of >80% within three generations.

Recent survey results from late 2012 suggest that the porpoise population in the main Yangtze channel has almost halved since the previous survey in 2006, with initial estimates suggesting that there are now only around 500 individuals left in the mainstem compared to over 1,100 six years earlier. The primary drivers of this decline are still not clear because of the range of harmful anthropogenic factors operating in the Yangtze ecosystem, although ship collisions, by-catch in legal and illegal fishing gears, reduction of fish prey base, habitat degradation, and the effects of pollutants are all likely to play a role.

To read the full assessment on the Redlist, click here

IWC/CPPS/Ecuador Training Workshop for Responding to Large Whale Entanglement Events

Large whale disentanglement workshop underway in Ecuador

This regional training workshop was carried out in Salinas, Ecuador, 27-28 June 2013. The entanglement of large whales in small scale gillnets has been identified as a major conservation issue in some countries of the Southeast Pacific, particularly in the cases of humpback and sperm whales. The workshop was conducted in the framework of the International Whaling Commission capacity building program for responding to large whale entanglement events, which is offered to its Member Countries.

Large whale disentanglement workshop underway in Ecuador

The event was jointly organized by the IWC Secretariat, the Permanent Commission for the South Pacific (CPPS) and the Government of Ecuador as host country.  The event was also supported by the World Society for Protection of Animals (WSPA) and Conservation International-Ecuador (CI). IWC technical advisors David Mattila and Ed Lyman from NOAA were in charge of the 2-day training which included a day of practice at sea. Participants included government officers in charge of marine biodiversity management (fisheries and environment), researchers and marine mammal stranding responders from Ecuador (25) Chile (3), Colombia (3), Panama (3) and Peru (3). As part of the collaboration, IWC donated two tool kits to Ecuadorian environment authorities. It is expected that this type of training will foster networking and setting up of specialized response teams in the region. Additional information from the event can be obtained from IWC and CPPS (Spanish) web sites.

Submitted by Fernando Félix and David Mattila.

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