Orcas show their smarts by working together to whip up a meal. Here, a pod hunts for herring in Norway’s Andfjorden. Members of the pod coordinate their moves, herding a mass of herring into a manageable ball. They then whip their tails against the ball, stunning or killing the fish.
In late January, North Atlantic right whales scored a big win when the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) expanded the critical habitat for the endangered whale from 4,500 square nautical miles to 28,000 square nautical miles.
The original area included only a portion of Cape Cod Bay and an area east of Nantucket near the Great South Channel. This major expansion adds almost all of the Gulf of Maine, east to Georges Bank, and south all the way to Cape Canaveral, Florida. The Gulf of Maine expansion includes Cashes Ledge – an area known for its rich biodiversity and abundance of fish and marine mammals and a place that CLF has been fighting to permanently protect for years.
This is great news for the North Atlantic right whale – the world’s most endangered large whale – and for those of us who care about saving it. Expanding the whale’s critical habitat means that federal agencies are thinking more systemically about what the right whale needs not just to survive but to once again thrive – designating not only places where the whales congregate to forage, but also the places that are critical for mating and calving.
This expansion is also a terrific example of ocean use planning in action. Before announcing the final decision, NOAA, through its National Marine Fisheries Service, called for public dialogue and input about the proposed expansion. It also allowed for new information to guide and influence its decisions around how to manage and permit other activities (like clean energy projects or industrial exploration) in the expanded areas going forward.
Critical Habitat is Good; Permanent Protection is Better – and Necessary
According to NOAA, calling an area “critical habitat” means that it contains physical or biological features essential to the conservation of a particular species – and those features may require special management considerations or protection.
Federal agencies looking to issue permits or companies seeking permits have to work with NOAA to avoid or reduce impacts from their activities on critical habitats. But, a critical habitat designation isn’t as protective as it sounds. It’s more like a “caution” sign than a stop sign. The designation doesn’t establish a refuge for the right whale or its food sources. And it doesn’t specifically put the area off limits or dictate that certain activities cannot occur.
Many aquariums in the United States have already shut down their dolphin petting pools, citing their inherently abusive and unsafe nature. Captives are kept intentionally hungry, so that they are forced to interact with park visitors. The fish portions are very small, to keep the dolphins constantly coming back for more and enduring the poking and prodding of thousands of hands on their bodies.
Sometimes the dolphins are touched in rough or painful ways by well-meaning tourists. Inevitably, garbage is dropped in the pool, creating a choking hazard for dolphins. And visitors get injured by the dolphins. Clearly, the regulation of this facility is desperately inadequate, putting both dolphins and humans at risk.
Regulation of dolphin interactions can be difficult even when it involves experienced professionals. The recent death of SeaWorld trainer Dawn Brancheau demonstrates that cetaceans don’t always follow the rules – especially when they are stressed, frustrated and demoralized, as captives tend to be. Expecting children to follow the rules in an uncontrolled chaotic environment such as the Seaworld petting pool is a recipe for disaster – something that they are hiding beneath a false sense of security and by laying blame on parents for not controlling their children.
You should never buy a ticket to a captive dolphin show or experience. Instead, go out to the actual sea world – the ocean – and view them in their natural home, on their terms. This is a safe, rewarding and truly magical experience.
Navy to deafen 15,900 whales and dolphins and kill 1,800 more
According to U.S. Navy estimates, the use of high frequency underwater sound for testing in Hawaii, the California and Atlantic Coasts, and the Gulf of Mexico will deafen more than 15,900 whales and dolphins and kill 1,800 more over the next 5 years. Whales and dolphins depend on sound to navigate and live. Your signature and comment could stop this Naval program, potentially saving the lives of these ocean creatures.