Author Archives: rochabob

Brian Skerry, NatGeo Photographer, at NBWM on December 1

We have been working with colleagues at Whale and Dolphin Conservation and Audubon Society of Rhode Island to raise awareness about the survival issues facing the North Atlantic right whale.  Over the past year, the most timely issue has been the ‘Ship Strike Rule’ that was enacted in 2008 and given an end date of December 9, 2013. It would be up to supporters of this rule to petition the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to eliminate, or at minimum, push the sunset date back as more data was gathered regarding the effectiveness of this seasonal slow-down for ships longer than 65 feet.

We held a press event on December 9, 2012 to announce the Act Right Now campaign to continue the Ship Strike Rule in perpetuity. In that time, a campaign video was released, right whale curriculum was finalized and distributed to teachers in several states, a fun run was held in Plymouth, hundreds of letters were sent to NOAA stating support for the rule, and over 75,000 people signed the petition that was sent to NOAA headquarters.

As a means of highlighting the progress made in the past year and to bring further attention to this highly endangered species, the Whaling Museum will host a celebratory event on Sunday, December 1, beginning at noon. Headlining this event is renowned National Geographic photographer, Brian Skerry. Brian was born and raised in Massachusetts and his work is known around the world. He is the recent winner of the Underwater Category of the 2013 Wildlife Photographer of the Year Competition! One of his photographs, of a Southern right whale, is featured prominently in our From Pursuit to Preservation exhibit. We are very happy to host him and this great event in three weeks.

 

Post_Card Brian_Skerry Dec1 Event

The schedule for the event is on the post card above. Please note that the tickets are being sold via our colleagues at Whale and Dolphin Conservation. But, if you do have questions, you can call NBWM Science Director, Robert Rocha, (508) 717-6849.

18th Moby-Dick Marathon

Attention all potential readers! The day to call or email to let us know that you would like to read on either Saturday, January 4 or Sunday, January 5 is coming up. As Monday, November 11 becomes Tuesday, November 12, just after midnight, you may call (508) 717-6851 or email mdmarathon@whalingmuseum.org and submit your name. Let us know your preferred reading time, a backup reading time, and perhaps your affiliation. Otherwise, we’ll list you as ‘Melville Aficionado’. If you call, please be sure to spell out your name for us. We will be able to start responding in mid-December to let you know your reading time. Those of you who have been put on the waiting list in the past year or two will get preference.

Event info will follow in subsequent posts. You can also go to the http://www.whalingmuseum.org/programs page on our website.

Enjoy the weekend.

A Halloween Poem

This poem was one of the stories that our High School Apprentices prepared for The Haunted Whaleship, the very successful, first-time event that was held here on Saturday, October 26. Over 500 people came in to see the eerily lit galleries and Lagoda ship model, to meet ghosts of New Bedford’s past, hear our apprentice’s stories, take part in costume contests and participate in crafts.  It was a fun night for all of us.

The leaves crunched beneath the feet of the children in Salem on Halloween night.

All the children in town dash down the streets

in search of sugary treats and to make a fright.

Ghosts, goblins, witches, and fairies.

Halloween time sure is scary.

When you’re parading your costume out on the street

You’ll never be sure of the friends you will meet.

Your moms, dads and teachers all tell you to be safe

and check before you give your treats a taste.

Carry flashlights, bring sweaters

just in case there’s chilly weather.

The Museum wishes you a happy, happy Halloween

and don’t forget to brush your baleen!.

By Tatiana Grace, Gr. 11, Greater NB Regional VTHS

Halloween photo, undated, from Whaling Museum collection.

Halloween photo, undated, from Whaling Museum collection.

Great Whale Tail Photos

As the sun sets on another week, we’d like to share some nicely timed humpback whale photos off the coast of Monterey Bay, California.  This article about Katie Dunbar’s photos shows four very colorful pictures.  The first photo is the most impressive.

Enjoy the weekend.

Fixing a Problem with “Finding Nemo”

Every school group that comes in for a science program has heard, and will continue to hear, me correct one of the flaws in the animated film Finding Nemo.  To summarize, two of the fish characters, Dory and Marlin, escaped from the mouth of a blue whale by going down the whale’s throat and out through the blowholes. This is a physical impossibility. I actually yelled at the TV screen when I saw this.  I knew that I would have to talk about this scene with each and every student who came in for a program.

This scientific inaccuracy, along with a few others in the film, has struck a chord with a writer who is a half a world away, in India.  This article in Gizmodo gives the same explanation that our young visitors hear. Facts are facts, you can only spin them so many ways. It’s a fun read and corrects the original problem, and the anticipated follow up question (‘What comes out of the blowholes if it isn’t water?). The bulleted facts at the bottom of the article are interesting and educational.

The Challenge of Choosing Apprentices

Our high school apprenticeship program connects us to New Bedford juniors and seniors with college aspirations who want to learn more about themselves and their city. Many of these students will be the first ones in their families to go to college.  They are eager to work in an environment in which they are treated like young professionals, are given the opportunity to interact with a variety of educators and experts, and, of course, get paid.

Several weeks ago we began to advertise for new applicants. Notice of the program openings went to all three high schools in the City, to the Standard-Times, to WFHN and WBSM, to NB Public Access Cable and on our blog. Current and past apprentices also spread the word.  The response was very strong. Fifty seven applications were received by our deadline of September 25.  Of these 57, we will only be able to hire four new apprentices.  These new students will bring us to our full complement of twelve apprentices, seven of whom started in July.

This week, during the after school hours, we have been conducting interviews and will do so all week. After reading their answers to the questions on the application, checking their eligibility in relation to receiving free or reduced lunch and reviewing their transcripts, we opted to call 19 students to interview. We have been impressed with the students we have met, and have no doubt that we will be impressed with the students who will come in today and tomorrow after school.

It is no small task to choose four new apprentices from such a large pool of applicants.  These students have to be team players and continue the momentum we have built in the first 3 1/2 years of the program. They need to have the aptitude to grasp all that we ask them to learn. They must be willing to commit to the hours of the job. They need to convey a sense of initiative for their futures, and that they see our program as more than just a job.  We have met many students who can do all of the above. We are about to meet more in the next 30 hours. Yet, there will be four whose interviews, references, transcripts and ability to connect to our interviewers will help them rise above their peers.

This process reinforces the notion that there are countless students in New Bedford, and in the region, who don’t get noticed, or notoriety, simply because they are doing their homework, volunteering after school and on weekends and are staying out of trouble. These are the good kids, the students who deserve our appreciation for doing the ‘right thing’. We feel lucky to get the chance to meet some of them this week. We wish all of them well. We feel even luckier that four more of them will start work with us next week.

Pilot apprentices Spring / Summer 2010

Pilot apprentices Spring / Summer 2010

 

 

Investigating the Information Hidden in Whale Ear Wax

The hottest whale story of the day involves ear wax. Several outlets NBC NewsScience World Report, and New Scientist, among others, have posted stories about information enclosed in the long, waxy earplug of a 12 year old male blue whale that beached in 2007 along the California coast.  These earplugs have been used previously to determine the age of baleen whales. The wax builds up in the ear canal of the whales, with no way for the wax to exit the head. Baleen whales have distinct annual cycles of feeding and fasting, much like trees have annual cycles of growth and dormancy. Distinct changes in the rings are seen every six months. The blue whale from which the plug was taken was estimated to be 12 years old, since it had 24 rings in the wax.

The researchers of this project had wondered about what else could be ascertained from analysis of the waxy earplug. The results are significant, since they were able to determine several factors about the animal’s life, including the toxins that had entered the young whale’s body. It has long been known that many nursing marine mammals pass the toxins in their bodies through their milk to their calves. This sad fact held true for this blue whale.

Blue Whale4 NOAA

Their paper “Blue Whale Earplug Reveals Lifetime Contaminant Exposure and Hormone Profiles” has been published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.  The authors have summarized the significance of their research: “Currently, obtaining lifetime chemical profiles (i.e., from birth to death) is extremely rare and difficult for most of Earth’s animals. We have developed a unique approach to quantify hormone and contaminant lifetime profiles for an individual blue whale with a 6-mo resolution using the wax earplug as a natural matrix capable of archiving and preserving these temporal profiles. Using a male blue whale earplug, chemical analysis reveals lifetime patterns of mercury and organic pollutant exposure as well as fluctuating hormone levels. Specifically, we quantified contaminant maternal transfer, time to sexual maturity, and the doubling of stress over the animal’s lifespan. We anticipate that this technique will fundamentally transform our ability to assess human impact on these environmental sentinels and their ecosystems.”

It should be noted that one of the authors, Charles Potter, of the Smithsonian Institution, is a friend of the New Bedford Whaling Museum and has contributed his knowledge, expertise and insight to past Museum projects.

Museum Apprentices Create Children’s Stories

The Museum really enjoys highlighting the many ways in which our apprentices get involved in Whaling Museum programming and activities. This summer we’ve tasked them with creating their own children’s stories, so that they can be read during a new summer activity called Lunch Time Story Time.

Starting on Tuesday, July 30, from 1:00 – 2:00pm, and continuing on Tuesdays, August 6 and 13, several of the apprentices will read their stories in the Jacobs Family Gallery, to any children that would like to join them. After the stories have been read, the children in attendance can create and take home crafts that relate to the stories.  The apprentices have done a great job of writing these stories and creating and/or obtaining images to accompany the text.

Photo from Museum's Kendall Collection 2000.100.1838.137

Photo from Museum’s Kendall Collection 2000.100.1838.137

Let our ‘kids’ read to your kids. Bring a lunch if you’d like.  Lunch Time Story Time is FREE. Regular admission applies to visiting the Museum galleries. For more information contact Robert Rocha, (508) 717-6849 or via rrocha@whalingmuseum.org.

Great Photos of a Feeding Whale

This one doesn’t require much introduction. A photographer from Spain, named Eduardo Acevedo Fernandez, through some patience and luck was able to take some excellent close-up photos of a Bryde’s (pron. brood-us) whale feeding on sardines. (The front of the whale is on the left side of the photos) The throat pleats are completely extended, allowing the animal to engulf an amount of water and food equivalent to its own body volume. The water then got forced by the throat muscles through the 700-800 baleen plates hanging from its upper jaw, filtering out the sardines and sending the water back into the ocean. The whale then swallowed these small but numerous prey items. Enjoy the photos. They are very high quality.

Bryde's whale postcard, by Jean Vaughan. Produced for  International Whaling Commission, 1960-1990. From Kendall Collection.

Bryde’s whale postcard, by Jean Vaughan. Produced for International Whaling Commission, 1960-1990. From Whaling Museum Kendall Collection.

Protection for N.Atl. Right Whales May Become Permanent

Sixth months ago, on Saturday, December 9, the Whaling Museum hosted a press conference to announce the campaign to make the 2008 NOAA ‘Ship Strike Rule’ permanent. This rule was put in place for five years to test its effectiveness in protecting North Atlantic right whales in their habitat along the east coast of the United States. The rule dictates that during seasons in which NARWs are known to be in a given area at a certain time of the year ((e.g. in Cape Cod Bay from January 1 – May 15) ships greater than 65 feet must slow to 10 knots. The time periods for these slower speeds vary based on where the whales are expected to be during the year. This rule has proven to be very effective. No whales have been reported as having been struck in these Seasonal Management Areas since the rule went into effect. The cost to mariners is less than anticipated. The rule is having the desired effect.

Two days ago, on Wednesday, June 5, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration opened a 60-day comment period for the proposal to make Speed Restrictions to Protect North Atlantic Right Whales (50 CFR 224.10), colloquially known as the Ship Strike Rule, permanent. The New Bedford Whaling Museum, Whale and Dolphin Conservation (WDC), Rhode Island Audubon Society, Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies, select faculty from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, the Right Whale team from the New England Aquarium and other members of the North Atlantic Right Whale Consortium (NARWC) all support making this rule permanent. It could certainly be made stronger by expanding the restriction to all vessels, not just those 65 feet or longer. But the simple elimination of the ‘sunset date’ of December 9, 2013 would be a testament to the effectiveness of this rule and a big step in expanding protections for a species whose population numbers somewhere around 500.

North Atlantic Right Whale female and calf. NOAA photo.

North Atlantic Right Whale female and calf. NOAA photo.

We invite you to learn more about the effectiveness of this rule by viewing the campaign video commissioned by WDC. This video features excellent footage of NARWs and the Museum’s right whale skeleton, Reyna – a whale killed by ship strike, and commentary from several members of the NARWC. Your comments to NOAA are welcome and encouraged.