Dick Watching: The Whale as Dish

Posted by Juliet Linderman

Hello Dick enthusiasts and welcome to Friday, and to this week’s edition of everyone’s favorite cetacean-themed link list. Let’s get started, shall we? I thought so!

1. Not only are whales adorable gentle giants of the sea, they are also the ocean’s thermometers. According to a paper published in the Journal of Geophysical Research, Oceans scientists are using whales to measure the warming of Baffin Bay, off the coast of West Greenland. Scientists attached temperature sensors to narwhals (you know, the little unicorns of the deep?) to record ocean temperatures as these little buddies made their vertical feeding dives. The results are dismal: Ocean temperatures measured in 2006 and 2007 are nearly a degree Celcius warmer than previous data taken from the same location. Additionally, the winter surface isothermal layer is 50-80 meters less than it should be. But! Scientists are excited by one thing: apparently, narwhals are the best freelance oceanographers around. Says Kristin Laidre from the Polar Science Center in the University of Washington’s Applied Physics Laboratory: “Narwhals proved to be highly efficient and cost-effective ‘biological oceanographers,’ providing wintertime data to fill gaps in our understanding of this important ocean area…Their natural behavior makes them ideal for obtaining ocean temperatures during repetitive deep vertical dives. This mission was a ‘proof-of-concept’ that narwhal-obtained data can be used to make large-scale hydrographic surveys in Baffin Bay and to extend the coverage of a historical database into the poorly sampled winter season.” Yet another reason to give your narwhal a hug today! But be careful, because they have that really sharp horn-tooth thing.

2. In other news of the whale-fail variety, a fish farm in the UK thought it a clever idea to use recorded sounds of killer whales to scare off seals who were eating their fish. Unfortunately, they didn’t think of the consequences…and now they have to deal with the pod of 24 pilot whales the killer whale calls attracted  instead. And one of the female whale is sick. And another is pregnant, and about to give  birth. And they’re all pretty much stranded in the shallows now. And the Scottish SPCA is pissed. A whale of a fail indeed! “The seal scarer may have attracted the pod in. The fish farm has now turned off the recording,” said one enlightened spokesman for Stornoway Coastguard, according to this article in the Telegraph. So, everyone is pretty much freaking out at Loch Carnan right now.

3. So uncool: In Manila, Phillipines, a group of villagers butchered a whale shark (you know, those gigantic toothless dudes that are super rare?) that was trapped in a fish pen. And the scene was brutal: According to Environmental officer Job Tagle, a dozen people were spotted running from the carcus with knives and basins full of whale shark meat. The owner of the fish pen where the whale shark was stuck said the big guy was DOA, but Tagle believes that, in fact, the creature was killed, due to the number of spear wounds and bullet holes (bullet holes?!) found in its body. Apparently it took ten men to carry off  the 440-pound head, which was buried. Despite the fact that it’s super illegal to kill whale sharks because of their status as extremely endangered, a kilogram of dried fin can fetch up to $800. Except the punishment for killing one can fetch a fine of $230…and four years in prison. Leave a whale shark alone! Here’s a video shot by a whale shark (thanks to a crittercam! I mean, obviously not the part with the dudes riding around in the Jeep, but I’m sure you figured that out)

4. For you literary whale lovers out there, be sure to read this month’s Harper’s–there’s an exerpt from Herman Melville’s Town Ho story!

5. Whales in Wales! 50 volunteers made an 82-foot sand sculpture of a whale at the beach where part of the 1956 film version of Moby Dock starring Gregory Peck as Captain Ahab was shot!

6. In more posi news, Palau, an island in the Pacific, has officially deemed the country’s exclusive economic zone (more than 600,000 square kilometers/230,000 square miles) a sanctuary for sharks and whales. From the article: “Palau, which once supported the Japanese position on commercial whaling, now supports conserving marine mammals, along with sharks and other species. By aiding economic development through ecotourism, Palau recognizes the importance of keeping these species alive and thriving.” Nice!

7. I’m so glad this book exists because I’m totally obsessed with Herman Melville’s relationship with Nathaniel Hawthorne, but poor Jay Parini and his weird historical fiction novel about HM that’s partially narrated by Herm’s wife Lizzie gets a pretty luke-warm review (and that’s a generous description) over at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Whatever I’m buying this book immediately.