Category

Environmental Problems

A Few New Blue Whale Photos, or, Why I Won’t Be Visiting Iceland Soon

Blue Whale, California, Environmental Problems, Underwater Photography

A huge blue whale swims through the open ocean in this underwater photograph. The blue whale is the largest animal ever to live on Earth, Balaenoptera musculus, San Diego, California

A huge blue whale swims through the open ocean in this underwater photograph. The blue whale is the largest animal ever to live on Earth.
Image ID: 34567
Species: Blue whale, Balaenoptera musculus
Location: San Diego, California, USA

Blue whales have been in our area recently. Not too long ago you could have said that and most people would have been quite surprised. But it is no longer a secret, it is a fairly reliable natural history event. For 25 years I’ve been getting out on the water with photographer and good friend Mike Johnson to look at life on the ocean, and this year we had a little luck. Inquisitive whales came by a few times to take a look at us and I got a couple photos out of it.

What does this have to do with Iceland? This. I have long wanted to see Iceland, with its cute ponies, spectacular waterfalls and Instagram-celebrity ice cubes rolling in the surf like “From Here to Eternity”. I am positive Icelanders are wonderful folks, and I know their country is gorgeous and welcoming. I wish Icelanders well. But the Icelandic government permits this asshole to commercially hunt fin whales, in spite of fin whales being protected by the CITES. To be clear, these whales are killed for profit — they are exported to Japan. There is no element of “aboriginal” or “subsistence” whaling to what Kristján Loftsson’s commercial whaling company Hvalur hf is doing. Last week, however, Hvalur hf actually killed a blue whale, or a blue-fin hybrid. That strikes a deep nerve with me. On the heels of having some of the best views of these magnificent creatures that I have had in years, I was stunned to learn a few days ago that a blue whale was killed for profit. Blue whales represent the pinnacle of evolution in many ways. They are the largest creatures ever to inhabit Earth. One blue whale is larger than an entire herd of African elephants. A child can crawl through the passages of a blue whale’s heart. Who knows, blue whales may be the largest sentient being in the entire Universe — we can’t rule it out. They have not been hunted, by international agreement, for decades. Until last week.

I’ve seen many blue whales, have had several blue whales look me in the eye and watched blue whales hunt krill, breach out of the water and nurse their calves. They are awe-inspiring animals. Under no circumstances should a blue whale ever be hunted, period.

Why do my feelings matter to Iceland? I, and others like me, represent a considerable potential revenue stream for Iceland. I spend a lot of money on travel. I spend way too much time thinking about where to go next. I am constantly planning trips abroad, as far as two years out. I have organized as well as participated in at least 50 significant trips (some would be called expeditions) with friends where as a group we can easily drop $75,000 or more in two weeks of travel. Many friends ask me for advice and ideas about where to go to have fun and take cool photographs around the world. My website gets more than a little traffic, and I get hit up with emails weekly about my opinion on this place or that dive. I plan to spend more money traveling and diving in the coming ten years than I have in my life so far. And I hope to spend a fair bit of it in Iceland, seeing the wonders there. But it won’t happen until I see improvement on the part of the Government of Iceland toward whales, along with holding Hvalur hf accountable for its take of this blue. I don’t get to vote in Iceland’s elections. The only way I can influence Iceland’s policies towards whales and whaling is with my wallet, by keeping it shut and by encouraging others to do the same, until change occurs.

Take a look at these blue whales we saw recently. They are not food and they shouldn’t be hunted. Cheers, and thanks for looking.

Blue whales, adult and juvenile (likely mother and calf), swimming together side by side underwater in the open ocean, Balaenoptera musculus, San Diego, California

Blue whales, adult and juvenile (likely mother and calf), swimming together side by side underwater in the open ocean.
Image ID: 34568
Species: Blue whale, Balaenoptera musculus
Location: San Diego, California, USA

A huge blue whale swims through the open ocean in this underwater photograph. The blue whale is the largest animal ever to live on Earth, Balaenoptera musculus, San Diego, California

A huge blue whale swims through the open ocean in this underwater photograph. The blue whale is the largest animal ever to live on Earth.
Image ID: 34565
Species: Blue whale, Balaenoptera musculus
Location: San Diego, California, USA

Blue whale, exhaling in a huge blow as it swims at the surface between deep dives. The blue whale's blow is a combination of water spray from around its blowhole and condensation from its warm breath, Balaenoptera musculus, San Diego, California

Blue whale, exhaling in a huge blow as it swims at the surface between deep dives. The blue whale’s blow is a combination of water spray from around its blowhole and condensation from its warm breath.
Image ID: 34560
Species: Blue Whale, Balaenoptera musculus
Location: San Diego, California, USA

Blue whale, exhaling in a huge blow as it swims at the surface between deep dives. The blue whale's blow is a combination of water spray from around its blowhole and condensation from its warm breath, Balaenoptera musculus, San Diego, California

Blue whale, exhaling in a huge blow as it swims at the surface between deep dives. The blue whale’s blow is a combination of water spray from around its blowhole and condensation from its warm breath.
Image ID: 34564
Species: Blue Whale, Balaenoptera musculus
Location: San Diego, California, USA

Seabird Entanglement in Monofilament Fishing Line

Environmental Problems, Pelicans

Unfortunately, I have another image of wildlife entanglement to share, this time a California brown pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis) entangled in monofilament fishing line. This seabird appeared to me to have ingested a hook or lure, so that one end of the monofilament fishing line was down its throat while the remainder of the line was wrapped in and around the pelican’s beak and neck. I have other photos of monofilament fishing line injury to marine wildlife. I also had a blog post some time ago about Seabird and Sea Lion Entanglement Photos.

Brown pelican, entangled in monofilament fishing line, showing winter mating plumage colors, Pelecanus occidentalis, Pelecanus occidentalis californicus, La Jolla, California

Brown pelican, entangled in monofilament fishing line, showing winter mating plumage colors
Image ID: 28966
Species: Brown Pelican, Pelecanus occidentalis, Pelecanus occidentalis californicus
Location: La Jolla, California, USA

International Conservation Photography Awards 2012

Environmental Problems, Sea Lion, Sea of Cortez, Underwater Life, Underwater Photography

Art Wolfe hosts the biennial International Conservation Photography Awards (“ICP Awards”). One of my images was honored in the 2010 edition of the competition, so I decided to try again this year. My photograph of a young California sea lion entangled in monofilament fishing line, taken in the Espiritu Santo Biosphere Reserve in Baja California, was selected in the “Natural Environment At Risk” category, which seems quite fitting given the competition is meant to highlight conservation and issues relating to the natural world. Thank you Art and ICP Awards! To see all the recognized images — and you should since there are some spectacular photos in this year’s competition — check out: http://icpawards.com/2012winners.php

California sea lion injured by fishing line, Zalophus californianus, Sea of Cortez

California sea lion injured by fishing line
Image ID: 27419
Species: California sea lion, Zalophus californianus
Location: Sea of Cortez, Baja California, Mexico

Wildlife Entanglement: Sea Lion and Monofilament, Pelican and Shopping Bag

Environmental Problems, Sea Lion, Underwater Life, Underwater Photography

Photos of Wildlife Entanglement in Plastic

Unfortunately, I have had a number of opportunities to photograph wildlife entangled in plastic debris. Plastic Debris. We make it, we use it and then we leave it behind. This stuff is killing animals and causing problems everywhere. I find it dismaying every time I come across abandoned netting (ghost nets) or monofilament fishing line in the ocean. Often the monofilament is wrapped around a sea lion’s neck as in these photos, or tangled on a reef where it can snag passing fish or invertebrates. I’ve also come across some animals entangled in plastic shopping bags, such as the brown pelican pictured below. At least plastic shopping bags degrade somewhat when exposed to sunlight, so those animals stand a chance of recovery provided they do not eat the bag in an effort to remove it. Alas, in all three cases shown below I considered how to assist the animal pictured but no opportunity presented itself.

California sea lion injured by fishing line, Zalophus californianus, Sea of Cortez

California sea lion injured by fishing line
Image ID: 27419
Species: California sea lion, Zalophus californianus
Location: Sea of Cortez, Baja California, Mexico

California sea lion, with monofiliment cut, Zalophus californianus, Monterey

California sea lion, with monofiliment cut.
Image ID: 00958
Species: California sea lion, Zalophus californianus
Location: Monterey, California, USA

A California brown pelican entangled in a plastic bag which is wrapped around its neck.  This unfortunate pelican probably became entangled in the bag by mistaking the floating plastic for food and diving on it, spearing it in such a way that the bag has lodged around the pelican's neck.  Plastic bags kill and injure untold numbers of marine animals each year, Pelecanus occidentalis, Pelecanus occidentalis californicus, La Jolla

A California brown pelican entangled in a plastic bag which is wrapped around its neck. This unfortunate pelican probably became entangled in the bag by mistaking the floating plastic for food and diving on it, spearing it in such a way that the bag has lodged around the pelican’s neck. Plastic bags kill and injure untold numbers of marine animals each year.
Image ID: 22572
Species: Brown Pelican, Pelecanus occidentalis, Pelecanus occidentalis californicus
Location: La Jolla, California, USA

Brown pelican, entangled in monofilament fishing line, showing winter mating plumage colors, Pelecanus occidentalis, Pelecanus occidentalis californicus, La Jolla, California

Brown pelican, entangled in monofilament fishing line, showing winter mating plumage colors
Image ID: 28966
Species: Brown Pelican, Pelecanus occidentalis, Pelecanus occidentalis californicus
Location: La Jolla, California, USA

Seabird Entanglement in Plastic

Environmental Problems, Pelicans

This week I licensed a photo of this unfortunate brown pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis) entangled in what appears to be a grocery bag to an environmental education initiative, to illustrate the tangible effects of trash and debris on the marine environment. I originally posted about this bird in 2009. I believe the pelican speared a plastic grocery bag floating on the water, mistaking the plastic bag for prey. I would have loved to see the bird captured by wildlife rehab experts so that the bag could be removed, but the pelican was in a position that would have been difficult to approach successfully. Those parts of the bag that the pelican could grasp with its bill appear to have already been pulled away and I believe the remainder would have disintegrated in sunlight, weaked and fallen off soon. Hopefully the bird ingested no pieces of the bag, since plastic is often found clogging the digestive tracts of many species of seabirds.

A California brown pelican entangled in a plastic bag which is wrapped around its neck.  This unfortunate pelican probably became entangled in the bag by mistaking the floating plastic for food and diving on it, spearing it in such a way that the bag has lodged around the pelican's neck.  Plastic bags kill and injure untold numbers of marine animals each year, Pelecanus occidentalis, Pelecanus occidentalis californicus, La Jolla

A California brown pelican entangled in a plastic bag which is wrapped around its neck. This unfortunate pelican probably became entangled in the bag by mistaking the floating plastic for food and diving on it, spearing it in such a way that the bag has lodged around the pelican’s neck. Plastic bags kill and injure untold numbers of marine animals each year.
Image ID: 22561
Species: Brown pelican, Pelecanus occidentalis, Pelecanus occidentalis californicus
Location: La Jolla, California, USA

Sea Lion Entangled in Monofiliment Line

Environmental Problems, Monterey, Sea Lion

This California sea lion (Zalophus californianus) has a severe neck laceration caused by what is likely monofiliment fishing line wrapped around its neck and digging into its skin. Monofiliment fishing line is an exceptionally thin and strong type of synthetic line used for sportfishing. Given that it is designed to be nearly invisible in the water (so the fish do not see it), it is easy to imagine how a passing sea lion, turtle or diving seabird might become tangled in it were the animal unfortunate enough to encounter abandoned monofiliment line in the water. Abandoned fishing line? Absolutely! Fisherman often simply cut their lines if they are unable to clear a snagged line. The abandoned line will last hundreds of years in the water, waiting there to entangle whatever that it comes in contact with. Such line is quite thin and consequently cuts easily into even the tough hides of sea lions. And it is strong, meant to withstand the pull of strong gamefish, so it will not easily give way even if the sea lion were to somehow gain purchase on it and try to break it. Instead, the monofiliment line will slowly, steadily cut into the sea lion’s flesh, eventually causing the animal to suffer from suffocation, starvation or infection.

California sea lion, with monofiliment cut, Zalophus californianus, Monterey

California sea lion, with monofiliment cut.
Image ID: 00958
Species: California sea lion, Zalophus californianus
Location: Monterey, California, USA

Appearances nothwithstanding, this sea lion was simply dozing and had been awake and alert minutes before this photo. However, the injury it is experiencing clearly has the potential for infection. I did not see this sea lion again so do not know if it was rescued and rehabilitated or ?

See more photos of California sea lions (Zalophus californianus).

Seabird Entangled in Plastic

Environmental Problems, Pelicans

To add to my description from yesterday about the pelican entangled in a plastic bag, here is another view of the brown pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis californicus) entangled in a plastic grocery bag. I did consider making a grab for the bird (gently of course), hoping I could restrain it long enough to pluck the bag off its neck, but the pelican’s location on the bluffs made it nearly impossible to reach.

A California brown pelican entangled in a plastic bag which is wrapped around its neck.  This unfortunate pelican probably became entangled in the bag by mistaking the floating plastic for food and diving on it, spearing it in such a way that the bag has lodged around the pelican's neck.  Plastic bags kill and injure untold numbers of marine animals each year, Pelecanus occidentalis, Pelecanus occidentalis californicus, La Jolla

A California brown pelican entangled in a plastic bag which is wrapped around its neck. This unfortunate pelican probably became entangled in the bag by mistaking the floating plastic for food and diving on it, spearing it in such a way that the bag has lodged around the pelican’s neck. Plastic bags kill and injure untold numbers of marine animals each year.
Image ID: 22561
Species: Brown pelican, Pelecanus occidentalis, Pelecanus occidentalis californicus
Location: La Jolla, California, USA

See more brown pelican photos as well as our Guide to Photographing Pelicans in La Jolla.

Pelican Entangled in Plastic Bag

Environmental Problems, La Jolla, Pelicans

Discarded plastics and styrofoam are destroying our environment. They wreak havoc especially hard on marine wildlife. I recently came across a textbook example of how such trash can injure and kill in the form of this unfortunate brown pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis californicus) which is entangled in what appears to be a plastic bag. I am reasonably certain it is the lightweight sort normally used at grocery stores. I have a good idea of how this predicament came to pass. Plastic bags blow in the wind until they reach the ocean, at which point they float. As these translucent bags drift along on ocean currents, they look like food to many marine animals. Pelicans typically dive from high in the air onto the prey, piercing the water like a spear. I think this pelican saw the plastic bag as it was foraging over the ocean, thought that the bag was some form of food, made a dive into the water and speared the bag with its beak. The pressure of the pelican driving into the water pushed the bag over the head and down the neck of the pelican, were it now sits like a deadly necklace. It appears that the pelican has, during its preening, bitten away quite a bit of the bag, and hopefully will make enough further progress on the bag that it eventually breaks free and the pelican is liberated. (I have a few other photos of marine animal entanglement, including a sea lion with monofiliment fishing line wrapped around its neck.)

A California brown pelican entangled in a plastic bag which is wrapped around its neck.  This unfortunate pelican probably became entangled in the bag by mistaking the floating plastic for food and diving on it, spearing it in such a way that the bag has lodged around the pelican's neck.  Plastic bags kill and injure untold numbers of marine animals each year, Pelecanus occidentalis, Pelecanus occidentalis californicus, La Jolla

A California brown pelican entangled in a plastic bag which is wrapped around its neck. This unfortunate pelican probably became entangled in the bag by mistaking the floating plastic for food and diving on it, spearing it in such a way that the bag has lodged around the pelican’s neck. Plastic bags kill and injure untold numbers of marine animals each year.
Image ID: 22562
Species: Brown Pelican, Pelecanus occidentalis, Pelecanus occidentalis californicus
Location: La Jolla, California, USA

See more brown pelican photos as well as our Guide to Photographing Pelicans in La Jolla.

Photos of Boat Strikes of Marine Animals

Environmental Problems, Humpback Whale, Marine Life, Ocean Sunfish

Boat strikes of marine animals are increasingly common, for obvious reasons. It is disappointing to observe a marine animal severely or mortally wounded by a collision with a boat. We have encountered several marine animals bearing unmistakable boat propeller scars:

North Pacific humpback whale showing extensive scarring, almost certainly from a boat propeller, on dorsal ridge, Megaptera novaeangliae, Maui

North Pacific humpback whale showing extensive scarring, almost certainly from a boat propeller, on dorsal ridge.
Image ID: 05910
Species: Humpback whale, Megaptera novaeangliae
Location: Maui, Hawaii, USA

Ocean sunfish injured by boat prop with cleaner fishes, open ocean, Baja California, Mola mola

Ocean sunfish injured by boat prop with cleaner fishes, open ocean, Baja California.
Image ID: 06410
Species: Ocean sunfish, Mola mola

West Indian manatee, Trichechus manatus, Three Sisters Springs, Crystal River, Florida

West Indian manatee.
Image ID: 02651
Species: West Indian manatee, Trichechus manatus
Location: Three Sisters Springs, Crystal River, Florida, USA

Gray whale dorsal aspect showing injury/wound/indentation likely caused by boat, Laguna San Ignacio, Eschrichtius robustus, San Ignacio Lagoon

Gray whale dorsal aspect showing injury/wound/indentation likely caused by boat, Laguna San Ignacio.
Image ID: 06426
Species: Gray whale, Eschrichtius robustus
Location: San Ignacio Lagoon, Baja California, Mexico

See more boat strike and propeller scar photos.

Keywords: propeller scar photo, boat strike, injury, photograph, boat collision.

The humpback whale photograph was taken during Hawaii Whale Research Foundation research activities conducted under provisions of NOAA / NMFS and State of Hawaii scientific research permits.<