Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Whale Numbers

Whale Numbers

“What’s Killing Pacific Whales?”  My dear friend Dr. Andrew DeVogelaere, Monterey NOAA research scientist and Catholic layman, and his colleagues, published this article in the New York Times this week with this subhead: “Emaciated gray whales are washing ashore dead.  Scientists are trying to solve the mystery.”

It is science at its best: ideas, numbers, cautious, caring, comprehensive. This NOAA research is a fabulous use of our tax dollars.  Thanks, Andrew.

Read it at

I was struck by the article’s numbers: 
167 –gray whales washed up dead this year along the West Coast.
Unknown number – dead gray whales sunk to bottom.
49 feet, 45 tons – gray whale average size
10,000 miles -their annual round trip Alaska to Mexico and back.
.33 – fewer calves this year than last.
1.3 – tons of amphipods they must eat every day in the summer in Alaska.
50 – gallons of milk baby gray whales must eat every day after being born in Mexico.
8 – degrees warmer was the Alaska Bering sea last summer, where whales feed.
1.8 and 5% - for every 1.8 degree increase, 5% drop in total mass of sea animals.
27,000 – number of gray whales today.
120,000 – gray whales at peak of commercial whaling in 1800’s.
41 – years since sea ice extent was bigger than today, much less ice algae and amphipods to eat.

Quotes from the article:

“When these whales returned to their Baja breeding grounds in early spring this year, they arrived weeks late and were skinnier than usual. Now, not only do some of the adults seem to be malnourished as they pass by on their return trip to the Arctic, but we are also seeing about one-third fewer calves than we did in last year’s count. Baby whales need 50 gallons of milk a day, with a fat content of 50 percent, which means their mothers need to be well fed……

“Last summer, the whales’ prime feeding habitat in the Bering Sea was more than eight degrees warmer than average. Scientists are working to understand whether this anomaly affected the amphipods that are the main source of food for the whales. Researchers think the amphipods eat algae that grow on and within the sea ice. But with sea ice melting, there is less algae and fewer amphipods. The maximum sea ice extent in 2018 was the lowest it has been in the last 41 years…..

“In the coming months, scientists will gain a clearer picture of what’s been happening. In the meantime, we can help these animals by supporting the creation of more protected areas in the ocean, like the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. These places are strongholds of biodiversity that provide resilience against threats like climate change. NOAA is also working with the private sector to modify shipping routes and adjust fishing techniques. The health of these gray whales depends on the health of the ocean. So does ours. We must do everything we can to better understand and protect that world.”

Psalm 104:26:
What a wildly wonderful world, God!
    You made it all, with Wisdom at your side,
    made earth overflow with your wonderful creations.
Oh, look—the deep, wide sea,
    brimming with fish past counting,
    sardines and sharks and salmon.
Ships plow those waters,
    and the whales, your pets, romp in them……
“Strongholds of biodiversity that provide resilience.”  Come visit the Blue Theology Mission Station in Pacific Grove for a day, weekend or week, for a youth service trip or adult pilgrimage and see how the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary is this kind of special, set apart, sacred sanctuary that we believe God approves of.  Like God herself, diverse and resilient.  I post these ocean devotionals every Wednesday here and on Facebook.  Come and Sea!

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