Global Warming Makes It Tough on Gray Whales

Kenneth Weiss, a surfer/reporter who last year headed a team that won a Pulitzer for the Los Angeles Times for a series on our trashed oceans, returns to the front page today with a story about how global warming appears to be damaging the arctic feeding grounds of the Gray Whale, leading to "skinny whales" and unusual behaviors.

The whales are journeying far to the north of their usual territory looking for the sea-bed crustaceans that make up the bulk of their diet — and foraging off California and along the western coast as well.

The story tops the front page of the print edition, but for some reason is buried in the California/local edition on-line. Nonetheless, it’s worth a look, complete with graphs, maps, and photographs. Here’s the bottom line:

The loss of Bering Sea feeding grounds is responsible for another
trend: An increasing number of whales don’t bother heading that far
north. Some stop at Alaska’s Kodiak Island. Others don’t get even that
far and spend summers near British Columbia’s Vancouver Island or off
the Oregon coast. Smaller groups remain off California, feeding on
shrimp in kelp beds or anything else they can scrounge.

"These
animals are feeding on things that scientists haven’t observed in
modern times," said Bruce Mate, director of the Marine Mammal Institute
at Oregon State University. "They are beginning to become more diverse
in their diet because they have to."

But switching food could expose them to parasites that contribute to their emaciated condition, scientists say.

It’s
possible, [Steven] Swartz and other [marine] researchers said, that their scrawniness is
merely a temporary condition as the whales learn to adapt to a rapidly
changing Arctic.

"Gray whales are good at switching prey,"
Swartz said. "They need to find new places to feed, because the ocean
is changing on them. I hope we are watching a transition rather than a
serious problem."

Remarkably, our most enviro of editorial cartoonists, Tom Toles, foresaw the gist of this story back in May, when he published a sketch for a possible cartoon about the two wayward humpback whales who briefly went up the Sacramento River.

Wayward_whales_by_tom_toles

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