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Date of Issue: November 09, 2006

Sandscript

Whaling resurfaces in northern Atlantic waters off Iceland

Could whale steaks from Iceland be coming to a grocery store near you soon? Could be.

Iceland has resumed commercial whaling for fin and minke whales. A total of 39 of the marine mammals will be killed through August of next year, according to the journal Nature. The commercial harvest is in violation of the International Whaling Commission, which has had a moratorium on such killings since 1986.

The frosty country has had a longstanding cool relationship with the whaling commission, and, in fact, dropped out of the international body for 10 years due to a dispute over how many whales could be taken for "scientific" purposes and then failure to provide data on sustainability of the two targeted species. Iceland rejoined the group in 2002.

Why kill the big marine mammals?

"The whaling issue has always been under discussion here in Iceland," said one Iceland whale expert. "The people are very much dependent upon the fisheries."

What's especially ironic is that fin whales are classed as "endangered" by international standards; minke whales are in the category of "near threatened."

However, Iceland officials apparently believe that the international standards don't quite apply to waters near their country, which has indeed seen a resurgence of the populations in recent years.

To their credit, taking 39 whales out of a population of more than 25,000 isn't a huge "taking," especially considering that whalers were killing upwards of 10,000 a year during the "high season" from 1940-60.

Marine researchers figure that total populations of the two species of whales could withstand an annual hunt of 150 fin whales and 400 minke whales, without harm to the overall population.

Environmentalists, specifically Greenpeace of London, England, have argued that the whales are more valuable to the lucrative whale-watching eco-tourism industry than on someone's dinner table.

Other "takings" include upwards of 600 minke whales per year by Norway, limited killings by Inuit in Greenland and Canada, and some questionable scientific killings by Japan.

Regardless of the numbers, do we really need another form of white meat on our tables?

 

Tennessee manatee

Another wayward manatee has moved far to the north from its usual Florida haunts, this time to the chilly waters of the Mississippi River in Tennessee.

As of this writing, biologists had bailed on attempting to capture the 1,000-pound marine mammal. Manatees don't like cold water, and with water temps hovering around 60 degrees there, the sea cow may die if it's not captured. If it is netted, it will be transported to SeaWorld for a checkup before being released in warmer Florida waters.

Another manatee took another unprecedented trip up the eastern seaboard of the United States last summer, making it as far north as

Cape Cod. That wayward critter has dropped out of site, apparently, and hopefully is hot-finning its way back south before the water gets too cold.

 

Now THAT'S a big barnacle

Researchers have discovered a rare-to-Florida barnacle that is about as big as your fist near St. Augustine.

The big barnacle, Megabalanus coccopoma, is usually found from Mexico to Ecuador in the Pacific Ocean, but in the last few years has been reported in Brazil, Texas and Louisiana waters, according to scientists with the University of Florida in Gainesville. It probably tagged along on a ship and ended up in the Atlantic. It was first spotted in Savannah, Ga., last summer.

Anyone who's scraped a boat bottom free of the nasty critters knows that barnacles are a pain. Barnacles as big as tangerines are a royal pain.

As one Florida Sea Grant extension agent put it — rather mildly, too — "I think it's fair to say it will have an impact. Especially for boating, they're a fouling hazard. They tend to have sharp openings and they're a pain to get rid of."

According to UF researchers, "Barnacles, arthropods that are related to crabs and lobsters, fix themselves to objects or other animals and wait for food to come to them. The creatures can hitch a ride to their new destinations by attaching themselves to ship or boat hulls, or their larvae get sucked up in ballast water used to balance large vessels, such as cruise ships.

"When ships unload cargo in ports, they take on millions of gallons of sea water to keep them steady as the load lightens. Ballast-water transport is believed responsible for many invasive species around the globe, such as zebra mussels in the Great Lakes area, and officials estimate ballast-water transport causes an estimated $10 billion in damages a year."

Locally, Asian green mussels have plagued the water inflow pipes for Tampa Bay Water's 25 million-gallon-per-day desalination plant.

The whole ship-ballast issue is being addressed by federal officials through something called the National Ballast Information Clearinghouse. The group was formed in 1999, and penalties on ships went into effect in 2004. Basically, ships must unload ballast in non-coastal areas to flush out whatever has piggybacked in them.

And, apparently, it's not just stuff from there ending up here that's the problems. A U.S. ship carried some kind of jellyfish to the Black Sea in the late 1980s, where it flourished and killed off the anchovy industry.

As to the big barnacle, it seems to like relatively warm waters and experts predict it will indeed become a sticky problem for years to come.

 

A true exotic

Not all exotic species are bad, though.

A California company has genetically engineered non-allergenic cats. Apparently, the kitties replace shots and pills for allergy sufferers, as well as purr and do all the other things that cats do.

At $4,000 per cat, it's not a feline to sneeze at, but the company, Allerca, apparently has a steady stream of customers willing to go through an arduous interview process before they can take delivery of such a critter.

As the St. Petersburg Times put it, "People who go to the trouble and expense of buying one of Allerca's cats obviously don't view their cuddly purr machine as medicine, except maybe for the soul."

Before you get going about genetic manipulation and all its philosophical and ethical questions, there's an addition to this cat tale.

Allerca has discovered that about one in 50,000 cats has some form of mutation that makes it allergy-free for humans, and they're actively breeding those cats for their soon-to-be-sneeze-free customers.

 

Sandscript factoid

Here are some whale facts from the American Cetacean Society:

"The fin whale is one of the rorquals, a family that includes the humpback whale, blue whale, Bryde's whale, sei whale and minke whale. The fin, or finback whale, is second only to the blue whale in size and weight. Among the fastest of the great whales, it is capable of bursts of speed of up to 23 mph, leading to its description as the ‘greyhound of the sea.' Its most unusual characteristic is the asymmetrical coloring of the lower jaw, which is white or creamy yellow on the right side and mottled black on the left side. Fin whales are found in all oceans of the world, though they seem to prefer temperate and polar waters to tropical seas."

"The minke whale is also known as the Little Piked Whale. Like all the rorquals, the minke is a fast swimmer, capable of reaching speeds of up to 21 mph. The minke can be curious, and has been known to approach ships, even at times keeping up with moving vessels. Often, however, minkes spend relatively little time at the surface. It may be hard to see a minke at sea because its blow is rarely visible and it tends to disappear quickly after exhaling. Since it is relatively small, it may be hidden in a choppy sea. Minke distribution is widespread, ranging from sub-tropical to polar waters."

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