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February 19, 2009

Shooting endangered whales with a crossbow

Posted: 11:32 AM ET

ST. AUGUSTINE, Florida - Katie Jackson has one of those jobs that must be fun to explain at a cocktail party: She uses a crossbow to fire darts at endangered whales.


When right whales become entangled in fishing rope, Katie Jackson and crew throw grappling hooks from a boat to try to disentangled the endangered mammals.

The marine mammal biologist with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission uses her sharpshooting skills to try to protect the North Atlantic right whale, which, with a population of only 400, is thought to be the most endangered large whale in the world.

This time of year, the whales are giving birth off the coast of north Florida and Georgia (see story here).

After new calves are born, Katie and crew are close behind in a boat. She fires a crossbow dart at the rump of the baby whales, which already weigh a ton. The hollow point of the dart removes a chunk of tissue scientists use to learn about the genetics of each whale.

Katie says the darts don't hurt the whales. They feel about like a paper cut would to a human.

The genetic samples are important, she says, because not much is known about right whales. The information helps researchers set up family trees for the whales. They also use the close encounters as a rare chance to observe the right whales' habits.

So far, scientists are on track to see a record number of new calves this year. The birthing season comes to a close at the end of March.

But scientists also are seeing more right whales entangled in fishing rope. The ropes restrict their movements and can cause cuts and infections that kill the whales. Katie's team also works to free entangled whales. From the front of an inflatable boat, she and other scientists toss grappling hooks toward the whales, hoping to catch and then remove the lines that threaten to kill them.

- John Sutter,

Filed under: Animals • environment

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Franko   February 19th, 2009 1:19 pm ET

Torturing Whales, pretending protection, is just wrong,
Wounding, leaving opportunities for infection.
"up to 100,000 whale lice parasites can occur per whale"

Katie had her babies shot at by non-humans ?
Such is the use of tax dollars.
Can't these biology goofs pull the wings off of a fly, just for fun ?

DJ   February 19th, 2009 1:44 pm ET

Franko, really? The efforts of these scientists are geared toward preserving the uniqueness of this species, as evidenced by the large body of work done by scientists employed in wildlife conservation.
Your assertion of torture is based on what evidence? I suggest leaving the inflamatory accusations unsaid. Conservation science is too important for frivolity.

A big thank you to Katie and others working on conserving the biological diversity of this planet. Hope to see more of us out in the field doing the work that needs to be done.

j   February 19th, 2009 3:05 pm ET

I hope they are gathering genetic material from the whole population. The advancements in cloning may be the only way to save these whales. I hope they can recreate/ repopulate the species in the future, but the technology will have to make significant advancements for that option to be viable. Unfortunately, there needs to be a large enough gene pool to propagate a species and not create lethal recessives.

Franko   February 20th, 2009 7:34 am ET

These "scientists" are pulling off another hoax; - How do you top
Saving the Polar Bears, by cooling the climate, for research funds ?

Proof is in the DNA, "Secrets of the Whale Riders "
Perhaps, as recent as 1 million years ago, interbreeding of North and South
Not good news of a Mr. RightWhale breeding more research funds

"Isthmus of Panama, separating the Pacific and Atlantic. That set up warm equatorial currents that kept most blubber-laden right whales from crossing the equator because they could not tolerate the warm waters"
This is the same problem that causes Ice Ages
Very warm Equatior; a blocked car radiator, blocked Gyre heat transport,
Get those Biologists digging for reserch grants, widening the Panama Canal

S Callahan   February 20th, 2009 10:02 pm ET

My son had the recent experience of being on the waters in the coast of Florida, capturing pics....quite awesome to view these giant creatures.....
It turns my stomach as well to 'dart' the whales...isn't there a better method that can be designed to get the same result?
Better some care than none I guess....

Franko   February 21st, 2009 3:05 am ET

Dr. Kraus - Whale enthusiast
"In any event, interbreeding is a slim hope. Artificial insemination "probably is not possible," Dr. Kraus said, and while it might be possible to move a whale or two on ocean-going barges, "that is pie-in-the-sky kind of stuff.""

Is it so expensive, to bring a few, from South, up North ?
Would be a good tourist attraction (maybe more research grants)

Greyghost   February 23rd, 2009 9:52 am ET

It always amazes me when people who know nothing of conservation methods want to tell the experts how to run a program!
You see the same thing when they have to cull elephants in Africa, kill wolves in Alaska, or cull whitetail deer in New Jersey.
What these people are doing with the whales is not harming them, but possibly extending the life of the species.
If you want to protest something, grab your picket sign, head for Japan and protest their killing of whales by the hundreds under the guise of 'scientific study'. They are truly endangering the whales!

Unbiased   February 23rd, 2009 10:10 am ET

Franco, although you seem very knowledgable, I think you miss a very large point. The human population has done a great injustice to this planet. When private citizens and governments invest money to better understand these creatures, they effectively gain skin in preservation of our planet. That is a good thing...... Although you see babies, it maybe more accurate to say the best time to do this work, is when the whale is the cleanest (at birth). I think you understand that these people are not pretending, but are attempting to better understand these animals. The more we know, the more we care. All good things. More over we have to assume that a whale has more to fear in this world than a paper cut.

Eric   February 23rd, 2009 11:37 am ET

Amen to that GreyGhost...

Everyone shoulkd go over to Animal Planet and watch Whale Wars to see just what the Japanese whalers, in disguise as researcher do. That will show you the difference between a researcher(ie, Katie and her associates) and someone working towards decimating whales. Sea Shepards are awesome. Instead of complaining Franco...go donate to the Sea Shepards who are also doing a lot of good to save the whales from extinction.

Eric in Aurora, IL

kelley   February 23rd, 2009 1:29 pm ET

Possibly a fall back career for Palin?

Franko   February 24th, 2009 6:12 am ET

The video " Animal Planet and watch Whale Wars " goes on and on
British accented people, helicopter, speedboat, partying, vegetarian diet on ship, one practicing some kind of martial art - will check further on µTube ?

Mother cow and baby whale, why stress them out ?
See a bear, throw things at it, makes the bear mean

Whales, what kind of intelligence ?
Chimpski could language basic wants, how whales different ?

Greyghost   February 24th, 2009 2:03 pm ET

I think some of you are becoming upset because of the picture of the lady holding tht huge metal object.

That is not the tool used to collect the DNA sample. It is the grappling hook that is used to catch the whales and free then from the entangling fishing ropes. You are getting over excited for no reason!

Franko   February 24th, 2009 2:39 pm ET

Recent Whale Wars news - footage worth $20 million
Seized by Australia - Give Watson credit for masterful publicity

How will Japan reply ? Sneak into U$ land cow slaughter houses ?

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Aridac   April 1st, 2012 4:09 am ET

Hi all,I found this discussion very egngaing and enjoyed Linda's article on a dreaming town. I have not had any whale dreams lately but I often dream with whales. I wanted to share this Big Dream that I had a few years ago, Transfiguration Pipe CeremonyI am holding hands with a Native American Elder and he stands to my left, Ican see the color of his skin is the color of the red earth, and thebeautiful wrinkles on his skin from the many years he as lived. I never seehis face only focus on details of holding his hand. His energy is sweet andloving and the wisdom he has to share is nourishing. I feel so blessed justto be able to hold hands with this elder. We are standing holding hands aspart of a larger circle and there is a pipe ceremony going on. The circle is so big I cannot see the faces of the people standing across on the other side of the circle. I am offered the pipe by the elder as it goes around the circle. I stop to notice in detail, the beautiful carving of the pipe before making my prayers and holding it to my heart and then pass it along the circle, but then I realize there is no one standing beside me to pass on the pipe to. It is as if this huge circle of humanity ends.Now, I am under the ocean and I see a whale with his face pointed toward theocean surface with his tale is pointed downward toward the earth. He is hovering looking up into the stars through the surface of the water. I am underwater with him and my body is positioned the same way, hovering under water just a few feet away from each other, we make eye contact with each other and then look up into the heavens. The whale is showing me a constellation in the stars.Now I am up in the stars and I see a configuration of stars below me thatmakes a cross. It is the Northern Cross. The energy seen over the cross is that of Jesus, yet the cross is so much more, it is a universal symbol that connects with every tribe. There is a tremendous amount of energy coming from the cross configuration that looks like golden shooting stars headed toward earth. It is the energy of transfiguration. EOD.The connections I felt in this dream were deep and cosmic. The Native American Elder gave me a sense of deep gratitude to be standing right where I was in the circle to touch this Native Elders hand and share in his energy, his deep wisdom, and his incredible love. When discovering there was no one standing next to me to pass on the pipe to I felt surprised and perplexed.The whale encounter was amazing, it had some of the same qualities of the Native Elder in that the transmission was not spoken but known telepathically.Being in the presence of the whale in that position under the water was showing its connections with humans, that we were the same, and in looking into the eyes of the whale and being so close, I felt the whale and I were deeply connected, and felt a sense of deep understanding. The whale looking up into the stars from under the water was amazing to realize that whales star gaze and also have star knowledge. I found the constellation the whale was showing me up in the stars, where I was given cosmic information about the energy that is flowing toward the earth connected with the Christ energy but a deeper meaning beyond religion is the relationship humans have with the cross symbol and the changes it is bringing, the energy of transfiguration. The word transfiguration has been linked to the enlightenment of Jesus and also the resurrection of Christ. Another perspective on transfiguration is that of shapeshifting from the indigenous shamanic perspective of aquiring animal powers and becoming more than human but also part animal. The energy of change and shift are now upon us all over the world and we are becoming something new.

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