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20"Ton Canaries: The Great Whales of the North Atlantic (Keynote)

10/15/2008 7:00 PM 32"123
Eric Jay Dolin, Ph.D. '95, Author: Leviathan: A History of Whaling in America; Michael Moore, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

Description: This two"part lecture provides a brief illustrated journey through our whaling past, and the heart"breaking current story of the North Atlantic right whale.

Using many slides, author Eric Jay Dolin recaps highlights from his recent book, Leviathan. Among the tidbits, we learn that Captain John Smith (of Jamestown fame) came to Maine and Massachusetts in 1614 to hunt for whales (with a sideline in gold and silver). It was a bust, like some of his other ventures. The next settlers had more luck, harvesting dead whales that drifted ashore. Through the next century, colonists mastered offshore whaling, and ultimately more than half the income New England earned from selling products to England was derived from whales.

With breaks during the American Revolution and the War of 1812, New Englanders built up the whaling industry steadily: By 1846, there were 735 American whaling ships (out of 900 worldwide) earning 70,000 people their living. $70 million was invested in whaling infrastructure, and 60 coastal cities and towns rose from whale harvesting. It was the fifth largest industry in the U.S., providing the clean"burning candles favored by Ben Franklin and baleen for ladies' hoops and stays.

It was also a dangerous, bloody and stinking vocation, involving years at sea, death by fin or rope, and hours over a boiling rendering vat. Populations of whales sank drastically, and whalers searched farther for their prey. West Coast whalers chased bowheads into the Arctic and were trapped by ice. Ultimately, the American whaling industry "sailed into oblivion" with the discovery of oil in Titusville, PA, the Civil War, and the evaporation of the baleen"based corset market _ done in by new Paris fashions.

The tiny, remaining population of North Atlantic right whales _ perhaps 350 -- is known to researchers "better than any other mammal in the world," says Michael Moore. Their continued existence depends on our "walking a tightrope between commerce and conservation." Perhaps this individual knowledge adds to the poignancy of his account: Whales tracked and photographed since they were babies are spotted now with fishing rig wrapped around their fins, or hack marks cut into their bodies by ship propellers.

The "trajectory" for these animals does not look good: from 1986 to 2005, biologists counted 50 dead right whales. This does not include those animals that simply sank out of sight after they died. Moore is quietly indignant: death by fishing rope constriction is awful, lasting for months in some cases. "There's the conservation piece," he says, "and the extreme animal welfare issue." There's also the matter of deteriorating habitat and dwindling food supply, toxic contaminants, and noise.

The only hope for these creatures lies in measures that reduce the chances that whales get fouled in fishing gear, and that slow down boats in the lanes favored by whales up and down the East Coast. More mitigation must be done to achieve animal welfare and sustainable global ecology while satisfying human needs, maintains Moore.

About the Speaker(s): Eric Jay Dolin originally wanted to be a marine biologist when he left for college, specifically a seashell scientist. At Brown, he turned toward the field of environmental policy, and worked as a fisheries policy analyst at the National Marine Fisheries Service after graduating. He also worked for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and as an environmental consultant. He was an intern at the National Wildlife Federation, and at the U.S. Senate. He has written a variety of books, and more than 60 articles for magazines, journals and newspapers.

Dolin earned his B.A. and B.S. from Brown University; a Masters of Environmental Management from the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies; and a Ph.D. from MIT. Michael Moore earned his M.A. from Cambridge University in 1979, in Veterinary Sciences, and his M.B., M.R.C.V.S., also from Cambridge University, in 1983, in Clinical Veterinary Medicine. He received a Ph.D. from the MIT/WHOI Joint Program, in 1991,in Biological Oceanography.

Moore's research focuses on the interaction between humans and marine vertebrates, especially marine mammals: sharp and blunt trauma from ships, chronic trauma from fishing gear, toxicants, habitat quality, and infectious diseases. With support from the NOAA Prescott Program, Moore's group undertakes diagnostic necropsies of marine mammal mortalities found on the beaches of Cape Cod. They are building an understanding of the various factors that contribute to these mortalities.

Host(s): Vice President Research, MIT Sea Grant College Program

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MIT World — special events and lectures

MIT World — special events and lectures

Category: Events | Updated over 2 years ago

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December 15, 2011 13:36
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