National Geographic : 1979 Jan
Jurasz, an independent researcher in Gla cier Bay, Alaska, whose observations on "bubble netting" Sylvia Earle describes in the previous article. Chuck's 12-year study has added significantly to our knowledge of whales. On a recent visit with Chuck I re corded the underwater sounds of a hump back in the act of "spinning its net." Such sounds, which can be heard in the first selec tion of side two on the sound sheet, consist solely of expelled air. There are no accompa nying social or vocal noises, which suggests to me that bubble netting is a deliberate act-that of a whale setting a trap. Are We Killing Whales With Kindness? Only a few years ago the chief threat to humpback whales was the men who hound ed them dangerously close to extinction. Today international agreement forbids the killing of humpbacks, but in some areas man threatens to love them to death. In Hawaii increasing numbers of well meaning tourists now converge on the breeding grounds in small boats to observe and photograph the great creatures at close range. Observation can sometimes edge over into harassment, which is illegal under both the Marine Mammal Protection Act and the Endangered Species Act. In 1976 I tackled the problem with Nixon Griffis, a longtime friend of humpbacks. Together we called on Elmer Cravalho, mayor of Maui County, who appointed Jim Luckey, manager of Maui's Lahaina Resto ration Foundation, to be chairman of a citi zens' committee to explore the problem. The result is an official organization to educate the public and so prevent harassment of the whales. Thus the citizens of Maui have taken a major initiative in generating local government and citizen concern for protecting a marine mammal on the endan gered species list. Plans are now under way to establish a Pacific Marine Research Center at Lahaina with support not only from Hawaiians but also from worldwide subscription. Happily for whales, such efforts are on the increase. One recent development may have spread the songs of humpbacks not just from the oceans to the land, but throughout the galaxy. In late summer of 1977, Voyag ers 1 and 2-spacecraft launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida, toward other worlds in our galaxy-carried aboard unique record ings that included the works of Bach, Mo zart, and a rock group, as well as a section entitled "The Sounds of Earth." In the latter section delegates from 60 member countries of the United Nations offered a greeting in 55 languages. The messages were followed by a somewhat longer "greeting" from a humpback whale, recorded by Katy and me off Bermuda in 1970. In some ways this constitutes a step beyond all my dreams, in seeing whales be come a symbol for the hope that there is still intelligent life on earth. The expected lifetime of the records is a billion years. Should they be encountered by some other space-faring civilization, they would bear a message that had lasted longer than perhaps any other human work. Could it be that mankind is simply the humpbacks' guarantee that its songs will be heard throughout the galaxy? Q Following humpback "scores" on charts called spectrograms, Katy Payne, the author's wife, found that the whales compose new songs each year, improvising on their old ones-an indication of uncan ny intelligence.