Mendocino Whale Wars of 1976

I have lived here since 2000. In the years since then I have never heard of the Mendocino Whale War (MWW). That is until I came across the article below (which I have excerpted.)

“The town of  Mendocino, California) is located about 160 miles north of San Francisco. It has long been a hotbed of activism for various causes. In 1976 the cause was saving the remaining great whales from slaughter by Russian and Japanese commercial whaling fleets.

In June, 1975, a Greenpeace Foundation patrol boat located a Russian whaling fleet killing sperm whales off Cape Mendocino. The Greenpeacers used the then novel tactic of launching a high-speed Zodiac inflatable and maneuvering themselves between the Russian harpooners and the whales. They captured dramatic film footage of a cannon-fired explosive harpoon flying over their heads and striking a whale. When the film was broadcast on national TV news, some Mendocino locals were inspired to get involved in stopping the whale slaughter off our shores.

Byrd Baker, a local wood sculptor, was probably the one who came up with the name “Mendocino Whale War,” and it was war in contrast to the peace in Greenpeace. Byrd and friends began campaigning to save the whales, and many other locals joined the effort. California Gray Whales swim past Mendocino twice a year on their migration between the Bering Sea where they feed and Baja California lagoons where they breed and give birth. Whale watching from the rocky headlands of Mendocino has long been a popular pastime, and people are very fond of the whales.

Byrd Baker with whale sculpture

Byrd and other locals formed the Mendocino Whale War Association in December 1975, with Byrd as one of the founding trustees. He was a charismatic fellow who could spin a good yarn, and he looked the part of an old-time sea captain. With the help of media-savvy locals like John Bear, an advertising man who was the first president of the MWW Association, and magazine writer Jules Siegel, the media soon picked up the story. Major coverage began early in 1976 with a big feature in the Detroit Free Press which hyped the idea of a small California coastal town declaring war on Japan and the Soviet Union. This was at the height of the Cold War!

The story led with the tale of “Mendocino Rose” broadcasting radio messages in Russian urging the whalers to quit killing whales and defect to the U.S.  Whether there really were any Mendocino Rose broadcasts remains in dispute, but it made a good story that caught the media’s and the public’s attention. The Associated Press picked up the story, and then many other newspapers, including the New York Times, published their own versions, virtually all of them leading with “Mendocino Rose.”

There was also a call to boycott Russian and Japanese goods until they stopped killing whales. This tactic was adopted directly from the Fund For Animals, which already was producing boycott bumper stickers and flyers. The fact that there were virtually no Russian products sold in the U.S. at the time didn’t matter. It was the message of the boycott that counted.

The MWW Association organized the 1st Annual Whale Festival in Mendocino in March 1976. The goal was to make the public aware that whales were still being hunted and turned into dog food, lipstick and lubricant for nuclear missiles. The festival was also a fundraiser for an ocean voyage to challenge the whalers off the Mendocino Coast, as Greenpeace had done the previous summer.

There was a search for the right boat to go after the whalers. The Phyllis Cormack was a 66 foot wooden fishing boat built in 1941, owned and captained by John Cormack and named for his wife. Capt. Cormack, a Scots-Canadian, was a seasoned Gulf of Alaska fishing skipper who was eager to take on the Russian whalers again. Greenpeace had acquired a former Canadian Navy mine-sweeper named the James Bay, and they would be using the bigger, faster ship in 1976.

The Phyllis Cormack

So, in late June, the Phyllis Cormack anchored briefly in Mendocino Bay to take on some gear before heading down the coast to San Francisco, where the Mendocino Whale War’s save-the-whales patrol voyage would be launched. After loading up two Zodiac inflatables, fuel and provisions for the voyage, the Mendocino Whale War headed out under the Golden Gate Bridge with four Mendocino people aboard: Byrd Baker, J.D. Mayhew, John Griffith and Nicholas Wilson, the official photographer.

After a few days at sea, on July 1 the Whale War boat had a planned rendezvous with Greenpeace’s James Bay about 100 miles off Cape Mendocino, near where they had found the Russian whalers the year before. There was much excitement as both ships launched Zodiacs bearing their leaders for a secret strategy meeting. They agreed that the MWW would stay in the vicinity patrolling for whalers while the James Bay went on to San Francisco to do media work and fundraising.

Mendocino Whale War and Greenpeace vessels rendezvous 100 miles off Cape Mendocino

The Phyllis Cormack didn’t spot any whalers off the coast, but did find a large fleet of 300 ft. Soviet trawlers scraping the ocean bottom with huge nets just outside the 12-mile limit that was then in place. Up to ten of these Russian “draggers” could be seen at one time, each dragging a net as wide as a football field is long. The Phyllis Cormack came  close and shot photos and film of the big ships hauling in nets loaded with tons of fish. The Russians processed and froze the fish aboard the large ships, and later transferred it to a big mother ship that carried it back to the Soviet Union’s Pacific port of Vladivostok. Late on the night of July 3, the Phyllis Cormack found and photographed a Russian mother ship servicing two of the draggers.

The Phyllis Ccormack saw and photographed a 150 ft. Korean crabber out of Pusan that had just arrived and began putting out a couple hundred crab pots within sight of the California Coast, but just outside the 12-mile limit. The U.S. Coast Guard was on scene observing, but there was no law being broken. There was agitation for extending the 12-mile limit much further out so as to prohibit, or at least regulate, the taking of resources off the coast.

The photos of the Russian and Korean fishing boats were bought and used by the San Francisco papers, UPI wire service, and Oceans magazine, helping add to political pressure that brought about the present 200 mile limit.

The Mendocino Whale War voyage ended with a brief courtesy call to Mendocino the morning of the 4th of July, 1976, the Bicentennial Day.”

How old do whales and sharks live?

Last Saturday was the worst day I have “worked” the layout. Worked means answered visitor questions and talked to them about our layout (the Mendocino Coast Model Railroad and Navigation Co.) here in Fort Bragg. The wind was howling. The sheeting rain was horizontal and it was COLD. The layout was packed because it was a holiday weekend and, given the inclement weather, there aren’t too many places you can go for entertainment.

So, there I was freezing my butt at the south end of the layout where the wind was crashing the door closed talking to a couple who wanted to know more about the Point Cabrillo lighthouse. The conversation was sparked by our diorama of Point Cabrillo. I explained that the Point Cabrillo lighthouse was a grand place to visit especially when the whales are passing up and down the coast but perhaps not a good place to visit on a day like to day. Just as they were about to leave their young (10?) son started asking questions about whales and sharks. I did my best to answer but was stumped on the question of how long sharks and whales lived. I asked my fellow docent and he was as clueless as me.

Without too much difficulty my web search armed me with enough info for me to answer the question again – that is if i am ever asked!

The humpback whale is not only one of the best-known whale species in the world, but considered among the most popular. You can find them in every ocean, so anywhere you are, as long as you’re in their breeding or feeding grounds, you might just catch a glimpse of one.

humpback whale old animals mammal
Humpback whale
Known for their lovely singing, humpback whales are not skittish. They’re considered to be quite friendly, and are often curious about that boat passing near them. And while the average humpback whale lives to about 50, there are reports of them reaching the ripe old age of 95.
OK – now for the age of sharks ……..
A shark believed to be the oldest living vertebrate has been discovered — and it could be older than Shakespeare. The massive Greenland shark was found in the North Atlantic ocean by scientists who estimated it is up to 512 years old.
 A Greenland shark is caught by fishermen. One of a group of 28 analysed by scientists is believed to be up to 512 years old (file picture)

A Greenland shark  caught by fishermen.

They used its size to suggest its year of birth is as early as 1505 – when future King Henry VIII ended his engagement to Catherine of Aragon.

Greenland sharks, which only grow 1 cm a year, have been known to live for hundreds of years  Experts used its length – a staggering 18 foott – and radiocarbon dating to determine its age as between 272 and 512 years old, according to a study in journal, Science.  It was the oldest of a group of 28 Greenland sharks analysed for the study.

 Greenland sharks are known for their longevity, living for hundreds of years (file picture)

Greenland sharks are known for their longevity, living for hundreds of years

How do you weigh a whale?

If you follow this blog at all you’ll realize that quite a few blogs are the result of my trying to answer questions from visitors to our layout.

In the middle of the summer whilst “on duty” I had a very serious conversation with a young boy who was bitterly disappointed that he was not going to go out to sea to pet a whale. It took quite a long time to explain to him that whales went up and down the coast on the whales schedule and not his. Near the end of our conversation (Mom was doing her best not to laugh) he came out with a zinger, “You said that whales weigh more than elephants.” I agreed that I said that. “Well, how do you know? Who weighs whales.” Mom saved me and I went for a cup of coffee.

Well an article has recently come to my attention which does answer his question. The article appeared on the BBC website and was written by a lady named Helen Briggs:

Until now it has only been possible to weigh whales once they have washed up dead on beaches. Now scientists have solved the conundrum, with the help of aerial photographs taken by drones.

Their model accurately calculated the body volume and mass of wild southern right whales. Already being used to assess the survival of calves, it has many potential uses in conservation. Body mass is a key factor in the success of whales as a group, determining their energy uses, food requirements and growth rates. Yet most of what we know about the body size of whales comes from old whaling literature or from animals that end up stranded on the beach or caught in fishing gear.

“It is very difficult to measure a whale on a scale – I mean you have to kill it to do it and that’s exactly what we’re avoiding here,” said study researcher Fredrik Christiansen from the Aarhus Institute of Advanced Studies in Denmark.

Mother and calf Right Whale

Mother and calf Right Whale

The researchers studied southern Right whales, which gather in large numbers at their winter breeding grounds off the coast of Argentina. They flew a drone over whales swimming in clear water, capturing photographs when the adults and calves came up to the surface to breathe, including their backs and sides when they rolled over. They found they could get a good representation of the body shape of the whales, which they linked back to old whaling literature recording body length, girth and mass. They were then able to convert body shapes, or volumes, to mass.

3D model of a Right Whale

3D model of a Right Whale

“The ability to predict body mass from free-living whales opens up the opportunity for us to look at animals over time and look at how they change, how they grow,” said Prof Christiansen. 

Drone studies could help in conservation by monitoring the health of different whale populations in the oceans. The approach could also be used to estimate the size of other marine mammals by adjusting the model parameters.

Whales are the largest animals on this planet, ranging from the 4 ton pygmy Right whale to the 200 ton Blue whale.

Wherever you are young man I hope this helps.

The White Shark Cafe

I recently posted a blog about young great white sharks taking roost in Monterrey Bay. In the blog is a phrase “White Shark Cafe.” My curiosity. knowing no bounds. wanted to know more.

This (edited) page from the Schmidt Ocean Institute provided me with part of the answer:

“The white shark is among the most iconic predators in the ocean. But for all their public exposure, the lives of white sharks remain shrouded in mystery. Their remarkable migrations and behaviors have come to light in the past decade, through the use of biologging tags. These sophisticated tags – think “wearables” for sharks – allow scientists to see beyond surface encounters or the brief interactions divers and fishermen have with white sharks. The tags allow researchers to follow the sharks as they journey, traveling thousands of miles into the open ocean, then returning each year to their coastal feeding grounds.”

Tagged Great White Shark

Tagged Great White Shark

This comes from Wiki:

The White Shark Café is a remote mid-Pacific Ocean area noted as a winter and spring habitat of otherwise coastal great white sharks. The area, halfway between Baja California and Hawaii, received its unofficial name in 2002 from researchers at Stanford University’s Hopkins Marine Station who were studying the great white shark species using satellite trackingtags. They identified a zone with a radius of approximately 160 miles. The findings, which were initially published in the January 3, 2002 issue of the journal Nature, showed three of four tagged sharks traveled to the Café during a six-month period after they were tagged off the central coast of California.

Although the area had not previously been suspected as a shark habitat, when mapping the satellite tracking data, researchers discovered that members of the species frequently travel to and loiter in the area. It was once believed the area had very little food for the animals (researchers described it as the shark equivalent of a desert), but research in early 2018 by the vessel Falkor showed that there is a rich and diverse food chain too deep to be detected by satellites that provides a potentially abundant food supply for the sharks. Male, female, and juvenile great whites have been tracked there.

Paths of Tagged Great White Sharks

Paths of Tagged Great White Sharks

The sharks tracked to the area came from diverse rookeries along the North American coast. They typically took up to 100 days to arrive, traveling around 3.3 ft/s, during which they make periodic dives as deep as 3,000 feet. While at the Café, they dive to depths of 1,500 feet as often as once every ten minutes. By 2006, researchers had observed consistent migration and other behavior. Tracking data indicates that white sharks will leave feeding grounds near the coast in winter, travel to the Café, and some may even summer near Hawaii. But many linger in the Café, often for months, before returning to the coast in the fall, coinciding with the elephant seal breeding season (a favored prey).

Young Great White Sharks new home – Monterey Bay

A few blogs ago in answer to questions from people I met at our train layout I wrote a blog, “Sharks along the Mendocino Coast” Wife Sarah and I are contemplating another visit to the Monterey Bay Aquarium where I can sit and dream in front of the balletic jellies. What I am emphatically not going to do is to to go out the Bay. Why? Read on …..

A group of young great white sharks has taken up residence along the central coast of California, enthralling beachgoers, residents, local media outlets and scientists. Marine biologists are working to understand why the sharks – the largest predatory fish in the world – have ventured up to California’s Monterey Bay. The juvenile great whites typically reside in the balmy waters of southern California, near the US-Mexico border. But the fish have increasingly wandered north in the past few years, leading to frequent sightings in the Monterey Bay since 2014.

Sand Dollars

I swear, I think that the only place that folks can ask questions is at our model train layout. Today a young family came to me to share what they had found on the beach and what they had found they were very excited about. They had found 4 sand dollars on the beach – two were whole and two were broken. They had a lot of questions and, alas, I had few answers. I promised them I would blog “sand dollars.” Here I go:

Sand dollar is the common name for many flattened species of sea urchins that burrow in the sand, but where exactly did that name come from?

Different types of sand dollars

Different types of sand dollars

When dead sea urchins wash ashore, their skeletons, or tests, are bleached white by the sun. Beachgoers thought they looked like a large silver coin like the old American or Spanish dollar. So they started calling them sand dollars. But these sea urchins are also called sand cakes, cake urchins and sea cookies.

What does a sea urchin look like when it is alive?

Live sea urchin

Live sea urchin

Here’s a few more bits of info about them  I got from the Monterey Bay Aquarium:

  • Their mouth has a jaw with five teeth-like sections to grind up tiny plants and animals.
  • A sand dollar chews for fifteen minutes before swallowing.
  • It can take two days for the food to digest.
  • Scientists can age a sand dollar by counting the growth rings on the plates of the exoskeleton.
  • Sand dollars usually live six to ten years.

A variety of imaginative associations have been made by beachcombers who collect the bleached skeletons of dead sand dollars. They are sometimes said to represent coins lost by mermaids or the people of Atlantis. Christian missionaries found symbolism in the fivefold radial pattern and dove-shaped internal structures, and a card with an anonymous poem explaining the legend is often given in conjunction with the sale of a sand dollar by merchants. The story compares the holes with the crucifixion wounds of Christ, and other features with the Star of Bethlehem, an Easter lily, a poinsettia, and doves.

And in answer to the question, “Can you paint them?” – the answer is “yes.”

Painting sand dollars

Painting sand dollars

Go to this site to see the pretty simple process.


Sharks along the Mendocino Coast

I was sitting on a bench outside our layout here in Fort Bragg sipping a cup of java when a lady approached. She asked me if I lived here. “Yes,” I replied. She explained that her young son was seeing the sea for the first time (they lived in Indiana) and he had some questions. Would I mind talking to him. “No prob.”

Micheal was about 5 and his sister about 7. I assumed (how wrong can you be) that the questions would be about trains and/or model trains. Micheal and his sister wanted to know about sharks!!!!!!! Q1 – had I ever been bitten by a shark? “er, no.” Q2 – had I ever seen a shark? “Yes, but only in the Monterey Aquarium.” Q3 – were there sharks off the beach in Fort Bragg? “Yes.” Q4 – did I know anyone who had been killed by a shark. Q4 turned out to be a two part question – had anyone been killed by a shark along the Mendocino Coast and did I know anyone who had been bitten by a shark. The second part was easy – I don’t know anyone who has been bitten by a shark. As for the first part I told him I would write a blog that he, his sister and mom could read with what I could find out.

After checking around for quite a bit I found this shortish article,  “20 Things You Didn’t Know About Sharks” by Gemma Tarlach.

  1. SHAAARK! Did you just get a mental image of a gaping mouth and pointy teeth? Think again.There are roughly 500 known species of shark and they vary in size, shape, environment and diet.

    Types of Shark

    Types of Shark

  2. Living shark species range from a few that could fit in your hand, such as the dwarf lantern shark, to a few you could fit inside, including the whale shark, which grows up to 40 feet long.
  3. Angelsharks are nearly flat,like the rays and skates to which sharks are closely related, while sawsharks have a toothy snout that can be almost as long as their cylindrical bodies.
  4. Sharks ply the waters of every ocean, from shallow,brackish estuaries to depths of nearly 10,000 feet.
  5. Deep-sea dwelling Mitsukurina owstoni, the goblin shark, is the oldest living species among lamniform sharks, which go back about 125 million years and today include great whites, threshers and makos.
  6. The first sharks evolved 400 million to 455 million years ago, but sharks’ flexible cartilage skeletons are rarely preserved, so the earliest species left little behind in the fossil record.
  7. Fossilized denticles, tiny tooth-shaped scales that once covered their skin,are the oldest evidence we have for sharks though researchers disagree on whether denticles alone are enough classify a species as a shark.
  8. A few things make a shark truly sharky: All sharks have jawbones and multiple gill openings, and, unlike the vast majority of other fish species, have a skeleton of cartilage rather than bone.

    Parts of a shark

    Parts of a shark

  9. And while bony fish have an air-filled swim bladder to control buoyancy, sharks don’t. They use their large, oily livers as a kind of internal flotation device.
  10. Many shark species are like most fish, coldblooded, but some are warm blooded, including the great white shark.
  11. Having a core body temperature that’s warmer than the water gives these animals all kinds of speed: they grow faster, swim faster and hunt more efficiently. The trade-off is that they need to eat up to 10 times more than a similarly sized cold blooded cousin.
  12. You might assume a shark get-together turns into a feeding frenzy when food is around. But apparently it’s more of a dinner party. Researchers who observed great white sharks scavenge a whale carcass off the coast of South Africa found that multiple animals fed beside each other at the same time, displaying relaxed behavior such as a belly-up posture and a lack of ocular rotation.
  13. Ocular rotation is, well, let’s let Jaws’ obsessive shark hunter Quint explain it: “The thing about a shark, he’s got lifeless eyes, black eyes, like a doll’s eye … he bites ya, and those black eyes roll over white.”
  14. Quint got it half right. Only some species of shark, including the great white, use ocular rotation to protect their eyes. Other species guard their vision with a third eyelid called a nictitating membrane.

    Blacktip shark

    Blacktip shark

  15. The movie Jaws portrayed sharks as villains, and some etymologists believe the word shark may derive from earlier German and Dutch words for shifty characters. We can still see the connection in today’s loan sharks and card sharks.
  16. Other researchers believe the word comes from Xoc (pronounced “shoke”) in Yucatec, a Maya language. According to this theory, English sailors visiting Caribbean waters in the 16th century picked up the local word for the “great fish.”
  17. And talk about great: At more than 50 feet long, Carcharocles megalodon was the largest shark that ever lived before it went extinct about 2.6 million years ago.
  18. Yet even C. megalodon was little once well, relatively speaking. In 2010, paleontologists announced they’d found a 10 million-year-old megalodon nursery on the coast of Panama with newborns measuring more than 6 feet long.
  19. While we’re talking big fish tales, you may have heard sharks don’t get cancer. That’s a load of rotten mackerel. Sharks do get cancer and we’ve known that since at least 1908, when a malignant tumor was found in a blue shark.
  20. Humans perceive sharks as a threat, but the opposite is true. Up to 100 million sharks are killed each year by finning: Fishermen cut off a shark’s dorsal fin to sell as a delicacy and dump the wounded animal back into the ocean to die. The practice imperils not only sharks, but entire food chains, which are disrupted as the animals’ numbers dwindle.

How’s them apples!!!!

Shark attack table

Shark attack table

Have there been any fatal shark attacks  along the Mendocino coast. As best as I can find out there has been one –  Randy Fry.

This is part of a report of Randy Fry’s death in the Press Democrat

FORT BRAGG – The Coast Guard on Monday recovered the headless body of a nationally known sport fishing advocate who was killed Sunday by a great white shark while diving for abalone off the Mendocino Coast. Randall “Randy” Fry’s death is only the 10th fatality ever recorded along the West Coast from an encounter with the white shark, the ocean’s deadliest predator. It is the first fatal shark attack on California’s North Coast in at least a half-century. Since 1959, 16 other people have been attacked by sharks off Mendocino, Sonoma and Marin counties, but all survived. The shark, estimated to be 16 to 18 feet long, struck the 50-year-old Auburn man at about 4 p.m. Sunday in shallow water north of Ten Mile River Beach near Westport.

“It was over in five seconds,” said Red Bartley of Modesto, a friend of the victim’s, who witnessed the fatal encounter from a boat. Cliff Zimmerman of Fort Bragg was in the water with Fry but escaped injury. Bartley, president of the California Striped Bass Association, said he helped Zimmerman out of the water and into the boat before making a mayday call for help. “When I saw the pool of blood spread across the surface of the water, I knew Randy was gone,” Bartley said.

The three men had put their boat in the water in a sheltered cove at Kibesillah Rock, about 10 miles north of Fort Bragg. Fry and Zimmerman, longtime friends, had dived together at the site in search of abalone for 30 years. The men knew it was shark territory, but like many divers, they believed the chances of an encounter were minimal.

“Despite a public fear of sharks, the fact is attacks are rare and experienced divers and surfers know that,” said Sean Van Sommeran, director of the Pelagic Shark Research Foundation in Santa Cruz. The shark may have mistaken Fry for a seal or sea lion, Van Sommeran said. Fry was diving head first in about 15 feet of water when he was attacked. The shark apparently ripped Fry’s head and neck from his body, a move sharks usually reserve for their preferred targets – seals or sea lions.

The cove where Sunday’s fatal attack occurred is sheltered by sheer, steep cliffs that make it accessible only by boat. As gruesome as the attack was, Miller said he doesn’t believe Fry suffered. “It was so quick I don’t think he had a chance to feel anything,” Miller said. Fry was described by friends and colleagues as a warm, witty man, experienced in diving and all areas of sport fishing. “He was not some average diver. He knew where he was, and what he was doing,” said Jim Martin, a Fort Bragg fishery advocate.

Micheal, I hope this answers your questions.



Whale run in Fort Bragg

Every year about this time our small town is packed with visitors for the whale run along the beautiful coastal trail. That being so I thought a few pics of whales taken off of our coast would make an appropriate blog. [Click on any photo to enlarge.]

A Whale sighted off the Mendocino Coast

A Whale sighted off the Mendocino Coast

I think these are the nasty ones

I think these are the nasty ones

Mom and daughter??

Mom and daughter??

Too close for my comfort

Too close for my comfort