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.