Whales In River Preempt Pope’s Sermon On Climate Change

Kenneth Lim - Author

Oct. 14 2015, Updated 9:48 a.m. ET

Whales in the Columbia River at the border between Oregon and Washington state, made their statement on climate change, pre-empting Pope Francis’ remarks on the subject to the crowd assembled at the White House lawn on Wednesday. Spotted since last week plying the river waters, the whales seemed to have changed their feeding pattern as a result of global warming, red-flagged in the pontiff’s agenda.

According to The Oregonian, a footage of humpback whales swimming downstream of the Astoria Megler Bridge to Washington, was caught by television producer Vince Patton on Monday. He said that his attention was drawn to the whales by a feeding frenzy of pelicans diving into the water.

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Amid speculations that El Niño has caused food shortages in the humpbacks’ natural habitat, Newsmax reports that many passersby have been stopping their vehicles near the bridge to take pictures of the whales that continue to frisk in the waters of the Columbia River. This uncommon spectacle is attributed to the warming effect of El Niño on central and eastern Pacific surface waters, changing weather patterns that affect fisheries along the American west coast.

Welcomed to the White House by United States President Barack Obama, Pope Francis told a cheering crowd of more than 11,000 stretched across the South Lawn, that the problem of climate change could no longer be left to a future generation. Pope Francis delivered his remarks in English, and was quoted by The Wall Street Journal, with the following statement.

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“Mr. President, I find it encouraging that you are proposing an initiative for reducing air pollution. Accepting the urgency, it seems clear to me also that climate change is a problem which can no longer be left to our future generation. When it comes to the care of our ‘common home,’ we are living at a critical moment of history.”

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As First Lady Michelle Obama and Vice President Joe Biden and his wife, Jill, looked on, President Obama said the Pope reminded people “that we have a sacred obligation to protect our planet”.

The Columbia River which is the largest in the Pacific Northwest, hosts many types of fish from the freshwater of inland sources and the saltwater of the Pacific Ocean, salmon being the most noticed. The humpback whale has been a rare visitor until lately.

What spectators have found riveting is the acrobatic nature of the humpback using both tail and pectorals to breach the water and slap the surface. While the mammal’s size ranging from 39 to 52 feet in length is impressive, the song of the males between 10 and 20 minutes in duration has also been popular among whale watchers.

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According to KOIN 6, Bruce Mate, Director of the Marine Mammal Institute at Oregon State University Hatfield Marine Science Center, said in a Wednesday interview that El Niño-affected ocean conditions are driving whales to search for food in the river, most likely anchovies, as the whales seek out resources where they can find them.

Back at the White House, President Obama responded to the strong pitch Pope Francis made for battling climate change. The Wall Street Journal reported the President’s statement.

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“Holy Father, you remind us that we have a sacred obligation to protect our planet—God’s magnificent gift to us. We support your call to all world leaders to support the communities most vulnerable to a changing climate and to come together to preserve our precious world for future generations.”

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The humpback whales in the Columbia River could not have been more eloquent in their demonstration.

[Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images]


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