Drones have captured new and stunning aerial Images of whales that are both spectacular and an aid for conservation..
“Seeing them from above, it’s giving you another complete view,” said Fabien Vivier, a PhD student at UH Manoa, Hawaii. “And it’s really amazing, because you can observe behaviors that you wouldn’t imagine if you were sitting on the boat.”
The drone’s subjects are Humpback and Grey whales that migrate annually into Hawaiian waters. Although Humpbacks were removed from the endangered species list in 2016, their numbers have shown a decline in Hawaiian waters in recent years. It is hoped that this aerial footage might shed light on why that decline is occurring.
“Some of the studies that we are carrying out will allow us to provide information to conserve these animals. Very importantly, they are also sentinels of ecosystem health and this is really important, because they can help raise concerns with the general public about concerns that we have about the ocean health today.” Said Lars Bejder MMRP director.
Why Whales Sing!
We love to listen in on whale sounds. They are mysterious, melodic melodies from another species. Whale songs seem to be sung to serenade mates, to navigate and mark their territory and to communicate with their young. Humpbacks can sing for hours and be heard over a hundred miles away.
Did you know that only male whales sing? That’s right and the tempo definitely picks up during mating season. But humpbacks also seem to be aware of the latest tunes and these top tunes can be transmitted over large geographic areas, passed on from one group to another. Does the latest, sexiest serenade attract the females? It seems so.
Why are Humpbacks no longer singing?
Now Japanese researchers have discovered that some whales have stopped singing altogether. More exactly, we are hearing their songs less often because they are being drowned out and disrupted.
And the culprit is us, with all the underwater noise that humans generate with shipping, seismic blasting for oil and gas exploration and military sonar. This information is not new but the report in the journal PLOS ON, takes these conclusions further, suggesting that whale reproduction could suffer.
Imagine your agitation as you struggle to follow a friend’s conversation in a noisy restaurant. You might just as well give up and stay silent.
The same happens as a whale attempts to untangle whale conversation from similar frequencies created by passing shipping. (photo – Christopher Michel_flickr)
The Japanese researchers had a unique opportunity in isolated waters 600 miles off the coast of Japan, to track how humpbacks reacted to the daily passing of a single ship.
They found that when the ship was present the prop noise forced some whales to leave the area. Those that remained within 1200 meters of the ship sang less or went silent entirely. As if they did not want to talk over the loud noise, and the silence lasted for half an hour after the ship passed.
This raises serious concerns for whales in more crowded shipping lanes where vessels are passing frequently. If going silent is a whale strategy how does this impact their need to use song for communication, migration and mating. See more in NOVA
Why are Sperm Whales in the Arctic?
Sperm Whales don’t normally like really cold water, their bodies are ill-equipped for cold water and floating ice. So why are scientists now sighting them in the Arctic? Last September, Brandon Laforest with World Wildlife Fund-Canada saw a pair of sperm whales in Canadian waters near Pond Inlet, Nunavut.
“It’s only the second recorded observation of sperm whales in the region. Back in 2014 local hunters spotted them,” Laforest told the CBC, noting it was “really shocking” to see these southern whales so far north.
This appears to be one additional example of the effects of climate change in the planet’s colder regions. Less sea ice and warmer ocean temperatures support more giant squid, the sperm whale’s traditional prey.
Increased feeding range is great for sperm whales but not such good news for more traditional arctic species like Bowhead whales. “Which traditionally live without much competition because of their intense adaptation to live in a relatively harsh environment,” Laforest said in a CBC interview.
Why are Sperm Whales Dying?
This week brought the unhappy news that yet another whale had washed ashore with a stomach full of plastic trash. This time it was a sperm whale found dead on a beach in Wakatobi National Park in Indonesia. It’s stomach bloated with 13 pounds of plastic waste “including 115 plastic cups, four plastic bottles, 25 plastic bags, 2 flip-flops and a nylon sack.”
“Although we have not been able to deduce the cause of death, the facts that we see are truly awful,” said Dwi Suprapti, a marine species conservationist with WWF-Indonesia. Last June, a similar situation occurred in southern Thailand where a pilot whale died after swallowing 17 pounds of plastics.
It is estimated that annually 8 million tons of plastic is dumped into the ocean. And 60% of that originates in just five countries: China, Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Sri Lanka. Indonesia alone produces about 130,000 tons of plastic and solid waste per day and only 50% of that ends up in landfills.
“I’m so sad to hear this. It is possible that many other marine animals are also contaminated with plastic waste and this is very dangerous for our lives.” said Luhut Binsar Pandjaitan, Indonesia’s minister of maritime affairs, adding “This big ambition can be achieved if people learn to understand that plastic waste is a common enemy.”
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