Mediterranean sperm whales, new research


This 13 June 2014 video says about itself:

Underwater images of sperm whale bachelor groups in the waters of Ischia.

The sperm whale (Physeter macrocephalus) is one of the eight species of cetaceans routinely encountered in the Mediterranean Sea; however, information on the social organisation of sperm whales living in the basin remains scarce.

We observed the social behaviour of sperm whales within female units, and groups of males made over a 11-year period in waters around Ischia and Ventotene Islands (Tyrrhenian Sea, Italy), an area characterized by the presence of a submarine canyon system and a coastal Marine Protected Area (‘Regno di Nettuno’ MPA).

From the University of East Anglia in England:

Underwater robots reveal daily habits of endangered whales

July 29, 2020

Not all humans are morning people. Neither, according to a new study, are all sperm whales — at least when it comes to foraging for food.

The research, led by the University of East Anglia (UEA), has revealed the daily habits of the endangered Mediterranean sperm whale. Unmanned underwater gliders equipped with acoustic monitors recorded the sperm whale sounds, or ‘clicks’, over several months and 1000s of kilometres of ocean.

Sperm whales are highly vocal, producing distinct types of clicks for both echolocation and social interaction purposes. The study, published today in the Endangered Species Research, focused on the extremely powerful and highly directional ‘usual clicks’ produced while foraging.

The recordings confirmed the whales’ widespread presence in the north-western Mediterranean Sea and identified a possible hotspot for sperm whale habitat in the Gulf of Lion, where a higher rate of clicks was found. This could indicate a higher number of whales, but could also be for behavioural reasons.

In addition, continuous day and night monitoring during winter months suggests different foraging strategies between different areas. In the Ligurian Sea, mobile and scattered individual whales forage at all times of day. In the Sea of Sardinia usual clicks were also detected at all times of the day.

However, in the Gulf of Lion larger groups target intense oceanographic features in the open ocean, such as fronts and mixing events, with acoustic activity showing a clear 24-hour pattern and decreased foraging effort at dawn. This could suggest they may have modified their usual foraging pattern of eating at any time to adapt to local prey availability. It provides a clue regarding sperm whale diet in this area and may be what makes it attractive to them.

There are fewer than 2500 mature individual Mediterranean sperm whales and threats to them include being caught as bycatch in fishing nets and, as recently the case off the Italian coast, entanglement in illegal fishing gear. Other dangers are ship strike and ingestion of marine debris, to disturbance by human-made noise and whale watching activities.

The study involved researchers from UEA and the Centre for Environment, Fisheries & Aquaculture Science (CEFAS), the Scottish Association for Marine Science (SAMS), University of Gothenburg and Sorbonne University.

Lead author Pierre Cauchy, a postgraduate researcher at UEA’s Centre for Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences (COAS) and CEFAS, said their findings would help conservation efforts: “Information on the ecology of the Mediterranean sperm whale subpopulation remains sparse and does not meet the needs of conservation managers and policy makers.

“Increasing observation efforts, particularly in winter months, will help us better understand habitat use, and identify key seasonal habitats to allow appropriate management of shipping and fishing activities.”

He added: “The clear daily pattern identified in our results appear to suggest that the sperm whales are adapting their foraging strategy to local prey behaviour. The findings also indicate a geographical pattern to their daily behaviour in the winter season.”

The whales spend a substantial amount of their time foraging — when in a foraging cycle, they produce usual clicks 60 per cent of the time. As such, they provide a reliable indicator of sperm whale presence and foraging activity, and their specific features allow them to be identified and detected up to a distance of four to 20 km.

The study involved analysing sounds recorded by passive acoustic monitoring (PAM) sensors, previously successfully used for weather observation, on gliders deployed by the team to collect oceanographic data during winter 2012-2013 and June 2014, covering 3200 km.

Prof Karen Heywood, also of COAS, said the study demonstrated the possibilities of using existing glider missions to monitor the Mediterranean sperm whale over the winter months, for which there is a lack of crucial data for conservation.

“Our ability to successfully observe sperm whale distribution in different geographic areas of the north-western Mediterranean Sea, across the slopes and the open ocean, highlighted the complexity of sperm whale behaviour, foraging strategy and habitat use,” she said.

“This study shows that the addition of PAM sensors to existing oceanographic glider missions offers the opportunity for sustained long-term observation, which would significantly improve sperm whale population monitoring and behaviour description, as well as identification of key habitat and potentially harmful interaction with human activities.”

Co-author Dr Denise Risch, a marine mammal ecologist at SAMS, added: “We need to understand the Mediterranean sperm whale population better in order to work towards their conservation by eliminating threats.

“This is also true for other marine mammal species globally, and gliders allow us to go into new areas, which we wouldn’t have any observations from otherwise, and also at times of year when we are not usually monitoring.”

‘Sperm whale presence observed using passive acoustic monitoring from gliders of opportunity’, Pierre Cauchy, Karen J Heywood, Denise Risch, Nathan D Merchant, Bastien Y Queste, Pierre Testor, is published in Endangered Species Research on July 30.

North Atlantic baleen whales’ changing distribution


This 24 May 2019 video says about itself:

North Atlantic right whales have returned to Canadian waters early this year, and brought with them seven new calves, according to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.

From the NOAA Northeast Fisheries Science Center in the USA:

Baleen whales have changed their distribution in the Western North Atlantic

July 17, 2020

Researchers have been using passive acoustic recordings of whale calls to track their movements. They have found that four of the six baleen whale species found in the western North Atlantic Ocean — humpback, sei, fin and blue whales — have changed their distribution patterns in the past decade. The recordings were made over 10 years by devices moored to the seafloor at nearly 300 locations from the Caribbean Sea to western Greenland.

“All four whale species were present in waters from the southeast U.S. to Greenland, with humpbacks also present in the Caribbean Sea,” said Genevieve Davis, a senior acoustician at the Northeast Fisheries Science Center in Woods Hole, Massachusetts and lead author of the study. “These four species were detected throughout all the regions in the winter, suggesting that baleen whales are widely distributed during these months. Humpback, sei, fin, and blue whales also showed significant changes in where they were detected between the two time periods considered in this study: before and after 2010.”

A large group of federal, state and academic researchers from the United States and Canada conducted the study, published in Global Change Biology. It is the first to show the occurrence of these four species across the western North Atlantic Ocean over long time spans and at a large spatial scale. The study also demonstrates how whale distributions have changed over time, and in particular since 2010.

Data collected from 2004 to 2014 on 281 bottom-mounted passive acoustic recorders totaled 35,033 days of recording. These passive acoustic recorders were deployed between the tiny island of Saba in the Caribbean Sea to the Davis Strait off western Greenland. Recorders were located on the continental shelf or along the shelf edge, with six recording units in off-shelf waters.

All available passive acoustic recordings from more than 100 research projects throughout the western North Atlantic Ocean were combined to create the decade-long dataset. The time series was split between 2004 to 2010 and 2011 to 2014. That split was based on the timing of shifts in climate in the Gulf of Maine and distribution changes by numerous species in the western North Atlantic Ocean.

This is also the same time period used in a similar analysis of North Atlantic right whales that was published in 2017, and used for comparison with this study.

Results show that fin, blue, and sei whales were more frequently detected in the northern latitudes after 2010 but less on the Scotian Shelf area. This matches documented shifts in prey availability in that region.

“The Gulf of Maine, an important feeding ground for many baleen whale species, is warming faster than most places in the world, resulting in changes in distribution not only of marine mammals and fish but also for their prey,” said Davis, who was also the lead author of the 2017 North Atlantic right whale study. “These changes in distribution for five of the six baleen whale species mirrors known shifts in distribution for other species attributed to climate and the impacts of ocean warming.”

Researchers have not yet studied if or how minke whale distribution has shifted. Minkes are the sixth baleen whale species found in the western North Atlantic Ocean.

Researchers caution that while recorders provided widespread coverage, there were gaps. Also, these data can confirm where and when a species is present, but not how many individuals are present. There are differences in vocal behavior, seasonal changes, and vocalizations thought to be made by males only. The data provide a comprehensive overview of the minimum distribution in space and time of each species and add information to the current understanding of these species.

Spending More Time in Northern Latitudes

While humpback whales are found in all regions, researchers were a bit surprised at the length of time they are present in all areas. Fin, blue, and sei whales increased the time that they spent in northern latitudes after 2010, perhaps following prey. All but sei whales had a decreased acoustic presence on the Scotian Shelf after 2010.

Sei whales, one of the least-studied baleen whales, were detected with the other whale species from Florida to eastern Greenland. Sei whales are found year-round in Southern New England and the New York Bight. These are also important regions for other baleen whale species, including North Atlantic right whales that target the same prey as sei whales.

“This study is the first comprehensive analysis of sei whale distribution throughout the western North Atlantic Ocean, including their movements and important habitat,” Davis said. “The southern limit of their range remains unknown, and their migratory movements in the western North Atlantic are still not well understood but we have filled in a number of information gaps.”

Fin whales were detected nearly year-round from Virginia to eastern Greenland. They are commonly found year-round in the Gulf of Maine and in Canadian waters off Nova Scotia. Acoustic records revealed their year-round presence in Massachusetts Bay and the New York Bight. New England waters provide feeding grounds, but mating and calving grounds are unknown. Their distribution year-round suggests that, like other baleen whales, not all fin whales migrate.

Blue Whales Heard Further South Than Expected

Blue whales are seen and heard year-round in and around the Gulf of St. Lawrence, where their population is well-studied. Considered a more northern whale, they have occasionally been sighted in the Gulf of Maine. Acoustic detections revealed blue whales are present as far south as North Carolina.

Blue whales tend to use deeper waters, making their seasonal movements difficult to study. Satellite tag studies, however, indicate they move from the Gulf of St. Lawrence to North Carolina, including on and off the continental shelf. They also move into deeper waters around the New England Seamounts — a chain of underwater extinct volcanoes that extends from Georges Bank southeast for about 700 miles. Researchers found the shelf break and canyons to be important habitat areas for blue whales.

“A decade of acoustic observations have shown important changes over the range of baleen whales and identified new habitats that will require further protection from human-induced threats like fixed fishing gear, shipping, and noise pollution,” said Davis.

Beluga whales have friends


This 8 November 2020 video says about itself:

Beluga whale filmed playing ‘fetch’ with Rugby World Cup ball

A beluga whale has been filmed playing ‘fetch’ with an official 2019 Rugby World Cup ball near the Arctic Pole. A group of South African rugby fans can be seen throwing the ball out into the ocean. The whale chases the ball, before returning it to the men on the boat.

From Florida Atlantic University in the USA:

Like humans, beluga whales form social networks beyond family ties

Study first to uncover the role kinship plays in complex groupings and relationships of beluga whales spanning 10 locations across the Arctic

July 10, 2020

A groundbreaking study using molecular genetic techniques and field studies brings together decades of research into the complex relationships among beluga whales (Delphinapterus leucas) that spans 10 locations across the Arctic from Alaska to Canada and Russia to Norway. The behavior of these highly gregarious whales, which include sophisticated vocal repertoires, suggest that this marine mammal lives in complex societies. Like killer whales (Orcinus orca) and African elephants (Loxodonta Africana), belugas were thought to form social bonds around females that primarily comprise closely related individuals from the same maternal lineage. However, this hypothesis had not been formally tested.

The study, led by Florida Atlantic University’s Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute, is the first to analyze the relationship between group behaviors, group type, group dynamics, and kinship in beluga whales. Findings, just published in Scientific Reports, reveal several unexpected results. Not only do beluga whales regularly interact with close kin, including close maternal kin, they also frequently associate with more distantly related and unrelated individuals.

Findings indicate that evolutionary explanations for group living and cooperation in beluga whales must expand beyond strict inclusive fitness arguments to include other evolutionary mechanisms. Belugas likely form multi-scale societies from mother-calf dyads to entire communities. From these perspectives, beluga communities have similarities to human societies where social networks, support structures, cooperation and cultures involve interactions between kin and non-kin. Given their long lifespan (approximately 70 years) and tendency to remain within their natal community, these findings reveal that beluga whales may form long-term affiliations with unrelated as well as related individuals.

“This research will improve our understanding of why some species are social, how individuals learn from group members and how animal cultures emerge,” said Greg O’Corry-Crowe, Ph.D., lead author and a research professor at FAU’s Harbor Branch. “It also has implications for traditional explanations based on matrilineal care for a very rare life-history trait in nature, menopause, which has only been documented in a handful of mammals, including beluga whales and humans.”

Researchers found that belugas formed a limited number of group types, from mother-calf dyads to adult male groups, and from mixed-age groups to large herds. These same group types were consistently observed across population and habitats. Furthermore, certain behaviors were associated with group type, and group membership was found to often be dynamic.

“Unlike killer and pilot whales, and like some human societies, beluga whales don’t solely or even primarily interact and associate with close kin. Across a wide variety of habitats and among both migratory and resident populations, they form communities of individuals of all ages and both sexes that regularly number in the hundreds and possibly the thousands,” said O’Corry-Crowe. “It may be that their highly developed vocal communication enables them to remain in regular acoustic contact with close relatives even when not associating together.”

Beluga whale groupings (beyond mother-calf dyads) were not usually organized around close maternal relatives. The smaller social groups, as well as the larger herds, routinely comprised multiple matrilines. Even where group members shared the same mtDNA lineage, microsatellite analysis often revealed that they were not closely related, and many genealogical links among group members involved paternal rather than maternal relatives. These results differ from earlier predictions that belugas have a matrilineal social system of closely associating female relatives. They also differ from the association behavior of the larger toothed whales that informed those predictions. In ‘resident’ killer whales, for example, both males and females form groups with close maternal kin where they remain for their entire lives.

“Beluga whales exhibit a wide range of grouping patterns from small groups of two to 10 individuals to large herds of 2,000 or more, from apparently single-sex and age-class pods to mixed-age and sex groupings, and from brief associations to multi-year affiliations,” said O’Corry-Crowe. “This variation suggests a fission-fusion society where group composition and size are context-specific, but it may also reflect a more rigid multi-level society comprised of stable social units that regularly coalesce and separate. The role kinship plays in these groupings has been largely unknown.”

For the study, researchers used field observations, mtDNA profiling, and multi-locus genotyping of beluga whales to address fundamental questions about beluga group structure, and patterns of kinship and behavior, which provide new insights into the evolution and ecology of social structure in this Arctic whale.

The study was conducted at 10 locations, in different habitats, across the species’ range, spanning from small, resident groups (Yakutat Bay) and populations (Cook Inlet) in subarctic Alaska to larger, migratory populations in the Alaskan (Kasegaluk Lagoon, Kotzebue Sound, Norton Sound), Canadian (Cunningham Inlet, Mackenzie Delta, Husky Lakes) and Russian (Gulf of Anadyr) Arctic to a small, insular population in the Norwegian High Arctic (Svalbard).

“This new understanding of why individuals may form social groups, even with non-relatives, will hopefully promote new research on what constitutes species resilience and how species like the beluga whale can respond to emerging threats including climate change,” said O’Corry-Crowe.

How to paint a blue whale, video


This 28 May 2020 video from the Natural History Museum in London, England says about itself:

Join us for this live stream event and learn step-by-step how to paint Hope the blue whale. Discover interesting facts about biodiversity and sustainability as you paint and sip along at home.

Hope’s 25-metre skeleton, suspended in Hintze Hall in a majestic swooping posture, is an astonishing reminder of the fragility of life and the responsibility we have towards our planet. Taking inspiration from this impressive specimen, you will learn fascinating facts while practising your painting techniques on the night.

All you need to follow along at home is some paper/canvas and something to colour, draw or paint with.

The event is hosted in collaboration with Art Sippers: fun paint and sip experiences in London

New Zealand blue whales, new research


This 14 November 2019 video is called Spotting a huge BLUE WHALE in Kaikoura, New Zealand.

From Oregon State University in the USA:

New Zealand blue whale distribution patterns tied to ocean conditions, prey availability

May 28, 2020

Oregon State University researchers who recently discovered a population of blue whales in New Zealand are learning more about the links between the whales, their prey and ocean conditions that are changing as the planet warms.

Understanding how changes in climate affect the ability of blue whales to feed gives researchers more insight into the whales’ overall health and provides critical information for conservation and management, said Leigh Torres, an assistant professor and director of the Geospatial Ecology of Marine Megafauna Laboratory at OSU’s Marine Mammal Institute.

“These whales don’t move around at random. We found that the same ocean patterns that determine where whales are also determine where their prey are, under both typical and warm ocean conditions,” Torres said. “The more we learn about what drives these whales’ movement, the more we can help protect them from whatever threats they face.”

The researchers’ findings were published today in the journal Marine Ecology Progress Series. The study’s lead author is Dawn Barlow, a doctoral student in Torres’ lab; additional co-authors are Kim Bernard of OSU’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences; Daniel Palacios of OSU’s Marine Mammal Institute; and Pablo Escobar-Flores of the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Sciences in New Zealand.

Torres, Barlow and colleagues recently documented this new population of New Zealand blue whales, which is genetically distinct from other blue whale populations and spends much of its time in the South Taranaki Bight between New Zealand’s North and South Islands.

“The goal of our study is to understand the habitat use patterns of this population of blue whales — why they are where they are and how they respond to changing ocean conditions,” Barlow said. “We know this area is important to this population of whales, and we want to understand what it is about this spot that is desirable to them.”

The region is often rich in prey — blue whales feast on patches of krill — but the prey is patchy and influenced by changing ocean conditions, including warmer temperatures and changes in ocean properties. The South Taranaki Bight also sees frequent shipping traffic and activity from oil and gas exploration and production, Torres said.

Using data collected during typical summer conditions in 2014 and 2017 and warmer than average conditions in 2016, the researchers analyzed how changing ocean conditions affect the blue whales’ distribution in the region’s waters and the availability and location of their prey within the water column.

They found that during a regional marine heatwave in 2016, there were fewer aggregations of krill for the whales to dine on. With fewer options, the whales pursued the densest aggregations of krill they could find, Barlow said.

The researchers also found that during both warm and more typical ocean conditions the whales were more likely to feed in areas where the water was cooler. During the marine heatwave, when even the coolest water temperatures were higher than normal conditions, the whales still sought the coolest waters available for feeding.

In this region, cooler water temperatures represent deeper water that was pushed toward the surface in a process called upwelling and tends to be nutrient-rich, Torres said.

The nutrient-rich water supports aggregations of krill, which in turn provide sustenance for the blue whales. In their study, the researchers were able to bring all of the pieces of this trophic pathway together to describe the relationships between oceanography, krill and whales.

As warmer ocean conditions become more frequent, this new knowledge can be used to inform and adjust spatial management of human activities in the region in an effort to reduce impacts on New Zealand blue whales, Torres said.

“Documenting information like this can really help us understand how to reduce threats to these animals,” Torres said. “We need continued monitoring to understand how these whales will respond to both the changing climate and human impacts.”

Narwhal sounds, new research


In this 2019 video, you can hear narwhal sounds.

This 15 May 2020 video says about itself:

Listen to narwhals click, buzz and whistle

This animation illustrates how narwhal vocalizations match their behavior. The researchers captured several types of sounds made by narwhals, including social calls, or whistles, and clicks used for echolocation, the biological sonar used by dolphins, bats, some whales and other animals to navigate and find food.

The closer narwhals get to their food, the faster they click, until the noise becomes a buzz not unlike that of a chainsaw. This terminal buzz helps the narwhals pinpoint the location of their prey.

From the American Geophysical Union in the USA:

Rarely heard narwhal vocalizations

May 26, 2020

With the help of Inuit hunters, geophysicists recently recorded the various calls, buzzes, clicks and whistles of narwhals as they summered in a Greenland fjord. The recordings help scientists better understand the soundscape of Arctic glacial fjords and provide valuable insight into the behavior of these shy and mysterious creatures, according to the researchers.

Narwhals are difficult to study because they are notoriously shy and skittish and spend most of their time deep in the freezing Arctic Ocean. They tend to summer in glacial fjords around Greenland and Canada, but scientists often have trouble getting close enough to study them. Glacier fronts can be dangerous and hard to access, and the animals tend to swim off when approached by motorized boats.

But Inuit hunters familiar with the mysterious cetaceans can get closer to the animals without disturbing them. In July 2019, researchers accompanied several Inuit whale hunting expeditions in Northwest Greenland to study the narwhals that summer there in more detail.

Using underwater microphones attached to small boats, the researchers captured narwhal social calls and foraging sounds, getting as close as 25 meters (82 feet) to the elusive cetaceans.

The recordings help the researchers provide a baseline of the kinds of sounds that permeate the narwhals‘ pristine habitat. In combination with sightings, they also show narwhals get closer to glacier ice than previously thought for this area and the animals do forage for food in summer, contrary to some previous findings.

“Their world is the soundscape of this glacial fjord,” said Evgeny Podolskiy, a geophysicist at Hokkaido University in Sapporo, Japan and lead author of a new study detailing the findings in AGU’s Journal of Geophysical Research: Oceans. “There are many questions we can answer by listening to glacier fjords in general.”

Getting close

Podolskiy and his colleagues had been working in Greenland fjords for several years, studying the sounds made by melting glaciers. Coincidentally, a population of narwhals summers in the fjords they were studying, and Podolskiy saw an opportunity to study the wily creatures.

“I realized working in the area and not paying attention to the elephant in the room — the key endemic legendary Arctic unicorn just flowing around our glacier — was a big mistake,” he said.

The researchers tagged along on several Inuit hunting expeditions departing from the village of Qaanaaq, placing microphones underwater and recording the baseline sounds of the fjord.

They captured several types of sounds made by narwhals, including social calls, or whistles, and clicks used for echolocation, the biological sonar used by dolphins, bats, some whales and other animals to navigate and find food.

The closer narwhals get to their food, the faster they click, until the noise becomes a buzz not unlike that of a chainsaw. This terminal buzz helps the narwhals pinpoint the location of their prey.

“If you approach and target these fast fish, you better know precisely where they are; you need to gather this information more frequently,” Podolskiy said.

Few studies have documented narwhals feeding in the summertime. Because the microphones picked up terminal buzz, a sound associated with finding food, the new study provides further evidence that narwhals do forage in summer.

Surprisingly, the researchers found narwhals come roughly within 1 kilometer (half a mile) of a glacier calving front, despite the fact that these areas are some of the noisiest places in the ocean and calving icebergs can be dangerous.

“There is so much cracking due to ice fracturing and bubbles melting out… it’s like a fizzy drink underwater,” Podolskiy said. “It seems we are dealing with animals living in one of the most noisy environments without having much trouble with that.”

Antarctic whale and penguins, video


This 22 May 2020 Dutch video shows a whale and penguins in the Antarctic.

It says about itself (translated):

Just before the coronavirus crisis, he made the journey of a lifetime. Jazz musician and birdwatcher Ruben Hein signed up as an “artist in residence” on a ship full of biologists, towards the South Pole. He is now incorporating the pristine nature experiences along the way, and the encounters with elephant seals, king penguins and wandering albatrosses, into his music.

Filmed by Marcel Paul.

Southern right whale migration, new research


This 2011 video says about itself:

National Geographic photographer Brian Skerry describes a magical but risky experience photographing an enormous right whale off the coast of New Zealand.

From the British Antarctic Survey:

Migratory secrets of recovering whale species

May 19, 2020

Scientists have discovered where a whale species that feeds around the sub-Antarctic island of South Georgia breeds during the winter months. This understanding of where the animals migrate from will enable conservation efforts for their recovery from years of whaling. The results are published this week (20 May 2020) in the Journal of Heredity.

Southern right whales were hunted to near extinction after centuries of whaling. In the most comprehensive study of its kind, 30 researchers from 11 countries studied 15 skin samples from whales feeding around the sub-Antarctic island of South Georgia and compared them to 149 samples collected from around Argentina and Brazil and South Africa where the whales breed and give birth to their calves. New samples were collected from South Georgia during an expedition led by the British Antarctic Survey in 2018 and were combined with samples held by a network of collaborators across the globe.

Using a new genetic tool, the team discovered that most of the animals visiting South Georgia were calved around South America and not South Africa. This had previously been suspected, but not confirmed.

Lead author Dr Emma Carroll, from University of Auckland says: “Genetic methods are important in linking whale breeding grounds, areas that are closely monitored for population recovery, with feeding areas that are being and will be impacted by climate change. It is only by understanding these links that we can understand how whale populations will fare in a changing world.”

Collaborating with Chilean colleagues, the team also analysed the first-ever DNA sample from the Critically Endangered Chile-Peru southern right whale population. They found genetically, the Chile-Peru whale is a mixture between Indo-Pacific and Atlantic calving grounds, suggesting Chile-Peru has acted as a ‘stepping stone’ between these two areas.

Whale ecologist and senior author Dr Jennifer Jackson, at British Antarctic Survey, who led the project, says: “This is an important part of the jigsaw in understanding the geographical range of southern right whales. Identifying the migratory links of recovering whale populations is crucial to build accurate assessments of how well whale populations are recovering, and to understand how vulnerable these populations are to anthropogenic threats through their life cycle.

“There have been unexplained high whale calf mortalities around Argentina in the Península Valdéz region over the last 17 years, so there is a lot of work to be done to protect this species throughout their migratory range.”

The team are also tracking the movements of two South Georgia right whales in real time using satellite tags. One whale is already migrating towards the South American coast, providing further evidence of the migratory connection. Follow these whales here.

Notes

  • Southern right whales were so named because they were the ‘right’ whale to hunt, and in the South Atlantic they have been heavily exploited for over 350 years, with catches peaking in the mid 1800s. Only in the past three decades, have southern right whales again become regular winter visitors to Argentina, Brazil and South Africa, where they use sheltered bays to calve. Another population to the west, in Chile and Peru, has not fared so well, and the lack of recovery from whaling has led this population to be declared ‘Critically Endangered’ by the IUCN.
  • In 2009, the global estimate of southern right whales was estimated as 13,611 and the calving grounds in Argentina and Brazil was 4,029.
  • The Wild Water Whales project has been running since December 2016, and focusses on studying the population recovery and health of southern right whales in South Georgia waters. The project involves sightings surveys, using acoustic methods to find whales, collecting photo-identifications and skin samples to identify individuals, tracking whales to find out where they feed, and studying the health condition of right whales using drone technology.
  • Historically, the seas around South Georgia are a key feeding ground for multiple whale species, including the southern right, humpback, blue and fin whales. The area is abundant with food in summer, namely krill, a shrimp-like crustacean, which provides a key part of their diet.
  • Led by British Antarctic Survey, the South Georgia Wild Water Whales project has been funded by an EU BEST Medium grant, the Darwin Initiative, South Georgia Heritage Trust, Friends of South Georgia Island and the World Wildlife Fund.
  • The project used a new genetic tool for population visualisation and assignment (GENEPLOT) which estimated how well for example samples from South Georgia could be assigned to wintering ground datasets from Brazil, Argentina and South Africa.

How prehistoric whales died, video


This 29 April 2020 video says axbout Chile about itself:

How the Andes Mountains Might Have Killed a Bunch of Whales

At a site known as Cerro Ballena or Whale Hill, there are more than 40 skeletons of marine mammals — a graveyard of ocean life dating back 6.5 million to 9 million years ago, in the Late Miocene Epoch. But the identity of the killer that they finally settled on might surprise you.