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.

Oregon, USA gray whales’ health research


This 2017 video is called Drone Footage Over Whales / Depoe Bay, Oregon.

From Oregon State University in the USA:

Three years of monitoring of Oregon’s gray whales shows changes in health

April 27, 2020

Three years of “health check-ups” on Oregon’s summer resident gray whales shows a compelling relationship between whales’ overall body condition and changing ocean conditions that likely limited availability of prey for the mammals, a new study from Oregon State University indicates.

Researchers from the Geospatial Ecology of Marine Megafauna Laboratory at OSU’s Marine Mammal Institute used drones to monitor 171 whales off the Oregon Coast during the foraging season between June and October in 2016, 2017 and 2018.

They found that the whales’ health declined following a period of relatively poor upwelling — an ocean condition that brings colder, nutrient-rich water closer to the surface — compared to previous years.

“What we see is this compelling relationship between the oceanographic processes that control the quality and quantity of available prey and whale health,” said Leigh Torres, an assistant professor with the Marine Mammal Institute and the lab’s director. “This research gives us an inclination that changes in ocean conditions might be causing skinny whales.”

The findings may also provide insight into the unusual gray whale die-off event that occurred in 2019 along the Pacific Coast, Torres said. More than 200 gray whales were reported dead between Mexico and Alaska last year, including six in Oregon. Many of the deceased whales appeared to be in poor body condition, meaning they looked skinny.

The study was just published in the journal Ecosphere. The paper’s lead author is Leila Soledade Lemos, who recently completed her doctorate at Oregon State and worked with Torres in the GEMM Lab.

Most gray whales migrate from breeding grounds in Mexico to feeding grounds in the Bering and Chukchi seas between Alaska and Russia, where they spend the summer. The Pacific Coast Feeding Group, as Oregon’s gray whales are known, spend the summer months feeding in coastal waters of Oregon, as well as northern California, Washington and southern Canada.

Torres and her team conduct “health check-ups” on the whales using drones to capture images and nets to capture fecal samples — two methods that provide researchers a lot of information in a noninvasive way, reducing stress on the whales.

Lemos used images captured by the drones to calculate the whales’ Body Area Index. The BAI is similar to the Body Mass Index, or BMI, in humans, because both allow for comparisons among individuals despite differences in length and height.

The Body Area Index is a measurement that allows researchers to compare changes in individual whales as well as the population as a whole during the course of the feeding season and from year to year. The fecal samples help researchers determine a whale’s hormones, sex and diet.

Gray whales typically arrive on the foraging grounds on the skinny side, then in ideal conditions will bulk up over the course of the summer in preparation for migration and breeding.

“With this research, we’re trying to understand more about the health of the whales and how it varies throughout the foraging season and from year to year,” Torres said. “Once we establish a baseline for whale body condition, we can start to see what is healthy and what is not and why.”

The researchers often encounter the same whales multiple times in a season, or from one year to another, and have gotten to know their markings and features well enough to spot the whales by the names they’ve been assigned, such as Spray, Knife and Clouds.

“The first year the whales looked really fat and healthy. But after 2016, the whales were really skinny. You could see their skeletons,” Lemos said. “For these whales, body condition is strongly related to food availability. It is also related to when they invest in reproduction.”

The researchers noted nine pairs of mothers and calves in 2016, but only one pair each in the two following years. Calves had the highest Body Area Index numbers, followed by pregnant females. Lactating females had the lowest BAI and the most depleted body condition.

Overall, the whales’ body condition deteriorated after poor upwelling conditions between 2016 and mid-2018. In 2016, the whales’ mean BAI was 40.82, while in 2017 it was 38.67; 2018 was similar to 2017, at 38.62.

The poor upwelling may have caused a shift in the availability or quality of zooplankton, the whales’ primary prey. But the impact of the changing food supply really became noticeable a year after the poor upwelling condition began.

“There was a one-year lag, or carry-over, between the lack of prey in 2016 and the whales’ body condition the next year,” Torres said.

One of the whales that died during the 2019 event had been observed and catalogued in previous years by Oregon State researchers.

The study highlights the value of monitoring whale health over time, Torres said. The researchers now have four years of data on Oregon’s resident whales and hope to continue monitoring them to better understand health patterns in the population and how they connect to changing ocean conditions.

Northern and Southern right whales, new research


This 4 September 2016 video says about itself:

A Rare White Southern Right Whale Calf Has Been Filmed For The First Time

Researchers from Murdoch University’s Cetacean Research Unit (MUCRU) have recorded extraordinary video footage of a rare white southern right whale calf off the coast of Western Australia. The research team used a suite of innovative technologies including suction cup tags and drones to assess fine-scale movements, acoustic communications, ambient noise, calf suckling rates and body condition of southern right whales.

From the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in the USA:

North Atlantic right whales are in much poorer condition than Southern right whales

April 23, 2020

New research by an international team of scientists reveals that endangered North Atlantic right whales are in much poorer body condition than their counterparts in the southern hemisphere.

This alarming research, led by Dr. Fredrik Christiansen from Aarhus University in Denmark, was published this week in the journal Marine Ecology Progress Series. The study is the result of a collaborative effort by scientists from 12 institutions across 5 nations. Among the coauthors are Senior Scientist Peter Corkeron and Associate Scientist Heather Pettis of the Anderson Cabot Center for Ocean Life at the New England Aquarium and Michael Moore and Carolyn Miller of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

The analyses revealed that individual North Atlantic right whales — juveniles, adults and mothers — were all in poorer body condition than individual whales from the three populations of Southern right whales. This is alarming, since poor body condition for North Atlantic right whales helps explain why too many of them are dying and why they are not giving birth to enough calves. It could also be affecting their growth and delaying juveniles reaching sexual maturity. These combined impacts on individuals help explain why the species is in decline.

Since the cessation of large-scale commercial whaling in the last century, most populations of southern right whales have recovered well. Now there are about 10,000-15,000 southern right whales. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the North Atlantic right whales, found today mostly off the east coast of North America. There are now around 410 individuals left, and the species is heading to extinction. Lethal vessel strikes and entanglement in fishing gear continue to kill these whales. Individual North Atlantic right whales also have to cope with the energetic expense and other costs that are caused by frequent entanglements in fishing gear, in particular lobster and crab pots. These burdens, along with a change in the abundance and distribution of the rice-sized plankton that they eat, have left these whales thin and unhealthy, which makes them less likely to have a calf. This, in turn, contributes to the current overall decline of the species. To quantify “thin and unhealthy”, Dr. Christiansen and his colleagues investigated the body condition of individual North Atlantic right whales and compared their condition with individuals from three increasing populations of Southern right whales: off Argentina, Australia and New Zealand.

“Good body condition and abundant fat reserves are crucial for the reproduction of large whales, including right whales, as the animals rely on these energy stores during the breeding season when they are mostly fasting,” said Dr. Christiansen. Stored fat reserves are particularly important for mothers, who need the extra energy to support the growth of their newly born calf while they are nursing.

The study is the largest assessment of the body condition of baleen whales in the world. The international research team used drones and a method called aerial photogrammetry to measure the body length and width of individual right whales in these four regions around the world. From aerial photographs, the researchers estimated the body volume of individual whales, which they then used to derive an index of body condition or relative fatness.

“This started out as a conversation between a few of us over dinner at a conference in 2015. Now that the results are out, they’re quite shocking,” said Peter Corkeron of the Anderson Cabot Center for Ocean Life at the New England Aquarium. “We know that North Atlantic right whales as a species are doing poorly, but this work brings home that as individuals, they’re also doing poorly. Their decline has been so rapid that we know it’s not simply because not enough calves are being born — too many whales are also dying from human-caused injuries. But this study also shows that their decline isn’t solely due to these deaths. Their problems are more insidious, and we need to find a way to ensure that the health of all individual whales improves.”

“For North Atlantic right whales as individuals, and as a species, things are going terribly wrong. This comparison with their southern hemisphere relatives shows that most individual North Atlantic right whales are in much worse condition than they should be,” said Michael Moore from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. “As a veterinarian, I’ve long been concerned about how entanglements affect the welfare of these whales. Now we are starting to draw the linkages from welfare to this species’ decline. Sub-lethal entanglement trauma, along with changing food supplies is making them too skinny to reproduce well, and lethal entanglement and vessel trauma are killing them. To reverse these changes, we must: redirect vessels away from, and reduce their speed in, right whale habitat; retrieve crab and lobster traps without rope in the water column using available technologies; and minimize ocean noise from its many sources.”

This work was supported by funding from NOAA, US Office of Naval Research Marine Mammals Program, World Wildlife Fund for Nature Australia, Murdoch University School of Veterinary and Life Sciences, New Zealand Antarctic Research institute, Otago University and New Zealand Whale and Dolphin Trust and Argentina National Geographic Society.

For 40 years, the New England Aquarium’s right whale team has extensively researched and tracked individual right whales and curates the North Atlantic Right Whale Catalog. The scientific team monitors the whales’ arrival at breeding and feeding grounds, registering new calves, death rates, and also measuring changes in stress and reproductive hormones.

The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution is dedicated to advancing knowledge of the ocean and its connection with the Earth system through a sustained commitment to excellence in science, engineering and education, and to the application of this knowledge to problems facing society.