This Week in Whales: Building Connections Between Whale Strandings and Noise Pollution; Whale Earwax Tells Its Own Story of Whale's Life; Bowhead Music Library Bigger than We Thought...
News in the world of whales this week (or close to it):
- As my colleagues and I have noted again and again, underwater noise pollution poses a significant threat to marine mammals, from the wide-reaching and deadly impacts associated with the Navy’s use of sonar to the rising level of chronic underwater noise off our coasts. Increasingly, people are speaking out, investigating whether noise pollution is tied to specific stranding events and calling people to action. This author has a series focusing on seismic exploration and its possible impacts on pilot whales in Scotland and Iceland. While complete scientific studies need to be conducted before conclusions can be drawn, people increasingly understand that underwater noise may be a possible cause to horrible stranding events.
- Scientists just released a study on the earwax from a blue whale that washed up dead on a California beach in 2007. The scientists found interspersed dark and light "layers" in the almost foot-long earwax column (blue whales are so cool!), with each layer corresponding to six months of the whale’s life. The layers catalogued the chemicals and pollutants the whale was exposed to over its 12-years (including alarming levels of DDT). So, it turns out that the earwax layers are similar to tree rings, measuring fluctuations in the whale's stress hormone production in addition to his age and exposure to various chemicals, a linkage that might shed light on the pollutants' effects on the whale.
- The Ports of Auckland is going to ask commercial vessels to slow down in and out of the harbor to help save endangered Bryde's whales from ship strikes. Slowing down can make a big difference. According to Dr. Rochelle Constantine of Auckland University, reducing speeds is the best solution to protect whales from a slow and painful death. If a whale is struck at high speeds, the chance of death is about 80-100 percent, whereas whales struck by ships travelling at 10 knots will only die about 20-25 percent of the time.
- A team of scientists is studying the songs of a small population of bowhead whales off the coast of Greenland in the hopes of learning more about how whales communicate with one another—they have recorded thousands of hours of bowhead singing and discerned more than 65 discrete songs. With so many different tunes, whale researcher Kate Stafford theorizes that the songs may be used for more than attracting mates, the whales may also be singing for enjoyment.
- Another set of acoustic recordings reveals that some humpbacks spend all year in the Antarctic rather than just the summer months, as scientists had previously assumed.
- A new study shows an almost doubling of the humpback whale population off the coast of British Columbia over an eight-year period. But, environmental stressors such as oil spills and whale watching tours could seriously threaten the humpbacks’ recovery effort. On the other side of the continent, scientists used field data, aerial surveys, and DNA testing to locate a potential breeding ground for endangered North Atlantic right whales in the Gulf of Maine, data which can be used to further conservation efforts.
- A baby cetacean photographed near Japan could be the result of a rare crossbreeding between an Indian Ocean bottlenose dolphin and a pilot whale, or not....
Meanwhile, this week in Wales…
Powys City Council and Natural Resources Wales are giving free native fruit trees for residents to plant in the hopes that they will help sustain pollinator populations. Finally, someone is doing something for the bees! Way to go, Powys! Maybe I should start another blog, this week in polinators... Doesn't have the same ring.