Kitsap Sun -Blog

Watching out for whales could require listening

Sharon O’Hara recently brought up the idea of a listening device to help ship captains avoid running into whales. She mentioned a device used to listen for people hanging out in the wrong place, but she could have been talking about a series of buoys now being tested off the coast of New England. If we want to save the North Atlantic right whale from extinction, this idea could have a lot of merit.

See also my recent post about possible political interference in a recommendation to slow the speed of vessels.

In this Associated Press story, reporter Jay Lindsay visits a research vessel that tests a series of listening buoys.

“We’re listening to their chatter,” whale expert Christopher Clark said aboard the Shearwater, referring to the grunts and groans whales use to communicate. “They can’t keep their mouths shut.”In the past, tracking whales often depended on inefficient aerial surveys, which were limited by weather and how often the whales surfaced.

Now researchers listen for the whales using 13 underwater microphones attached to buoys off the coast of New England. Eventually, scientists hope to follow their movements closely enough so boats can slow down and post lookouts.

Fred Felleman, a longtime ocean observer and advocate for marine life, often talks about convincing the Navy to share data it collects from a series of hydrophones along the West Coast. He is convinced that the information could help track winter movements of orcas as well as understanding the travels of other marina mammals. He points out that even information released long after it has any strategic importance to the Navy could be useful to biologists. The Navy would simply need to coordinate with researchers and keep the data until the time was right to release it.
Meanwhile, regarding ship strikes, a team of researchers report findings from a study of whales that washed up dead in Washington state. Download the report from the Web site of Cascadia Research Collective.

ABSTRACT: Ship strikes of large whales cause mortalities worldwide, but there is uncertainty regarding the frequency and species involved. We examined 130 records (from 1980-2006) of large whale strandings in Washington State.Nineteen strandings (seven species) had evidence of ship-strikes. Fin whales (Balaenoptera physalus) had the highest incidence of antemortem ship strike (five of seven, with the remaining two possibly postmortem) and all but one occurring since 2002. Six gray whales (Eschrichtius robustus) suffered “possible ship strike” injuries, likely the result of their large numbers in the area, rather than high levels of ship strikes.

Only one possible ship-struck humpback whale was recorded, despite concentrations of humpbacks feeding within shipping lanes in this region.

This study shows dramatic differences in occurrences of ship-struck large whales by species, which we believe results from a combination of species’ vulnerability to ship strikes, and how likely a struck whale is to be caught up on the bow of a ship and brought to waters where it can be examined.

~ by fredfelleman on May 7, 2008.

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