Nav: Home

Endangered whales react to environmental changes

November 19, 2019

Ithaca, NY--Some "canaries" are 50 feet long, weigh 70 tons, and are nowhere near a coal mine. But the highly endangered North Atlantic right whale is sending the same kind of message about disruptive change in the environment by rapidly altering its use of important habitat areas off the New England coast. These findings are contained in a new study published in Global Change Biology by scientists at the Center for Conservation Bioacoustics (formerly the Bioacoustics Research Program) at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and at Syracuse University. It's the longest running published study to continuously monitor the presence of any whale species at one location using sound."

"The change in right whale presence in Massachusetts Bay over the six years of the study is striking," says lead author Russ Charif, senior bioacoustician at the Center for Conservation Bioacoustics (CCB) at Cornell. "It's likely linked to rapid changes in conditions along the Atlantic Coast, especially in the Gulf of Maine which is warming faster than 99% of the rest of the world's ocean surface."

Charif points out that, starting in 2011, other studies began documenting dramatic changes in habitat use by right whales in other parts of the Gulf of Maine, which includes Massachusetts Bay and Cape Cod Bay. Massachusetts Bay is the gateway to Cape Cod Bay, one of the most important feeding areas for North Atlantic right whales, who congregate there in large numbers in late winter to early spring.

Nineteen marine autonomous recording units (MARUs) were deployed by CCB in Massachusetts Bay from July 2007 to April 2013, recording around-the-clock to detect the characteristic "up-call" of the North Atlantic right whale. Analysis of 47,000 hours of recordings by computer detection systems and human analysts found that in all but one of the study years detection of right whale calls kept increasing.

"During the six years of the study, our detection rates doubled during the winter-spring months," says study co-author Aaron Rice, principal ecologist with CCB. "During the summer-fall months the rate of detection for right whales had increased six-fold by the end of the study period, rising from 2% to 13% of recorded hours."

The scientists found right whales were present to varying degrees all year round in Massachusetts Bay, with implications for conservation efforts.

"There are seasonal conservation measures that kick in based on our historical understanding of where and when right whales are most often congregating, including Massachusetts Bay," Rice explains. "But the old patterns have changed and whales are showing up in areas where there are no protections in place to reduce the likelihood of ship strikes or fishing gear entanglements."

Entanglements and ship strikes remain the biggest threats to right whales with unknown cumulative effects from changing water temperatures, rising ocean noise pollution, and other stressors. The increasing use of Massachusetts Bay occurred even as the overall right whale population declined. Latest estimates peg the population at about 400 animals with only 95 of them females of reproductive age.

"Our study data end in 2013 and conditions may have changed even more since then," says Charif. "We need to do more of these long-term studies if we're to have any hope of understanding how right whale habitat is changing because of human activities and before it's too late for the species to survive."
-end-
Funding for acoustic data collection and initial analysis was provided by Excelerate Energy L.P. and Neptune LNG, LLC. Funding for multi-year data compilation, analysis, and synthesis was provided by the U.S. Marine Mammal Commission (Grant Number MMC14-207).

Reference:

Russell A. Charif, Yu Shiu, Charles A. Muirhead, Christopher W. Clark, Susan E. Parks, Aaron Rice. (2019) Phenological Changes in North Atlantic Right Whale Habitat Use in Massachusetts Bay. Global Change Biology.

Media downloads: video, sound, graphic, images https://cornell.app.box.com/folder/90447207504

Cornell University

Related Whales Articles:

Solar storms could scramble whales' navigational sense
When our sun belches out a hot stream of charged particles in Earth's general direction, it doesn't just mess up communications satellites.
A better pregnancy test for whales
To determine whale pregnancy, researchers have relied on visual cues or hormone tests of blubber collected via darts, but the results were often inconclusive.
Why whales are so big, but not bigger
Whales' large bodies help them consume their prey at high efficiencies, a more than decade-long study of around 300 tagged whales now shows, but their gigantism is limited by prey availability and foraging efficiency.
Whales stop being socialites when boats are about
The noise and presence of boats can harm humpback whales' ability to communicate and socialise, in some cases reducing their communication range by a factor of four.
Endangered whales react to environmental changes
Some 'canaries' are 50 feet long, weigh 70 tons, and are nowhere near a coal mine.
Stranded whales detected from space
A new technique for analysing satellite images may help scientists detect and count stranded whales from space.
Hush, little baby: Mother right whales 'whisper' to calves
A recent study led by Syracuse University biology professor Susan Parks in Biology Letters explores whether right whale mother-calf pairs change their vocalizations to keep predators from detecting them.
Researchers use drones to weigh whales
Researchers from Aarhus Institute of Advanced Studies (AIAS) in Denmark and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) in the US devised a way to accurately estimate the weight of free-living whales using only aerial images taken by drones.
Plastic in Britain's seals, dolphins and whales
Microplastics have been found in the guts of every marine mammal examined in a new study of animals washed up on Britain's shores.
Groups of pilot whales have their own dialects
A new study from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) has found that short-finned pilot whales living off the coast of Hawai'i have their own sorts of vocal dialects, a discovery that may help researchers understand the whales' complex social structure.
More Whales News and Whales Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Teaching For Better Humans 2.0
More than test scores or good grades–what do kids need for the future? This hour, TED speakers explore how to help children grow into better humans, both during and after this time of crisis. Guests include educators Richard Culatta and Liz Kleinrock, psychologist Thomas Curran, and writer Jacqueline Woodson.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#556 The Power of Friendship
It's 2020 and times are tough. Maybe some of us are learning about social distancing the hard way. Maybe we just are all a little anxious. No matter what, we could probably use a friend. But what is a friend, exactly? And why do we need them so much? This week host Bethany Brookshire speaks with Lydia Denworth, author of the new book "Friendship: The Evolution, Biology, and Extraordinary Power of Life's Fundamental Bond". This episode is hosted by Bethany Brookshire, science writer from Science News.
Now Playing: Radiolab

Dispatch 3: Shared Immunity
More than a million people have caught Covid-19, and tens of thousands have died. But thousands more have survived and recovered. A week or so ago (aka, what feels like ten years in corona time) producer Molly Webster learned that many of those survivors possess a kind of superpower: antibodies trained to fight the virus. Not only that, they might be able to pass this power on to the people who are sick with corona, and still in the fight. Today we have the story of an experimental treatment that's popping up all over the country: convalescent plasma transfusion, a century-old procedure that some say may become one of our best weapons against this devastating, new disease.   If you have recovered from Covid-19 and want to donate plasma, national and local donation registries are gearing up to collect blood.  To sign up with the American Red Cross, a national organization that works in local communities, head here.  To find out more about the The National COVID-19 Convalescent Plasma Project, which we spoke about in our episode, including information on clinical trials or plasma donation projects in your community, go here.  And if you are in the greater New York City area, and want to donate convalescent plasma, head over to the New York Blood Center to sign up. Or, register with specific NYC hospitals here.   If you are sick with Covid-19, and are interested in participating in a clinical trial, or are looking for a plasma donor match, check in with your local hospital, university, or blood center for more; you can also find more information on trials at The National COVID-19 Convalescent Plasma Project. And lastly, Tatiana Prowell's tweet that tipped us off is here. This episode was reported by Molly Webster and produced by Pat Walters. Special thanks to Drs. Evan Bloch and Tim Byun, as well as the Albert Einstein College of Medicine.  Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate.