Imperiled whales respond to environmental changes

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A few “canaries” are 50 feet long, weigh 70 tons, and are not even close to a coal mine. In any case, the highly endangered North Atlantic right whale is sending a similar sort of message about disruptive change in the environment by quickly modifying its utilization of significant habitat zones of the New England coast. These discoveries are contained in a new study published in Global Change Biology by researchers at the Center for Conservation Bioacoustics (once in the past the Bioacoustics Research Program) at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and at Syracuse University. It’s the longest-running published investigation to continuously monitor the presence of any whale species at one area utilizing 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 bioacoustics 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 calls attention to that, beginning in 2011, different examinations started documenting dramatic changes in habitat use by right whales in different parts of the Gulf of Maine, which incorporates Massachusetts Bay and Cape Cod Bay. Massachusetts Bay is the gateway to Cape Cod Bay, one of the most significant nourishing zones for North Atlantic right whales, who gather there in huge numbers in late winter to early spring.

Nineteen marine autonomous recording units (MARUs) were sent 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 PC detection systems and human experts found that in everything except one of the investigation years identification of right whale calls continued expanding.

“During the six years of the study, our detection rates doubled during the winter-spring months,” says study co-author Aaron Rice, a 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 researchers discovered right whales were available to changing degrees throughout the entire year in Massachusetts Bay, with suggestions for preservation endeavors.

“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 greatest dangers to right whales with obscure cumulative impacts from changing water temperatures, rising ocean noise pollution, and different stressors. The expanding utilization of Massachusetts Bay happened even as the overall right whale populace declined. Most recent estimates peg the populace at around 400 creatures with just 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.”

Disclaimer: The views, suggestions, and opinions expressed here are the sole responsibility of the experts. No Herald Quest journalist was involved in the writing and production of this article.