April 2012

Gray whales on the move

Every year, gray whales migrate north along the Western United States coast, coming up from the waters of Central America to make their 10,000 mile journey to the rich feeding grounds of Alaska.  This year is a particularly special one for the small calf and cow families.  The gray whale count is the largest that it has been in more than 15 years thanks to an exceptional birth rate.  The numbers of gray whales estimated to be migrating this year are 20,000.

The birth rate has been record-setting and nearly 1200 calves have been counted so far.  The numbers spotted last year were only about 600 and the year before saw only 200 calves in the entire migration.  Since the early 1900s, gray whales have been endangered, but these new counts suggest that these mammals are making a striking comeback.

Poachers near Ecuador combated with superior technology


The coast of Ecuador, particularly the area around the Galapagos Islands, has a serious problem with poachers coming in and hunting whales and sharks.  They find where the concentrations of these marine animals are highest and hunt them openly.  Due to the fact that authorities are limited in their abilities to patrol such a vast area, these poachers are rarely caught.  A new incarnation of an old technology, however, may help to even the odds in the authorities’ favor.

Whale death prompts investigation into Canadian Naval exercise


In the wake of mass dolphin deaths in Peru, another incident has occurred that may be the result of using high-powered sound waves beneath the ocean.  Earlier this year, a female West Coast Orca whale washed up on the shores of Washington State.  This was shortly after a sonar testing run by the Canadian Navy, and it has prompted an investigation into the death by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

The investigation is aimed at finding out whether the sonar testing had anything to do with the death of the whale.  Sonar is known to create problems with whales, causing them to become confused, which leads to them rising quickly from whatever depths they are at and sometimes causing a condition similar to decompression sickness.  This can lead to death due to damage to the brain and other tissues. 

Using technology to save whales’ lives


A new application for the iPad and iPhone was recently developed called Whale Alert, which may save the lives of countless North Atlantic Right Whales.  The application functions by warning ships where whales are so that they can steer clear of them.  It was put together by a collaboration between EarthNC, government and academic sponsors.

By using a series of acoustic buoys that listen for whale calls, information is gathered, analyzed and stored to be used through the application by boat captains.  The information is initially sent to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA), which then processes it, compares the information from various sources and then relays it back.  The application also lets captains know what sorts of conservation measures have been implemented in whatever area of the ocean they happen to be in.