VIDEO: Check out a cool video about this story and hear what right whale upcalls sound like.
Download video here. (Credit: NOAA)
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When it comes to looking for whales, sometimes hearing is believing.
According to a research paper published recently in Biology Letters, the whale calls heard near a historic whaling ground east of southern Greenland were indeed those of Eubalaena glacialis — the endangered North Atlantic right whale.
“This is an area where we believed the population of right whales was hunted nearly to extinction,” said David Mellinger of the Cooperative Institute for Marine Resources Study at Oregon State University and NOAA’s Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory. “Knowing that whales have returned to these grounds is very encouraging for this species.”
Scientists based their findings on sound rather than sight. Using hydrophones — simple underwater microphones — they listened for a particular right whale sound called an “upcall.” [Check out a cool video about this story and hear what right whale upcalls sound like.]
Hydrophones were placed at five sites in and near the former whaling ground called Cape Farewell Ground. More than 2,000 right whale calls were recorded, mostly between July and November 2007.
Download here. (Credit: NOAA)
Whales with an uncertain future
The scientific team notes that there are fewer than 450 North Atlantic right whales globally, and that the eastern population was considered extinct or nearly so. The research results confirmed that the remote area east of southern Greenland is a promising summering ground for right whales.
However, changing conditions in the Arctic and melting sea ice has the potential to open up impassable parts of the ocean to increased shipping, which could place additional pressures on right whales. And although the number of right whale calves is increasing, many animals are affected by ship strikes or find themselves entangled in fishing gear.
To learn more about right whales, including how they got their name, watch the video about this story at: http://oceantoday.noaa.gov/whalecall/.
Posted Feb. 2, 2011