Thursday, February 25, 2010

Sound maps reveal whales and noise pollution

Check out the link to see the color maps:
__________________________________________________ | by Krishna Ramanujan | February 23, 2010

"Chris Clark discussed his state-of-the-art acoustic animations and the difficulties facing whales Feb. 21 at the American Association for the Advancement of Science annual meeting in San Diego.

Land areas are not the only places getting busier: so too are the oceans, says a Cornell researcher who uses underwater recorders to create animated maps of the oceans' noise.

Increasingly, the oceans are being polluted by shipping traffic noise, especially up and down the U.S. eastern and western seaboards. The cacophony interferes with the ability of whales and other sea animals to hear each other; they rely on quiet waters to communicate many miles apart.

"People have no idea the world in the ocean off the coast is so urbanized," said Christopher Clark, the I.P. Johnson Director of the Bioacoustics Research Program at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, who discussed his state-of-the-art acoustic animations and the difficulties facing whales Feb. 21 at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) annual meeting in San Diego.

His research not only documents ocean noise and its repercussions but also tracks such endangered species as the North Atlantic right whale.

Clark presented color animations that show time-elapsed maps of the sounds of passing whales and ships. Clark and colleagues placed arrays of recording devices spaced over the ocean floor for three months at a time. The devices were then retrieved, their terabytes of data analyzed at Cornell and transferred into a visual format.

This animation frame shows the noise from a single commercial ship entering Boston harbor. The bright yellow-orange signifies a noisy ocean. The loudness (voices) of the calling whales are lost beneath the shipping noise. Image: Dimitri Ponirakis
"Now I can quantify how much [sound is generated] every time a ship comes through," Clark said. "It creates acoustic 'bleaching,' and you can measure how much acoustic space is lost by ships coming through. For example, every day right whales lose 80 to 85 percent of their opportunities to communicate as a result of ship traffic."

Sound travels very efficiently in water and gets trapped in a layer of water known as a deep sound channel about half a mile deep, depending on latitude, Clark said. He likened diving into this channel to a curtain rising so that suddenly you can hear clearer and louder. He hypothesizes that whales' voices and hearing have evolved to communicate with each other over very large distances.

"I can hear a blue whale that's singing off the Grand Banks of Canada while listening off Puerto Rico," Clark said.

Although blue whales use very low frequencies that can travel such great distances, higher-pitched humpback whale singers can be heard only over a few hundred miles, and North Atlantic right whales over only tens of miles.

But manmade sounds are now bleaching whales' underwater communication channels.

"Now we are listening to observe what the whales do as noise levels go up," Clark said.

Some 60 years ago when there was little traffic noise, whales could hear each other pretty much all the time, except when storms came through. Then they would stop chattering, only to resume when the storm passed.

But now, what do whales do amid the steady din? Using his acoustic techniques, Clark has found that as traffic noise increases or oil exploration vessels pound the sea floor, communication among whales breaks down, and sometimes the animals evacuate the area within hours to days.

Clark also discussed the use of listening buoys off the coast of Massachusetts that automatically detect right whales and inform ship captains to slow down when a whale is in or near the shipping lanes.

Provided by Cornell University (news : web)"

14 Right Whale Calves so Far!

So far this winter there have been 14 new right whale calves born to these moms:

1241 BUGS

Thanks to all the aerial survey teams in the Southeast who do the hard work to collect this valuable research (Wildlife Trust, New England Aquarium, Florida Fish & Wildlife Service, Georgia DNR, and NOAA)!!!

Monday, February 22, 2010

22 Feb 2010 - Flight to Jordan's Basin

This was my first right whale survey in quite a while and I was excited to be back up in the air!! Unfortunately no right whales were on Jordan's Basin today but I did get a cool shot as we flew over Cape Cod...

Sunday, February 14, 2010

10 Right Whale Calves so Far!

I've been remiss in updating the latest news on the right whale calving season (for those of you who don't know - I'm home on maternity leave and a bit out of the loop this winter!)...

So far this winter there have been 10 new right whale calves born to these moms:

1241 BUGS

Thanks to all the aerial survey teams in the Southeast who do the hard work to collect this valuable research (Wildlife Trust, New England Aquarium, Florida Fish & Wildlife Service, Georgia DNR, and NOAA)!!!

Renowned marine scientist to give talk at Wareham Library

GateHouse News Service | Feb 06, 2010

"The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary is an 842-square-mile federally designated marine-protected area located off the coast of Massachusetts and New Hampshire. It is home to some of the highest concentrations of endangered whales in the United States and it is also heavily used by commercial fisheries, shipping and whale watching vessels, making the sanctuary a “hot spot” for whale and human interaction, often with deadly outcome.

As research coordinator for the sanctuary, Wareham resident Dr. David Wiley leads a team of scientists who tagged right, humpback and finback whales with electronic monitoring devices and tracked whale surfacing and feeding behavior through feedback from sound buoys. Tracking information, combined with analysis of 25 years of data on whale sightings and ship strikes, helped Wiley and his team determine where whales were spending the most time. The team discovered that a prime feeding location corresponded with routes traveled by nearly 200 large commercial ships per month heading for the port of Boston. Wiley’s team presented the commercial shipping industry with their findings and a plan to avoid whale strikes, which are the leading cause of whale deaths in the open ocean.

By adjusting shipping lanes a mere 12 degrees northward in the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary, ship strikes to endangered right whales will be reduced as much as 58 percent -and risks to all large whale species by 80 percent or more. The commercial shipping industry embraced the plan, which took effect July 1, 2007.

Wiley’s research into reducing threats to endangered whales in the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary led not only to a shift in shipping lanes but also, more recently, to recognition by the US Department of Commerce, which awarded him the agency’s prestigious Gold Medal award.

Wiley will be bringing his message home to the Wareham Free Library from 6 to 8 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 18, when he will discuss his ongoing research tracking whale activity in an effort improve the safety and wellbeing both of the whales and their human neighbors. The talk is open to the public and sponsored by the Wareham Land Trust.

Claire Smith of the Wareham Land Trust is looking forward to the talk:

“We purposely scheduled this discussion during school vacation week,” she said. “We are so fortunate to have Dr. Wiley nearby to share his exciting research with us. I encourage nature lovers of all ages to attend on Feb. 18.”

Refreshments will be served. For more information, call 508-295-0211 or visit"

Friday, February 12, 2010

Monday Reads: The Right Whale Detection Dog Edition

UnEarthed EarthJustice | February 1, 2010

"Of right whales and dogs
Fargo the detection dog meets a right whale calf up close and personal. Photo: New England Aquarium.

Collectively, detection dogs have had a long and illustrious career. Although drug sniffing and bomb detection dogs often get top billing, canines are also proudly finding counterfeit DVDs, bed bugs, and cell phones.

And now we can add right whales to the list.

(Well, right whale scat, at least. Although occasionally, a curious right whale may show up along the way.)

Hunted to near extinction, right whales today are the subject of intense research and conservation efforts. Earthjustice is fighting for them on the legal front, action that comes on the heels of a recent Earthjustice campaign, during which more than 23,000 Earthjusticers eloquently spoke out to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration on the importance of right whales.

Outside of the courtroom, the New England Aquarium has pioneered some decidedly creative methods to aid North Atlantic right whale research: scat-sniffing dogs. That’s right; these dogs search out and locate whale poop.

Unlike their other-sniffing brethren, these dogs can’t simply walk their handlers to the finish line; the scat is in the water, and the dogs are on a boat. In an impressive three-step process, the dogs stand at attention at the bow of the boat and "tell" their handlers which direction the scat lies. The handler conveys this to the helmsman, who then steers the boat accordingly—and this all happens quite successfully, we might add.

Since you can’t exactly take blood samples at will from a 50 ton whale, the scat samples provide a wealth of biological information for scientists, helping them to study right whale reproduction and health trends. And given there are less than 400 North Atlantic right whales remaining, every whale counts.

These hard-working pups are putting their keen noses to good use, and can look forward to a gleeful tennis ball play session as a search reward."