Blog Tags: Blue Whales
Welcome to Whale Wednesday, the first ever hump(back) day feature devoted to cetaceans. I'm taking a cue from Oceans4Ever, the masters of alliterative weekly features, like Make a Difference Monday and Freaky Fish Friday. Hopefully this will become a semi-regular feature -- what's not to love about whales, after all? Today, three scintillating stories about cetaceans: 1. The Seattle Times reports on the first scientific review of the effort to reintegrate Keiko, the "Free Willy" orca, into the wild. The paper, which appears in the journal Marine Mammal Science, shows that while Keiko wasn't accepted by other orcas and had to be fed frozen fish until he died in 2003, he lived a longer life span than any other captive male orca. Turns out Willy's freedom was only possible on screen -- having been captured at the age of 2, he had been held in captivity too long to make it on his own.
I've been infatuated with blue whales since I was a child (who isn't?), so I was thrilled to watch Flip Nicklin, one of the preeminent whale photographers in the world, speak last night at National Geographic. The 61-year-old Nicklin was introduced to whales as a kid. He began by telling how his father, also a diver and underwater photographer, once rode a blue whale that was caught in a gill net (he later set it free, don't worry.) Since, then he's been traveling around the world, from Patagonia to Sri Lanka, in search of the largest animal ever to have lived on Earth. And sometimes they're not very easy to find. "I'm fairly deaf," Nicklin said, "so I'm glad the whales are big." Big is an understatement -- the modern-day dinosaurs can be up to 100 feet long and weigh 200 tons, and their hearts can weigh as much as an SUV. They eat krill almost exclusively, and sometimes up to four tons a day. On a recent expedition, he spent more than three weeks at sea, and saw only one blue whale for a total of about 15 minutes. He got five usable photographs, all taken during the same minute. "They're good at playing hide-and-seek," he joked. But sometimes they are quite literally under his nose. In one video he showed, a blue whale eyed him curiously -- from less than five feet away. And most recently, he traveled to Baja, where he saw more than 20 blue whales.
A new report looks at the effects of increased ocean acidity on how sound travels in seawater, which scientists have long suspected to be influenced by pH. The report found that drops in pH affect the ocean's chemical balance and consequently lower its sound absorption, especially to frequencies below 10 kilohertz (kHz). The researchers say that by the 1990s, the oceans absorbed 15% less sound than during the previous century, which will likely affect the communications of ocean wildlife as well as military operations, by making sound travel farther and increasing the ocean's ambient noise level. Already, scientists have discovered that blue whales, which normally communicate below1 kHz, have started calling at lower frequencies.
When I read the headline of yesterday's New York Times article, "Whales’ Lower-Pitch Sound Has Experts Guessing," I assumed the lede would be something like, "Whales' songs are deepening as they grow depressed about global warming." Just goes to show, I generally associate deeper-pitched sounds with sadness and mourning -- and I assign human characteristics to animals perhaps too zealously... As it turns out, the lower moans might portend good after all. The piece reports that the song of blue whales around the world has grown deeper -- and scientists speculate that it could be because their population is on the rise since commercial whaling bans began to take effect in the 1970s.
From the Associated Press -- Scientists Spot Rare Blue Whales in Alaska:
ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) -- Federal scientists have sighted a rare mammal in Alaska waters - endangered blue whales, the largest animal known to live on Earth.
The sighting by researchers on board a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration vessel means the blue whale population may be getting healthier and expanding back to traditional territories.
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