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.
Props to the folks over at the Science blog Zooillogix for a great post this week about scientists in New England who are studying the Atlantic's threatened population of right whales by collecting and analyzing their floating, um, poop. Joking aside, analyzing whale poop -- or any other method of determining the health of certain whale populations -- is apparently needed. This week, the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species revealed that while there is some good news for whales and some bad, the bottom line was that more data is needed. The IUCN was unable to assess more than half of the world's cetaceans (whales, dolphins, and porpoises) because of a lack of data.
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.
Speaking before the Chilean Congress on Wednesday, President Michelle Bachelet announced plans to ban all whaling activity in Chilean waters. President Bachelet will try to have the new law in place before the International Whaling Commission meets in Santiago next month. According to the Environmental New Service, Centro de Conservación Cetacea, Centro Ecoceanos, and the National Confederation of Artisan Fishers (CONAPACH) were the loudest advocates for this measure, but Oceana participated too.
This week in ocean news,
...a federal advisory panel weighed a ban on salmon fishing in California after a dramatic decline in the fishery. "The situation now is unprecedented and off the charts," said the executive director of the Pacific Fishery Management Council...
...a University of Tasmania scientist discovered two new types of toxic algae in the Southern Ocean, which he believes must be calculated into fishing quotas to prevent further overfishing...
The fight over whether whaling should be banned or not heated recently when two anti-whaling activists were detained on a Japanese fishing vessel after boarding the ship without permission to reportedly dispense information.
Two weeks ago, Iceland announced it would defy the 20-year old worldwide whaling ban and resume its commercial whale hunt. They sure didn't waste any time! Two whales have already been caught, leaving 37 more kills to go.
Iceland claims this decision is all about business, so let's take a look at the business side of what they actually are doing. For those of you who slept through this lesson in high school, I'd like to tell you about a little thing I like to call "economics."
Every year environmental and animal welfare groups join forces to boo and hiss at (and work to oppose) Japan during the International Whaling Commission meeting. In 1986 the IWC instituted a moratorium on commercial whaling, and ever since, Japan has been fighting to overturn it. This year, Japan and its allies came dangerously close to inhaling the sweet smell of success.
Good news for gray whales! Their numbers are on the rise, according to scientists monitoring the annual gray whale migration along the California coast. Whale counts during this migration have revealed an increased number of calves traveling with the various family groups heading north to their summer feeding grounds in the Arctic. Actual numbers have jumped from 945 in 2005 to 1,018 in 2006. Ironically, this reproductive success may be attributed to the effects of global warming - the melting of polar sea ice allows whales to travel farther in search of food.
Looking back at February, I have had one thing on my mind - whales. When it comes to these creatures, it has been a time of mixed emotions on the Pacific coast of North America.