Sarah Williamson's blog

High-Tech Robot Seeks Out Right Whales

Posted Mon, Jan 14, 2013 by Sarah Williamson to baleen whales, endangered species, right whales, technology, WHOI

Chief scientist Mark Baumgartner secures glider (with its wings removed) after it was recovered Dec. 4 from its three-week mission. Photo by Nadine Lysiak, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

The 2013 International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) took place over the weekend, but one new high-tech babysitter was not featured in Las Vegas.  The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute has developed underwater robots to find, track, and protect baleen whales in the Gulf of Maine, particularly the highly endangered North Atlantic Right Whale.

Between mid-November and early-December, the torpedo-shaped gliders located nine right whales, empowering regulators to institute a voluntary speed restriction in the area to decrease the threat of boat strikes.  This represents the first time an autonomous vehicle has successfully detected and reported the location of baleen whales.

Right whales were one of the first species to be dramatically affected by commercial whaling, and remain one of the most critically endangered species of whales, with less than 400 individuals in the North Atlantic population.  While whales can get caught as bycatch in commercial fisheries, run-ins with ships account for one third of all right whale deaths, so the ability to warn boats of their proximity is an important component of their continued protection.


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Save the Whales: Threats Old and New

Posted Fri, Jan 11, 2013 by Sarah Williamson

Once a rallying cry of environmentalists and ocean lovers, the call to “Save the Whales!” has seemingly died down in recent years.  At the 2010 meeting of the International Whaling Commission, the 88 member countries even discussed lifting the ban on commercial whaling.  Though whaling is nearly extinct internationally—with the notable exceptions of Japan, Norway, and Iceland—this type of complacency may be premature.

Did we save the whales?

There is no doubt that the prohibition on commercial whaling has allowed whale populations to recover—some more successfully than others, but human activities continue to pose a major threat to all cetaceans: whales, purposes, and dolphins.


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The Real-Life Kraken, Caught on Tape

Posted Wed, Jan 9, 2013 by Sarah Williamson to giant squid, japan, Kraken, squid, video

After a decade-long hunt almost as obsessive as Captain Ahab’s search for Moby Dick, a team of researchers and journalists from Japan’s National Science Museum, the Discovery Channel, and Japanese broadcaster NHK have captured video of the mysterious giant squid in its natural habitat, about 9 miles from ChiChi Island and 600 miles south of Tokyo.

This three meter long creature is actually on the small side; giant squids can grow to eight meters (twenty-six feet)!

These real-life underwater giants are believed to be the inspiration for the Kraken, a mythical Nordic sea monster known for attacking ships in the waters off of Scandinavia. Having inspired numerous artists and writers over the centuries, it is no surprise that this fantastical animal has captured the imaginations of scientists as well. 


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