Scientists muster to help right whales: with time running out, an ambitious research plan is launched for an endangered species.It is a sad irony that we have cataloged individual photographs of the remaining North Atlantic right whales and given each of them unique numbers and sometimes names, yet we still know too little about their physiology, behavior, and habitats to take effective steps toward ensuring their survival as a species.
1. Taking by force; plundering.
2. Greedy; ravenous. See Synonyms at voracious.
3. Subsisting on live prey. hunted by humans over centuries, the North Atlantic right whale The North Atlantic Right Whale (Eubalaena glacialis) is a baleen whale, one of three species formerly called classified as the Right Whale belonging to the genus Eubalaena. About 300 North Atlantic Right Whales live in the North Atlantic Ocean. has not recovered in the decades after whaling was outlawed. Living near heavily populated coasts, the whales are vulnerable to high levels of shipping, fishing, noise, and pollution. (See "Whither whith·er
To what place, result, or condition: Whither are we wandering?
1. To which specified place or position: the North Atlantic Right Whale? page 29.)
Today, right whales lie at a critical crossroads in their long history--pointed dangerously toward extinction by the end of the century. Now, an ambitious program of intensified research has begun finding ways to aid them.
A species on the edge
We now know that the mission is possible. Using extensive right whale right whale, name for whales of the family Balaenidae. They were so named by whalers, who for centuries considered them "the right whales" to hunt, because they float when killed and because they yield enormous quantities of oil and of baleen. data collected by government agencies, researchers, and dedicated private groups, WHOI biologist Hal Caswell and colleagues analyzed the factors contributing to the species' population decline. Saving just two females per year from untimely death, they concluded, can reverse the downward trend and put the population on a road to recovery.
But despite years of research on right whale habits and habitats, we still lack practical ways to reduce deaths or increase births. Learning the secrets of huge and uncooperative animals that can be studied only fleetingly at sea or dead on a beach is a daunting task.
In November 2003, the WHOI Ocean Life Institute (OLI OLI Open Learning Initiative (RSA)
OLI Operation Lifesaver, Inc.
OLI Open Learning Institute (Britain)
OLI Originating Line Information (qualifies Automatic Number Identification) ) convened a research forum in Woods Hole, gathering scientists and engineers from several institutions, along with representatives from government and industry, to assess the status of the North Atlantic right whale. Blending a diverse range of complementary expertise, they devised a collaborative research plan to accelerate advances in our knowledge of right whales. The OLI Right Whale Research and Conservation Initiative complements other government and academic programs, supplying essential pieces of the North Atlantic right whale puzzle they don't address. It will provide a necessary scientific foundation to guide effective conservation efforts.
Over the next several years, scientists from WHOI, the New England Aquarium The New England Aquarium, located in Boston, Massachusetts is one of the most prominent and popular public aquariums in the United States. Founded in 1969 on the city's waterfront, it is considered one of the first modern public aquariums and is credited with revolutionizing the in Boston, the Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies, Trent University in Canada, and other institutions will join in the OLI Right Whale Research and Conservation Initiative. They are planning, launching, and seeking funds for a variety of studies aimed at:
* reducing accidental whale deaths caused by ship collisions and fishing gear entanglement
* understanding critical factors affecting right whale habitats, nutrition, reproduction, and health
* monitoring the North Atlantic right whale population to assess its size, present state, and future viability.
Right Whale Initiative strategies include pioneering studies of whale hearing, using CT scans to obtain physiological data on whale ears (See "How to See What Whales Hear," page 59), and field work to study whales' response to noise. Other scientists will use whale bone forensics to provide basic information on the speeds and masses of vessels that are unvolved in fatal ship-whale collisions. Another study will explore hydrodynamic hy·dro·dy·nam·ic also hy·dro·dy·nam·i·cal
1. Of or relating to hydrodynamics.
2. Of, relating to, or operated by the force of liquid in motion. forces, caused by ships moving through water, that lead to collisions.
Scientists will also test new types of fishing gear designed to slip off more easily and break when entangled whales try to free themselves. A remote control device is being developed to deliver sedatives and medications to entangled whales, to improve our ability to disentangle them.
A multi-pronged research effort
Over the long term, the critical threat to right whales is their low and inconsistent birth rate, which could be linked to pollutants or to poor nutrition. The latter, in turn, may be caused by shifts in food supplies linked to changing oceanographic or climate conditions. The OLI Initiative includes research to:
* analyze whale fecal samples to get previously unobtainable data on whale genetics, and hormone and contaminant contaminant /con·tam·i·nant/ (kon-tam´in-int) something that causes contamination.
something that causes contamination. levels
* conduct detailed studies on the effects of chemical pollutants and nutrition on whale health and reproduction
* develop new technology to monitor conditions in whale feeding grounds
* learn why whale feeding grounds exist where they do and how they change with changing oceanographic and climatic conditions
* deploy rapid-response expeditions to explore whale feeding and diving behavior.
Tracking the population
To monitor the whale population more effectively, the OLI Right Whale Initiative includes:
* expeditions to recover and analyze whale bones left behind from 16th-century whaling to help determine the North Atlantic right whale population's pre-whaling size and genetic diversity
* new aerial surveys aerial surveys
an epidemiological technique for surveying animal populations and their habitat, especially the latter, over a very wide area. Requires special techniques adapted to sensing of electronically marked animals from a distance, and infrared scanning of vegetation. using high-definition camera systems that provide more detailed information on whale conditions and behaviors
* development of comprehensive databases to share right whale information more widely and quickly
* modeling studies to target critical factors threatening the population and more effective conservation strategies.
Time is running short for the North Atlantic right whale. Now is the time for scientists and supporters to work together to keep this magnificent mammal swimming off our shores.
Laurence Madin, Director
Ocean Life Institute
Senior Scientist, Biology Department
Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, at Woods Hole, Mass.; est. 1930. In addition to oceanographic research, it conducts important work in meteorology, biology, geology, and geophysics.