April 10, 2017 — There are still limitations to the technology, but scientists hope the expanded use of unmanned listening devices and whale call recordings will help better protect whales by using the sounds they make.
“There are a lot of potential applications,” said Brian Sharp, International Fund for Animal Welfare’s manager of marine mammal rescue and research. “We’re just scratching the surface.”
At the Northeast Fisheries Science Center in Woods Hole, researchers have analyzed underwater recordings of North Atlantic right whale calls from 2006 through 2014 to try and address a question that has emerged in recent years: Why are the endangered animals not showing up as predictably in their seasonal haunts.
“One of the things that’s really been discussed is how they’re shifting their distribution patterns,” Genevieve Davis, a research analyst at the science center, said at the annual Marine Mammal Commission meeting held at the Sea Crest Beach Hotel.
For the 2006-2014 time period, the scientists ended up with 2,500 days that showed — by recorded sound — the presence of right whales from Iceland to Florida. In looking at the data, they learned that the whales are spending their winters all along the Atlantic coastline rather than in specific areas at specific times of the year. Also, from New England through the mid-Atlantic area, the analysis showed that there are right whales present “pretty much year-round,” Davis said.