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News Article | November 29, 2016
Site: www.eurekalert.org

Scientists have long used satellite tags to track blue whales along the West Coast, learning how the largest animals on the planet find enough small krill to feed on to support their enormous size. Now researchers from NOAA Fisheries, Oregon State University and the University of Maryland have combined that trove of tracking data with satellite observations of ocean conditions to develop the first system for predicting locations of blue whales off the West Coast. The system, called WhaleWatch, produces monthly maps of blue whale "hotspots" to alert ships where there may be an increased risk of encountering these endangered whales. NOAA Fisheries has begun publicly posting the maps on its West Coast Region website each month. A new scientific paper published today in the Journal of Applied Ecology describes the development of the WhaleWatch system and the methodology behind it. "We're using the many years of tag data to let the whales tell us where they go, and under what conditions," said Elliott Hazen, a research ecologist at NOAA Fisheries Southwest Fisheries Science Center and lead author of the new paper. "If we know what drives their hotspots we can more clearly assess different management options to reduce risk to the whales." Helen Bailey, the WhaleWatch project leader at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science and coauthor of the paper, described WhaleWatch as an innovative combination of satellite technology and computer modeling that will help protect whales by providing timely information to the shipping industry. NASA helped fund the project, which draws on ocean observations from NASA and NOAA satellites. "This is the first time that we've been able to predict whale densities on a year-round basis in near-real time," said Bailey, who specializes in studying the movements of marine mammals and hopes the same approach will be used for other species of whales. "We hope it's going to protect the whales by helping inform the shipping industry." Blue whales are listed as an endangered species, although their population has increased in recent years. Earlier research has found that shipping lanes to and from Los Angeles and San Francisco overlap with important blue whale foraging hotspots, putting whales at risk of fatal ship strikes. Studies have found that ships off the West Coast strike an average of about two blue whales a year, although some ship strikes probably go unnoticed. "No ship captain or shipping company wants to strike a whale," said Kip Louttit, executive director of the Marine Exchange of Southern California, which tracks ship traffic into and out of Southern California ports. "If we can provide good scientific information about the areas that should be avoided, areas the whales are using, I think the industry is going to take that very seriously and put it to use." NOAA Fisheries has developed a California Current Integrated Ecosystem Assessment to examine how environmental conditions affect marine resources including whales and other marine mammals. Hazen said WhaleWatch could help evaluate different management strategies to tell whether they are effective in reducing risk to whales. "This is where science meets management," he said. "Now we have the tools for scientists to predict outcomes of different decisions or choices." As the scientists note in the new paper, the WhaleWatch model "provides a critical step towards developing seasonal and dynamic management approaches to help reduce the risk of ship strikes for blue whales in the California Current." Maps produced by the model may also prove useful to fishermen who want to reduce the risk of whales becoming entangled in lines attached to crab traps or other gear. The strength of WhaleWatch is more than a decade of tracking data collected by Bruce Mate of Oregon State University and his team for more than 100 blue whales from 1994 to 2008. Hazen used computer models to look for relationships between the movements of the whales and environmental factors such as ocean temperature, chlorophyll concentrations and other factors. "Nobody has ever had a database like this for any whale anywhere in the world," Mate said. "These aren't guesstimates of how whales may respond to certain conditions, but actual data on how they did respond, which improves the accuracy of the predictions." Funding for the research was provided by NASA, U.S. Geological Survey, National Park Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Smithsonian Institution Climate and Response Program and by NOAA's Integrated Ecosystem Assessment Program. The tagging of whales was funded through Oregon State University's Marine Mammal Institute.


News Article | March 5, 2016
Site: www.techtimes.com

An albino whale named “Gallon of Milk” made a rare appearance during a yearly whale census off Mexico’s Pacific coast. It was a welcome sight for conservation officials in the country as the extremely rare albino female gray whale had last been spotted in 2009. The National Commission of Natural Protected Areas (CONANP) posted a Facebook video showing the whale swimming in waters located near Baja California Sur in Mexico with a small calf in tow. The offspring did not appear to inherit her albino appearance. “Gallon of Milk” was first documented during the 2008-2009 season and belonged to an annual count of gray whales migrating to the area. According to CONANP, 2,211 gray whales showed up this year in the Ojo de Liebre lagoon of the El Vizcaíno Biosphere Reserve, the biological landscape of which researchers have been monitoring for 20 years now. Of those specimens, 1,004 are calves born in Mexico. The bright white whale’s condition albinism makes her of a special kind, since the gene mutation that leads to a sharp decrease in the pigment melanin – or the lack of it – is barely recorded among marine mammals. This condition has been better documented among land mammals, reptiles and birds, both in captivity and in the wild. The annual monitoring helps ensure the continuing survival of the gray whale species (Eschrichtius robustus), a highly endangered breed migrating every year between feeding and breeding sites. These majestic creatures can live up to 70 years, and grow to weigh 40 tons and reach 50 feet in length. Young whales grow to learn their parents’ migration patterns. “Usually calves follow their mothers from breeding areas to foraging grounds,” said Bruce Mate, director of Oregon State University’s Marine Mammal Institute. Gray whale populations were also decimated by commercial whaling. At present, their groups thrive in waters on the Pacific Ocean’s eastern and western sides, believed to be separated from each other. Those in the western Pacific – previously thought to be totally wiped out – are estimated to possibly be critically endangered at a 130-population count.


Bailey H.,National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration | Mate B.R.,Marine Mammal Institute | Palacios D.M.,National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration | Palacios D.M.,University of Hawaii at Manoa | And 3 more authors.
Endangered Species Research | Year: 2010

Baleen whale migrations typically consist of annual movements between productive, high-latitude feeding grounds and unproductive, low-latitude breeding grounds. However, the actual migratory path and whales' behaviour in these locations are poorly known. The objectives of this study were to apply a switching state-space model to the satellite tracks of blue whales Balaenoptera musculus in the Northeast Pacific to improve location estimation and gain insight into the migratory (transiting) and foraging (area-restricted search, ARS) behaviours of this population. During the period 1993 to 2007, Argos satellite tags were attached to 159 whales, mainly off the coast of California during late summer, of which 92 tracks were >7 d in duration. There was generally a southward movement during the winter to Baja California and to an area west of the Costa Rica Dome, in the eastern tropical Pacific (ETP). Travel speeds during transit were significantly faster than during ARS movements (mean = 3.70 and 1.05 km h-1, respectively). On average, 29% of the track time was spent in ARS, and the mean time within an ARS patch was 21 d. The occurrence of ARS behaviour throughout the migration cycle suggests that these animals may forage year-round, but could also indicate limited movements during the reproductive season. The extent of their northward migration from Baja California to Washington varied significantly interannually, likely in response to environmental changes affecting their prey. The long track durations obtained from electronic tagging have provided essential new information about the critical habitats of Northeast Pacific blue whales. © Inter-Research 2009.


News Article | December 23, 2016
Site: www.gizmag.com

While underwater drones and robotic vessels provide scientists with handy ways to explore our world's oceans, there's another more obvious way to plumb the depths of our seas: by enlisting the help of the whales that dwell there. Thanks to a new tracker from Oregon State University, such an arrangement is now possible. Of course, tracking devices for marine animals have existed for awhile, but the issue with those developed for whales is that they weren't able to stay active for much more than a full day, according to OSU. Called an "Advanced Dive Behavior" (ABU) Tag, the new tracker can function for up to seven weeks at a time and transmit data every second. When the tag reaches the end of its functionality, it detaches from the whale and floats to the surface where it emits LED lights and a GPS tracking signal to guide scientists to its location for retrieval. The tag monitors how far a whale dives, how it moves and orients its body, and can track light levels and water temperature. With such long-lasting and detailed information being gathered, scientists say they can learn more than ever about the habits of the largest sea-dwelling creatures on Earth. One tag, for instance, was able to monitor a sperm whale as it dove to depths of 1,000 m (3,281 ft) and stayed down there for 75 minutes. The tags can reveal swimming patterns, feeding habits, temperature preferences and even what happens to whales when large boats disrupt their environment. "By using this technology on three different species, we've seen the full range of behavior that is specific to each species," said Daniel Palacios, a co-author on a study involving the tags that has just appeared in the journal Ecology and Evolution. "Sperm whales, for instance, really like to dive deep, staying down a long time and appearing to forage along the seafloor at times. During summer the baleen whales will feed as much as possible in one area, and then they move on, probably after the prey density gets too low." Additionally, Bruce Mate, professor and director of OSU's Marine Mammal Institute in the College of Agricultural Sciences, says that with the help of our ocean-dwelling cousins, the tracker can also help us gain a greater understanding of our oceans overall. "This technology has even made whales our partners in acquiring data to better understand ocean conditions and climate change," he said. "It gives us vast amounts of new data about water temperatures through space and time, over large distances and in remote locations. We're learning more about whales, and the whales are helping us to learn more about our own planet."


Caballero S.,University of Los Andes, Colombia | Duchene S.,University of Los Andes, Colombia | Duchene S.,University of Sydney | Garavito M.F.,University of Los Andes, Colombia | And 2 more authors.
PLoS ONE | Year: 2015

A small number of cetaceans have adapted to an entirely freshwater environment, having colonized rivers in Asia and South America from an ancestral origin in the marine environment. This includes the 'river dolphins', early divergence from the odontocete lineage, and two species of true dolphins (Family Delphinidae). Successful adaptation to the freshwater environment may have required increased demands in energy involved in processes such as the mitochondrial osmotic balance. For this reason, riverine odontocetes provide a compelling natural experiment in adaptation of mammals from marine to freshwater habitats. Here we present initial evidence of positive selection in the NADH dehydrogenase subunit 2 of riverine odontocetes by analyses of full mitochondrial genomes, using tests of selection and protein structure modeling. The codon model with highest statistical support corresponds to three discrete categories for amino acid sites, those under positive, neutral, and purifying selection. With this model we found positive selection at site 297 of the NADH dehydrogenase subunit 2 (dN/dS>1.0,) leading to a substitution of an Ala or Val from the ancestral state of Thr. A phylogenetic reconstruction of 27 cetacean mitogenomes showed that an Ala substitution has evolved at least four times in cetaceans, once or more in the three 'river dolphins' (Families Pontoporidae, Lipotidae and Inidae), once in the riverine Sotalia fluviatilis (but not in its marine sister taxa), once in the riverine Orcaella brevirostris from the Mekong River (but not in its marine sister taxa) and once in two other related marine dolphins. We located the position of this amino acid substitution in an alpha-helix channel in the trans-membrane domain in both the E. coli structure and Sotalia fluviatilis model. In E. coli this position is located in a helix implicated in a proton translocation channel of respiratory complex 1 and may have a similar role in the NADH dehydrogenases of cetaceans. © 2015 Caballero et al.


News Article | December 23, 2016
Site: www.chromatographytechniques.com

A sophisticated new type of "tag" on whales that can record data every second for hours, days and weeks at a time provides a view of whale behavior, biology and travels never before possible, scientists from Oregon State University reported in a new study. This "Advanced Dive Behavior," or ADB tag, has allowed researchers to expand their knowledge of whale ecology to areas deep beneath the sea, over thousands of miles of travel, and outline their interaction with the prey they depend upon for food. It has even turned whales into scientific colleagues to help understand ocean conditions and climate change. The findings, just published in the journal Ecology and Evolution, showed sperm whales diving all the way to the sea floor, more than 1,000 meters deep, and being submerged for up to 75 minutes. It reported baleen whales lunging after their food; provided a basis to better understand whale reactions to undersea noises such as sonar or seismic exploration; and is helping scientists observe how whales react to changes in water temperature. "The ADB tag is a pretty revolutionary breakthrough," said Bruce Mate, professor and director of OSU's Marine Mammal Institute in the College of Agricultural Sciences. "This provides us a broad picture of whale behavior and ecology that we've never had before. "This technology has even made whales our partners in acquiring data to better understand ocean conditions and climate change," Mate said. "It gives us vast amounts of new data about water temperatures through space and time, over large distances and in remote locations. We're learning more about whales, and the whales are helping us to learn more about our own planet." The new tag, the researchers say, expands by several orders of magnitude the observations that can be made of whale feeding and behavior. Researchers say it's showing what whales do while underwater; when, how and where they feed; how they might be affected by passing ships or other noises; and what types of water temperatures they prefer. In the new study, researchers outlined the continued evolution and improvements made in the ADB technology from 2007-15, in which it was used on sperm, blue and fin whales. The research has been supported by the Office of Naval Research, the U.S. Navy and the International Association of Oil and Gas Producers. "By using this technology on three different species, we've seen the full range of behavior that is specific to each species," said Daniel Palacios, a co-author on the study. "Sperm whales, for instance, really like to dive deep, staying down a long time and appearing to forage along the seafloor at times. During summer the baleen whales will feed as much as possible in one area, and then they move on, probably after the prey density gets too low." Unlike earlier technology that could not return data from the deep sea for much longer than a day, the new ADB tags are designed to acquire data constantly, for up to seven weeks at a time, before they detach from the whale, float to the surface and are retrieved in the open sea to download data. The retrieval itself is a little tricky – scientists compare it to searching for a hamburger floating in thousands of square miles of open ocean – but it has worked pretty well, thanks to the tags transmitting GPS-quality locations and flashing LED lights once they have released. The tag can sense water depth, whale movement and body orientation, water temperature and light levels. "With this system we can acquire much more data at a lower cost, with far less commitment of time by ships and personnel," said Ladd Irvine, the corresponding author on the study. "This tag type yields amazing results. It's going to significantly expand what we can accomplish, learning both about whale ecology and the ocean itself."


News Article | December 23, 2016
Site: phys.org

This "Advanced Dive Behavior," or ADB tag, has allowed researchers to expand their knowledge of whale ecology to areas deep beneath the sea, over thousands of miles of travel, and outline their interaction with the prey they depend upon for food. It has even turned whales into scientific colleagues to help understand ocean conditions and climate change. The findings, just published in the journal Ecology and Evolution, showed sperm whales diving all the way to the sea floor, more than 1000 meters deep, and being submerged for up to 75 minutes. It reported baleen whales lunging after their food; provided a basis to better understand whale reactions to undersea noises such as sonar or seismic exploration; and is helping scientists observe how whales react to changes in water temperature. "The ADB tag is a pretty revolutionary breakthrough," said Bruce Mate, professor and director of OSU's Marine Mammal Institute in the College of Agricultural Sciences. "This provides us a broad picture of whale behavior and ecology that we've never had before. "This technology has even made whales our partners in acquiring data to better understand ocean conditions and climate change," Mate said. "It gives us vast amounts of new data about water temperatures through space and time, over large distances and in remote locations. We're learning more about whales, and the whales are helping us to learn more about our own planet." The new tag, the researchers say, expands by several orders of magnitude the observations that can be made of whale feeding and behavior. Researchers say it's showing what whales do while underwater; when, how and where they feed; how they might be affected by passing ships or other noises; and what types of water temperatures they prefer. In the new study, researchers outlined the continued evolution and improvements made in the ADB technology from 2007-15, in which it was used on sperm, blue and fin whales. The research has been supported by the Office of Naval Research, the U.S. Navy and the International Association of Oil and Gas Producers. "By using this technology on three different species, we've seen the full range of behavior that is specific to each species," said Daniel Palacios, a co-author on the study. "Sperm whales, for instance, really like to dive deep, staying down a long time and appearing to forage along the seafloor at times. During summer the baleen whales will feed as much as possible in one area, and then they move on, probably after the prey density gets too low." Unlike earlier technology that could not return data from the deep sea for much longer than a day, the new ADB tags are designed to acquire data constantly, for up to seven weeks at a time, before they detach from the whale, float to the surface and are retrieved in the open sea to download data. The retrieval itself is a little tricky – scientists compare it to searching for a hamburger floating in thousands of square miles of open ocean – but it has worked pretty well, thanks to the tags transmitting GPS-quality locations and flashing LED lights once they have released. The tag can sense water depth, whale movement and body orientation, water temperature and light levels. "With this system we can acquire much more data at a lower cost, with far less commitment of time by ships and personnel," said Ladd Irvine, the corresponding author on the study. "This tag type yields amazing results. It's going to significantly expand what we can accomplish, learning both about whale ecology and the ocean itself." Explore further: Current whale migration models are too simplified More information: Bruce R. Mate et al. The development of an intermediate-duration tag to characterize the diving behavior of large whales, Ecology and Evolution (2016). DOI: 10.1002/ece3.2649


News Article | December 23, 2016
Site: www.eurekalert.org

NEWPORT, Ore. - A sophisticated new type of "tag" on whales that can record data every second for hours, days and weeks at a time provides a view of whale behavior, biology and travels never before possible, scientists from Oregon State University reported today in a new study. This "Advanced Dive Behavior," or ADB tag, has allowed researchers to expand their knowledge of whale ecology to areas deep beneath the sea, over thousands of miles of travel, and outline their interaction with the prey they depend upon for food. It has even turned whales into scientific colleagues to help understand ocean conditions and climate change. The findings, just published in the journal Ecology and Evolution, showed sperm whales diving all the way to the sea floor, more than 1000 meters deep, and being submerged for up to 75 minutes. It reported baleen whales lunging after their food; provided a basis to better understand whale reactions to undersea noises such as sonar or seismic exploration; and is helping scientists observe how whales react to changes in water temperature. "The ADB tag is a pretty revolutionary breakthrough," said Bruce Mate, professor and director of OSU's Marine Mammal Institute in the College of Agricultural Sciences. "This provides us a broad picture of whale behavior and ecology that we've never had before. "This technology has even made whales our partners in acquiring data to better understand ocean conditions and climate change," Mate said. "It gives us vast amounts of new data about water temperatures through space and time, over large distances and in remote locations. We're learning more about whales, and the whales are helping us to learn more about our own planet." The new tag, the researchers say, expands by several orders of magnitude the observations that can be made of whale feeding and behavior. Researchers say it's showing what whales do while underwater; when, how and where they feed; how they might be affected by passing ships or other noises; and what types of water temperatures they prefer. In the new study, researchers outlined the continued evolution and improvements made in the ADB technology from 2007-15, in which it was used on sperm, blue and fin whales. The research has been supported by the Office of Naval Research, the U.S. Navy and the International Association of Oil and Gas Producers. "By using this technology on three different species, we've seen the full range of behavior that is specific to each species," said Daniel Palacios, a co-author on the study. "Sperm whales, for instance, really like to dive deep, staying down a long time and appearing to forage along the seafloor at times. During summer the baleen whales will feed as much as possible in one area, and then they move on, probably after the prey density gets too low." Unlike earlier technology that could not return data from the deep sea for much longer than a day, the new ADB tags are designed to acquire data constantly, for up to seven weeks at a time, before they detach from the whale, float to the surface and are retrieved in the open sea to download data. The retrieval itself is a little tricky - scientists compare it to searching for a hamburger floating in thousands of square miles of open ocean - but it has worked pretty well, thanks to the tags transmitting GPS-quality locations and flashing LED lights once they have released. The tag can sense water depth, whale movement and body orientation, water temperature and light levels. "With this system we can acquire much more data at a lower cost, with far less commitment of time by ships and personnel," said Ladd Irvine, the corresponding author on the study. "This tag type yields amazing results. It's going to significantly expand what we can accomplish, learning both about whale ecology and the ocean itself."

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