Warming Seas Pose New Dangers to Whales

It seems that the warming climate and seas affects more than meets the eye. Warmer waters in our seas are not ideal conditions for our whales either. This year, there have been smaller numbers of whale sightings. This underscores the growing peril believed to be occurring throughout the East Coast with both the humpback whale and also the North Atlantic right whale.

Whale Patterns Are Changing

This summer, the humpback whale quantities that were identified from the rocks have been abysmal. Teams have seen only eight when they usually see dozens. It has been reported that 53 humpbacks have deceased over the last 19 months, as many of them have collided with either boats or their fishing gear.

Scientists are concerned that these humpbacks could have possibly forced into different water to search for food sources because the sea has gotten rapidly warmer and perhaps their normal feeding grounds had been disturbed.

“Food is becoming more patchy and less reliable, so animals are moving around more,” said Scott Kraus, the chief scientist from the Anderson Cabot Center for Ocean Life at the New England Aquarium. “The more you move around, the higher the chance of entanglements.”

It seems that the North Atlantic right whale has also changed their normal course. They prefer much colder waters and might be faced even worse consequences. Fifteen of those animals have perished since April and it is estimated that their entire population now is less than 450.

“We haven’t seen this level of mortality in right whales since we stopped whaling them” stated Dr. Kraus.

Whale Image Library Kept for Tracking

The aquarium has kept a catalog of pictures featuring the North Atlantic right whale. One reason they do this is to keep track of the numbers. The images span across decades and are important to understanding these elusive animals.

The main office computer is where scientists maintain over 36,000 images that are used to track whales. From this data is where researchers first confirmed the notion that every whale has a unique fluke pattern. The tail of a humpback features an unchanging signature that is about as distinctive as a fingerprint — unless it has been hit by a ship, suffered a shark bite or damaged the gear of fisherman.

Digital algorithms are making the task of identification easier, using the process of dividing photos into its proper category of fluke patterns, and primarily by ascertaining exactly how much of the whale’s tail is white and how much is black in the images. But the fact remains that researchers still have to look at several thousand pictures one at a time to match them. There really needs to be better way to create an algorithm. Of course, the biggest obstacle is finding the funds to make this happen.

The good news is that many of these matches are very easy. And researchers from the island often see several whales repeatedly and are able to recognize them right away.

The fact is that the Gulf of Maine has been rapidly warming — at one of the quickest rates on this planet — and this change in temperature could be causing certain food chains to shift.  As whales pursue sources of food into new waters, they stray right in the paths of shipping and fishing gear.

Learning to understand the behavior of these whales is the key in helping them to survive in these warming waters. And allowing them to share the waters with fishermen and shipping.