It’s been a bad winter for the whales.
While the total number of whales that have washed ashore – ashore – on the East Coast since January is Less than in recent yearsThe rapid succession of deaths over the past few months is “extraordinary,” the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the body that monitors and sets regulations to protect whales in the United States, said. he told the New York Times late last month.
The majority of 22 whales on the beach On the east coast found dead this season from ship strikes, or collisions with ships. Each year, cargo, cruise and fishing ships kill an estimated 20,000 whales. These strikes on ships are the result of the overlap between whale feeding grounds and shipping lanes, and an increase in ships in the ocean, says Douglas McCauley, director of the University of California Santa Barbara. Benioff Oceanographic Laboratory. Other human-caused hazards — such as noise pollution and climate change — also contribute to whale deaths, McCauley added.
McCauley’s lab allows anyone, anywhere to do it Presenting the issues of concern affecting our oceans, such as Ship Strikes, on its website. The lab team then selects the requests, studies them, and builds solutions to address the problems.
“It’s a big ocean, but unfortunately, in many parts of the world, ships and whales overlap in the same place,” McCauley said. That is why the laboratory was developed with a team of scientists from all over the world safe whale.
Whale Safe is a tool that tracks the movements of both whales and cargo vessels, and then shares this data publicly and with shipping companies. Speed matters. When ships go slower, they are able to avoid or at least reduce the severity of collisions with whales. Shippers receive Whale Safe scores based on how well they adhere to NOAA’s recommended speeds in waters where whales are active.
I spoke with McCauley to discuss ship strikes, the science behind whale protection, and the importance of ocean conservation.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
How does this data collection prevent collisions between whales and ships?
On the front end, to detect whales, Whale Safe uses a three-part system. One is an underwater aquatic microphone with some built-in computing and AI that constantly listens for whales, then automatically detects when they’re there.
The second technical node is a remote sensing feature, sort of like a weather forecaster for whales. Then based on previous tracking as people placed precise sensors on whales, we use this data to build predictions about whether we are more or less likely to expect to see endangered whales—specifically blue whales, one of the most endangered—in the area. Finally, one of the best techniques available for detecting whales is humans. So we use a citizen science app that pulls data when people see whales.
On the back end, we track ships to tell when they are slowing down and which companies they are associated with. And in the same way we assign grades on campus, we assign grades here, transparently, to different companies based on whether they slow down when the whales are around. We publish these scores and are in conversations with companies about ways they can actually do better to conserve whales.
I was hoping you could explain why you think cooperating with private entities is just as important as working on the public policy side of things.
Some of this has been a learning process for me, as someone who knows a lot about whales and other sea creatures, and not so much about how things work with our species. But part of that learning journey has been understanding the true power and opportunity of the private sector to be a force for change.
So we realized that, we really tried to get into the business and handle it. Overall, it’s been really positive. We create these report cards at the company level, and share them with companies. Many companies don’t want to run over whales, they want to know how to help, and they want to know how well they’re doing.
We have some A’s and we have some F’s; Trying to figure out how to get companies that don’t seem to care about protecting whales to care the way their peers do has been a bit of a challenge.
It’s great to hear that some of these companies really want to collaborate. I’m sure we’ve just superficially read what the lab has been working on, but is there anything else you think would be important to mention?
The whales themselves are huge boxes of carbon that live, live, beautiful, breathe, capture and trap carbon, and then lock it away when they die in the ocean depths. Intact populations of whales create what’s called a whale pump, which means that when they eat at depth and then defecate at the surface, they fertilize surface water, which is then more productive and absorbs more carbon.
These ships that we ask to slow down when whales are actually around reduce their emissions in the same way that cars that travel a little slower drive more efficiently. One outcome of this particular solution is that you get a win for the whales, but you also get a win for the climate.
Outside of ship strikes, what other threats do humans pose to whales?
Entrapment in fishing gear is another major cause of injury and death to whales. Whales that are wrapped in equipment such as lobster pot ropes or discarded nets can get horrific tears and sometimes end up starving or drowning.
The other major threat is underwater noise pollution from ships, oil and gas exploration, or military activities. These destructive and disorienting sounds can disrupt their ability to feed and communicate with one another.
But the elephant in the room is climate change. Climate change is causing the oceans to warm, become more acidic, and less rich in oxygen. This affects the food chains that the whales depend on and will certainly affect how well the whales are able to hang on.
New York times I reported that this year on the East Coast, there has been what the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) considers an unusual and rapid succession of whale deaths. What factors or combination of factors do you think contribute to this disturbing trend?
I think this article is really good [job] Refute suggestions (sometimes funded by oil and gas) that offshore wind development is linked to the death of these whales. Marine Mammal CommissionInc., a coalition of some of the best cetacean experts in the United States and the world, noted that there is no evidence linking this latest wave of deaths to offshore winds. This does not mean that we do not need to be very careful as we locate offshore wind installations and monitor and control their impact on marine life. This kind of caution is required with any new gaseous development we put into the ocean. But carefully and cleverly proven offshore winds, in some areas, could be part of a solution to combating climate change. which in the long term poses an even greater threat to the health of the oceans.
Ship bumping and entanglement have been observed to be associated with several dead whales that can be examined by marine mammal experts.
How can we continue to reduce the human-posed dangers to whales?
The good news is that these are solvable problems. Ship collisions with whales can be controlled by working with shipping to slow ships to safer speeds in areas where there are a lot of whales.
New types of technologies are available that reduce entanglement. For example, there are some very exciting new innovations that allow lobster fishermen to continue to go in business without all the ropes that have proven to be so lethal to whales.