Humpback whales. Photo via Wikipedia

Whales Are Now Part of the Climate Change Conspiracy

Just kidding — the giant sea mammals are helping scientists to collect vital data

by AJAI RAJ

God help us. It’s bad enough that 97 percent of climate scientists, Big Solar, the wind energy lobbyists, electric car manufacturers and the weather itself are conspiring to fool the gullible sheeple of the world into believing that anthropogenic climate change is real.

Now whales are getting in on the action, too— probably for all that sweet, sweet krill.

To be fair, they probably aren’t aware that they’ve been co-opted in this nefarious scheme. Scientists— or as they’re better known, liars— have recruited them for this sinister mission, using a slick new tag that allows them to monitor the majestic beasts for longer and in more detail than ever before.

Their findings so far, and the development of the Advanced Dive Behavior tag, are documented in a new article in Ecology and Evolution.

Whereas previous tags have been able to provide information over the course of few hours or a day, the ADB tag stays on and collects data for up to seven weeks, whereupon it automatically releases to be collected. Not only that, but the tag collects more information than previous tags have done.

Instead of being restricted mostly to data about depth, the ADB tag can collect information about hydrostatic pressure, acceleration, magnetism, water temperature, and light level. These allow not only for improved location tracking, but also better understanding of whale behavior.

For example, measuring acceleration allows the scientists to observe how many times a whale lunges, which serves as a proxy for how often the whale is eating — or attempting to eat.

“In the past, if you put something on for a few hours or a day, you got insight on what was happening with that animal right at that time, but it didn’t put it in the bigger context of how much variability there is in that animal’s life as it moves around in its environment,” said Dr. Bruce Mate, the director and endowed chair of the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife in the Marine Mammal Institute at Oregon State University* and the first author of the paper.

“So what we’ve achieved is— by having a proxy for foraging effort— we’ve been able to actually somewhat map prey fields, and ask ‘how abundant is prey?’

“And we’re finding that animals can go for extended periods of time, over a week sometimes, without finding very much food at all. So this gives us much deeper insight into how variable the whale’s environment is for food production.”

The track of a fin whale — tag # 2015_5654 — tracked with an ADB tag off Southern California in July 2015. Circle diameter represents the number of feeding lunges recorded by the tag per hour. The circle is centered on the portion of the track that was summarized. Source: Mate et al. ‘Ecology and Evolution.’ 2016; 1–11

In addition to tracking the availability of food, the ADB tag will also allow scientists to track how whales react to noise in the ocean, by observing any changes in their behavior in response to noise from ships, ambient ocean noise, or artificial noise created for experiments, Mate said. This will allow for smarter regulations to help prevent the animals from being harassed.

And by collecting data on water temperature, particularly as they descend through the water column, the tracked whales contribute to oceanographic measures of ocean temperatures, determining how temperatures change with depth.

Another bonus in this regard is that whales are able to reach places that research vessels cannot, particularly in the Arctic and the Antarctic regions. Such data, Mate said, will supplement oceanographical measurements “enormously,” and contribute to our understanding of climate change.

Logging temperatures isn’t the only contributions these deputized researchers will make, of course. Tracking whales and their feeding habits over long periods of time, along with water temperatures, will allow scientists to observe and predict how whales will likely respond to climate change.

As an example, Mate cited the last three years of data collection on blue whales off the coast of southern California, when, due to ocean warming events, blue whales did not see an abundance of krill from upwelling cold water on which they typically rely for sustenance.

Mate and his colleagues aren’t done improving on the ADB tag. While the present version has to be collected for all of the data to be retrieved (while some data is relayed via satellite, the satellite system lacks the necessary bandwidth to allow for transfer of everything the tag collects), the next generation of the tag will be able to do more on-board calculations and quickly relay the essential information.

For instance, rather than retrieving the tag and then analyzing acceleration data to determine how often a whale lunged over a period of time, the tag will be able to perform that analysis and relay the results without needing to be collected first.

“We’re receiving, rather than raw data, analyzed results,” Mate said. “And that makes it much, much easier for us to get the information turned around for the scientific and regulatory communities, and to better understand what the conservation issues are.”

*Dr. Mate’s affiliation was originally listed as The University of Oregon. He is actually with Oregon State University.

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