A Whale Tale

I got to visit the energy lab at Hawaii Preparatory Academy the other day, and I sat in on a lecture about whales with Cornell study abroad students. The lecture was given by Christine Gabriele, the president of the Hawaii Marine Mammal Consortium. HMMC is an organization that emphasizes “marine mammal research, education, and conservation.” She discussed how whales use their acoustic sense and how scientists can track the whales using their songs. The whales rely on their acoustic sense in order to communicate things like mating, feeding, and attacking to the other whales. They use different songs for each of these things and a separate song for just talking to one another. Researchers like Roger Payne, Fred Sharpe, and Michelle Fournet have recorded sounds to help better understand the life of a whale. During the lecture, Gabriele went over the research they have done recently with the whales that shows how to track a whale’s path using their sounds. The Cornell Department of Bioacoustics uses XBAT, a type of sensitive sound equipment that shows on a map where the sounds are coming from based on the hydrophones array in the water, and the scientists on shore record their own above water sightings. Then, researchers can eliminate outliers on the plotted sound points based on what they know about whale behavior. From the remaining sound points, researchers take an average of all of the sound points and the line that appears is the whale’s underwater path that is close to accurate. Pretty cool, huh? A fun fact about tracking whales: no human has ever seen a humpback whale mating or giving birth. Could this be my new goal? Maybe. Anyway, after all of the whales that I have seen this week, I thought it would be cool to post something scientific about them. Links to the Hawaii Marine Mammal Consortium website and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology are posted below the picture. Go whales!

Dorsal fin

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Photos courtesy of Darin Strickland

Hawaii Marine Mammal Consortium: http://www.hmmc.org/index.html

Cornell Lab of Ornithology: http://www.birds.cornell.edu/brp/software/xbat-introduction

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