Research: Scientists track fin whales by their earthshaking calls
When Seattle scientists set out to monitor earthquakes off the Northwest coast, they expected their underwater seismometers to occasionally pick up booming voice of the fin whale. But what they wound up with was such a cacophony that they had trouble zeroing in on the actual tremors.
To separate small quakes from hundreds of thousands of whale calls, he and his students were forced to write their own automated program. Now, they’re mining that mountain of discarded data for insights into fin whales.
“Basically, we can track the whales using techniques very similar to the ones we use to locate earthquakes,” Wilcock said.
Fin whales remain in mystery because they’re so challenging to study. Nobody knows where they give birth or even why they sing.
“The thing that’s neat about this is that we are basically piggybacking on experiments that were designed for something completely different.”
Already, the team discovered some whales migrate north in the fall a time when most of the whales would be headed south to breed.
Learning more about the species’ movements, behavior and communication could bolster efforts to protect fin whales from further harm, now that they are beginning to rebound from decades of whaling.
Cool whale facts
Fin whales, the second largest animals ever to have lived on Earth, eat about 4,000 pounds of food a day. This takes them about three hours, almost exactly equal to the amount of time a human takes to find food in a day. In fact, a fin while is arguably a much more efficient eater and hunter than a human, as hunter-gatherer societies spend many more than three hours a day meeting their dietary energy needs.
What the whales do or talk about for the remaining twenty-one hours of a day is not well understood, though singing and playing undoubtedly make up a large portion of the time.