Some of the most pressing questions in conservation biology concern the health of populations. “Population” refers to all the animals of a given species that live in the same geographical area and that form an interbreeding community. Should a species be listed under some environmental legislation? Should we allow hunts of healthy populations? Is a species likely to go extinct? These fundamental questions that inspire us rely on having good information about how many animals are in an area, and whether that number is going up or down. We specialise in low-cost and creative methods to provide that information.
Grey whales are pretty neat. We were lucky enough to encounter two of them on Boxing Day. Their visit to inshore waters of British Columbia in December was a bit of a surprise. Grey whales are legendary for their migration, which is among the longest of any mammal. We’d expect to see grey whales in spring and fall as they make their annual trip between Mexico and Alaska. But it’s December, so we were surprised to find that these two were in front of our field cabin rather than in Mexico with the rest of their family.
It seems grey whales are full of surprises. Our colleague, Bruce Mate, at the Hatfield Marine Science Center at Oregon State University, has tagged several individuals from the highly endangered Eastern North Pacific grey whale population off Sakhalin Island in Russia. One whale, now known as Flex, traveled from Russia to the Oregon Coast when its satellite tag stopped signaling. In 2012, another whale called Varvara, traveled from Russia to Mexico in two months!
Have you seen Big Miracle with Drew Barrymore and John Krasinski? If you haven’t, you might want to check it out. Based on a true story, the movie tells the tale of three grey whales that became trapped in the ice off Barrow, Alaska.
Anyway, we felt pretty lucky to photograph these two whales and are sending our ID photos to colleagues to see whether we can find a match in their extensive catalogs. Unique markings on grey whales (the pigmentation patterns on the flukes and flanks (sides) of the whales, as well as the knuckles on the back) offer clues to help identify who the whales are and where else they’ve been. We’ll keep you posted on whether our colleagues find a match.
Meanwhile, we’re still hoping to find Pacific white-sided dolphins when the winds die down. We hope you’ve had a great holiday season, and we look forward to having a lot of results from our ocean noise and dolphin studies to report in 2013.