Episode 21: Diving into the past -- Understanding the diving behaviour of tropical seals across time

Jana Jeglinski (University of Glasgow) and Markus Horning (Oregon State University) both studied the diving behaviour of Galapagos fur seals (Arctocephalus galapagoensis) during PhDs conducted twenty years apart. Recently, they met in Glasgow to compare their data sets and see what this might tell us about long-term changes in the equatorial ocean environment.

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Longest mammal migration raises questions about distinct species

A team of scientists from the United States and Russia has documented the longest migration of a mammal ever recorded – a round-trip trek of nearly 14,000 miles by a whale identified as a critically endangered species that raises questions about its status. The researchers used satellite-monitored tags to track three western North Pacific gray whales from their primary feeding ground off Russia’s Sakhalin Island across the Pacific Ocean and down the West Coast of the United States to Baja, Mexico. One of the tagged whales, dubbed Varvara, visited the three major breeding areas for eastern gray whales, which are found off North America and are not endangered. Results of their study are being published this week by the Royal Society in the journal Biology Letters.

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Using drones to hunt for the oceans' plastic pollution

While it’s too early to have detailed results and analyses from the samples taken or the drone surveys so far, Ari Friedlaender of the Marine Mammal Institute of Oregon State University was able to explain how the drones will help. Friedlaender and his colleague, David Johnston, from the Practice of Marine Conservation and Ecology at Duke University, are two of the American scientists involved in the project. They and their teams are responsible for programming, transmitting and analysing the data collected by the aerial drones.

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Do whales have graveyards where they prefer to die?

"If you look at the geomorphology of that area, it's highly productive and there are a lot of animals," says Ari Friedlaender of Oregon State University in Newport. So the whales might have been lured by the promise of food. Once in, they may have struggled to find the way out of the treacherous waters.

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Chasing Giants: A whale tracker reflects on four decades of searching for answers

Every spring for almost thirty years, Bruce Mate makes his way down to Baja to reconnect with the same female gray whales. Over four decades, he’s witnessed their transition from smooth-skinned youth into mothers. More recently, he’s seen wrinkles start to appear around some of their eyes, each eye roughly the size of a baseball. He’s met and played with their offspring, even seeing some from the next generation become mothers themselves. These whales feel like family to him. 

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Whale Bone Memorials, by Nature and Humans

To Scott Baker of the Marine Mammal Institute at Oregon State University, and a National Geographic grantee, the whales’ large size and low but prominent dorsal fins identified them as most likely Sei whales. Little is known or understood about these large filter feeders, so learning of their activity in these waters, Baker is eager to begin a project to track and observe them here.

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Autopsies from space: who killed the sea lions?

A decade ago, we set out to unravel deep ocean crime scenes we weren’t even sure existed. The crime? Endangered Steller sea lions were rapidly disappearing in parts of Alaska. Their numbers dropped by 80% in three decades, yet only rarely did anyone see or sample dead sea lions. Live sea lions studied in the summer when they haul out to breed seemed healthy and had healthy pups.

We wanted to know when, where, and why sea lions die. To unravel the mystery, we needed information from those animals that we don’t see, those that might not breed, those that might never come back ashore. So we developed a special monitoring tag that could send us data about the sea lions we can’t directly observe.

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A new blue whale foraging ground documented in New Zealand

The GEMM Lab led a research expedition in January 2014 that collected observational, behavioral, and oceanographic data to prove the existence of a blue whale foraging ground in the South Taranaki Bight (STB) in New Zealand. Prior to this study, it was thought that blue whales only migrate through New Zealand waters, which is reflected in its listing by the New Zealand Threat Classification System as a Migrant, offering blue whales no distinct conservation protection. The GEMM Lab is currently planning a comprehensive research program to improve knowledge of this blue whale population by generating estimates of abundance, residency, and distribution in the STB. These are the data needed to ensure the protection of these endangered animals and their critical feeding habitat.

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Congratulations to MMI's new graduates

Three of MMI’s graduate students have successfully defended their theses and have been awarded their advanced degrees:  In April 2014, Rebecca Hamner, PhD (conservation genetics and monitoring of New Zealand Maui's and Hector's dolphins), and in September 2014, both Alana Alexander, PhD (The influence of social structure and molecular evolution on genetic diversity in the sperm whale), and Sophie Pierszalowski, MSc (the influence of local fidelity and recruitment on population dynamics and specialized foraging of humpback whales in Glacier Bay and Icy Strait, Alaska). All three studied with Dr. Scott Baker in his Cetacean Conservation and Genomics Laboratory.

Scientists spot large contingent of southern right whales

Scientists on a rugged mid-winter trip to the remote sub-Antarctic islands have confirmed a large contingent of endangered southern right whales are spending the colder months near Campbell Island. Previous work on this species had focused on the animals at Auckland Island, with some minimal work done at the more remote Campbell Island almost 20 years ago. Lead investigator Dr Leigh Torres, said the news was "exciting, exhilarating and a relief to hear."

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