The Marine Mammal Institute's Whale Telemetry Group (WTG) has pioneered the development of satellite-monitored radio tags to study the movements, critical habitats, and dive characteristics of free-ranging whales and dolphins around the world. Since the first deployment of a satellite tag on a humpback whale off Newfoundland, Canada, in 1986, the WTG has tagged a total of 462 whales from 11 different species. This work has led to the discovery of previously unknown migration routes and seasonal distribution (wintering and summering areas), as well as descriptions of diving behavior.
The WTG primarily focuses on endangered whale species whose distribution, movements, and critical habitats (feeding, breeding, and migration areas) are unknown for much of the year. Decision makers use this valuable information to manage human activities that may jeopardize the recovery of endangered whale populations.
The objectives of the WTG’s telemetry studies are to: (1) identify whale migration routes; (2) identify specific feeding and breeding grounds, if unknown; (3) characterize local whale movements and dive habits in both feeding and breeding grounds, and during migration; (4) examine the relationships between whale movements/dive habits and prey distribution, time of day, geographic location, or physical and biological oceanographic conditions; (5) provide surfacing-rate information that can be useful in the development of more accurate abundance estimations, or assessing whales’ reactions to human disturbance; (6) characterize whale vocalizations; and (7) characterize sound pressure levels to which whales are exposed.
Standing on the blustery beach, Bruce Mate wears a camo slicker, green bibs, a tidy white beard and a somber expression. While Mate’s getup suggests a typical day in the field for a marine mammalogist, the box of latex gloves and bottle of chainsaw lubricating oil under his arm hint at this morning’s unusual task. Behind Mate and a dozen students from Oregon State and Humboldt State universities, a dead blue whale stretches across southwestern Oregon’s Ophir Beach.
Researchers from Oregon State University’s Marine Mammal Institute returned to the waters of Frederick Sound and Stephens Passage in Southeast Alaska this month. It’s the second year of a two-year tagging program aimed at finding out more about the timing and nature of the annual migration of humpback whales from Southeast Alaska to the warm waters off Hawaii and Mexico.
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.