Our research focuses on studying the movements and behavior of whales to address important but unanswered scientific questions about their lives. Whales spend the vast majority of their time underwater and can move great distances in short periods of time (more than 60 miles in a day!), making it challenging to answer even basic questions like “where do they go and why?” We use electronic tags to “ride along” and remotely track whales over periods of several weeks to months via satellite. This lets us study multiple aspects of their lives, with basic information about movements and where different behaviors occur across the landscape forming the foundation from which we learn how and why they are using specific habitat types.
Almost all of the whales that can be found off the U.S. West Coast are classified as “Endangered” under the Endangered Species Act. They are also protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act. While it is great to learn more about what these whales are doing when we can’t see them, the WHET Lab’s research is also critical to conservation efforts. In addition to an ever-changing climate, whales face a variety of threats related to interactions with human activities. Developing a better understanding of the patterns of whale habitat use, the reasons behind it, and their responses to different conditions, will lead to improved conservation measures for the whales and the marine environment in which they live.