Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

Thar she feeds
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WHOI biologist Mark Baumgartner (with pole) and Michael Moore prepare to attach a temporary tag to a North Atlantic right whale. (Courtsey of Michael Moore, WHOI)
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A right whale dives near R/V Tioga, the new WHOI Coastal research vessel. (Photo by Michael Moore, WHOI)

The North Atlantic right whale never rebounded from centuries of whaling, and fewer than 350 remain. With the species edging toward extinction, the WHOI Ocean Life Institute mustered scientists from several institutions and with a diverse range of expertise to launch the collaborative Right Whale Research and Conservation Initiative in 2004. The ambitious research plan aims to quickly advance understanding of the critical factors hindering the species’ recovery and to accelerate more effective conservation efforts.

Under one Initiative-sponsored study, for example, WHOI biologist Mark Baumgartner works between Nantucket and Georges Bank to learn essential details about why the whales’ main food (microscopic zooplankton called copepods) aggregate where they do, and how the whales dive and forage. Such fundamental knowledge will provide new insights to devise management strategies that protect critical feeding grounds and help reduce accidental whale deaths caused by ship collisions and fishing gear entanglements.

In the top photo, WHOI biologist Michael Moore steers toward a whale, with Baumgartner poised to use a 9-meter (27-foot) pole to attach a temporary tagging device that records whale movements. Meanwhile, the scientists use instruments to measure salinity, temperature, and other ocean properties and to assess the abundance and location of copepods in the area. The scientists used WHOI’s new coastal research vessel Tioga, which was delivered in 2004.

Tioga gives us the capability to rapidly respond to right whale sightings,” Baumgartner said. “We can leave the dock very early in the morning, zoom out to where the whales are (virtually anywhere in the western Gulf of Maine off the Massachusetts coast), work a full day with the whales, and be back at the dock by evening.”

The vessel and part of the research were funded by donors of WHOI.

Copyright ©2005 Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, All Rights Reserved.

Mail: Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, 266 Woods Hole Road, Woods Hole, MA 02543, USA.
E-Contact: info@whoi.edu; press relations: media@whoi.edu, tel. (508) 457-2000

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