Lack of cruise ships gives researchers the perfect chance to study humpback whales

Due to the impact of COVID-19, researchers have found the perfect opportunity to understand the Alaskan coast and its humpback whales. Alaska’s southeastern waters are usually busy, with thousands of tourists on cruise ships at any given moment. This disruption impacts how the whales behave. However, researchers have experienced a difference during the summer of this year, thanks to a slow-down of tourist activities, and they are taking the rare chance for a closer study of the area’s humpback whales.

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Alaska receives many cruise ships every year with over 1 million tourists expecting to enjoy spectacular views of glaciers. However, that number has been drastically reduced to zero during the pandemic. Now that the waters are open, researchers are using the opportunity to understand the ecosystem better.

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Paul Swanstrom, founder of Mountain Flying Service, said, “The town of Skagway gets a million people a year off cruise ships and is just completely shut down. It’s nuts. All the southeast has been hit pretty hard.”

With the ships out of the way, scientists are now preparing to watch whales in their natural habitat. It has been over 40 years since scientists last recorded the sounds of whales in Alaska. In most cases, they have to record the interactions between whales and humans.

“It’s the first time in human history that we’ve had the technological ability to listen to these whales in a meaningful way without us interfering … it’s a really, really big deal,” said Michelle Fournet, director of Sound Science Research Collective and research fellow of Cornell University. “The last time researchers were able to listen to humpbacks in a quiet ocean in Alaska was in 1976.”

Since whale observations began, the technology has greatly improved, allowing researchers to gather improved data on the whales. “We’re going to see how these humpback whales are interacting with their environment instead of how they’re interacting with us,” Fournet explained. “You can’t figure out whether or not your species is resilient to something if you don’t know what it acts like when it’s happy.”

Via The Guardian

Image via Pixabay


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