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A Leviathan’s Close Encounter

July 30, 2015

A Leviathan’s Close Encounter

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Ricardo Antunes Ricardo Antunes

Gray whales migrate over 10,000 miles round trip between Baja California and the northern waters around Alaska and beyond—among the longest migrations of any mammal. During the journey they are confronted with many dangers, among them killer whale attacks, exposure to noise, and interactions with ships. This whale bears the scars of a close encounter with a boat’s propeller. Collisions with vessels may become more likely with shipping traffic throughout large parts of the whales’ habitat and migration route.

I took this photo around St. Lawrence Island while recovering sound recording instruments deployed to monitor whale populations in the Bering Strait. Many whale species produce sounds for communication. By recording their vocalizations, we can gain insight into their migration patterns through the area. This technique is particularly useful in the Arctic where extensive winter ice cover precludes other forms of monitoring.

In addition to gray whales, the Bering Strait is home to several other species of marine mammals, including walruses and the endangered bowhead whale that overwinters in these waters before heading into the Arctic and its summer feeding grounds.

The lives of gray whales and other Arctic marine mammals are currently coming under increasing potential threats and new challenges with a changing climate and industrial activity in the region, including shipping and oil exploration. The monitoring and conservation efforts led by the Wildlife Conservation Society in this region will provide valuable information toward protecting these species and their important habitats. They will also help assess and mitigate current and long-term impacts on Arctic marine mammals.

Editor’s Note: Here’s a chance for you to pitch in and protect whales. We’re in the process of raising the funds for six tags, or $41,700, to help us track humpback whales in the New York area this fall. Details are here

Nikon D200, Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm f/2.8G ED lens

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