Endangered North Atlantic Right Whales detected near Greenland
A group of endangered North Atlantic right whales has been identified near Greenland in an area where the species was thought to be extinct, using a system of underwater microphones.
The discovery of at least three individual whales, presented this week at a meeting of the Acoustical Society of America in Portland, Ore., is particularly important, researchers say, because it is in an area that may be opened to shipping if the melting of polar ice continues, as expected.
Right whales were hunted for their blubber and baleen until a world-wide ban on right whale fishing was put into place in 1937. Scientists estimate there are fewer than 350 of these whales left in the oceans, according to the New England Aquarium. Right whale deaths are largely attributed to ship collisions in the busy waterways of the eastern United States. Over the last decade, ship collisions have been responsible for about 40 percent of all known North Atlantic right whale deaths.
To locate the new group of whales, a team of scientists from Oregon State University and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) used a system of hydrophones that can record sounds from hundreds of miles away.
"The technology has enabled us to identify an important unstudied habitat for endangered right whales and raises the possibility that — contrary to general belief — a remnant of a central or eastern Atlantic stock of right whales still exists and might be viable," said OSU's David Mellinger, chief scientist of the project.