New discovery tracking humpback whale migration from space
A new international study led by a University of Canterbury scientist has discovered paikea humpback whales stick to old migration routes despite ocean changes associated with climate change.
Understanding how organisms respond to environmental change is one of the most pressing grand challenges of organismal biology, according to the scientists. In the vast oceans that cover 71% of Earth’s surface, remote sensing technologies have created unprecedented opportunities to create new knowledge and deliver integrated understandings of marine organism-environment interactions via long-term monitoring.
Led by UC environmental scientist Associate Professor Travis Horton, a team of scientists from the United States, New Zealand and Brazil has been tracking whales using both historic Russian whaling logs and satellite tracking.
“One of the things that we’re looking at right now is solving this 3000-year-old mystery of how animals navigate. Our research on humpback whales is shedding some important light on that ancient riddle, so that’s an important outcome,” Associate Professor Horton says.
“Our unique research uses more than 15 years of satellite-monitored data, including paikea humpback whale telemetry, essential oceanographic variables and magnetic field conditions, to demonstrate that humpback whales can find and follow restricted open-ocean migration routes despite changing Earth system conditions.