Humpback whale

Current status: Endangered in certain parts of their range

Estimated population: 22,000 in the North Pacific and 11,000 in the Western North Atlantic, plus thousands more around the globe

Found in: Nearly all oceans

Decades of commercial whaling decimated humpback populations around the globe, driving the population in the North Pacific from a high of 125,000 to just 1,200 in the 1960s.

Humpbacks were first classified as endangered in the 1970s and still carry those protections today, despite making a remarkable resurgence.

Despite their comeback, the outlook for humpbacks remains cloudy as climate change takes a toll on their primary food source -- the tiny, shrimp-like creatures known as krill.

The Oregon Chapter of the American Cetacean Society is having its monthly speaker series meeting at 10 a.m. Saturday, September 11. The meeting will be held via Zoom and is free to the public.

The public is invited to join for Beyond Song: Exploring Humpback Whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) Calls on the Hawaiian Breeding Grounds, presented by Sabena Siddiqui. Register on Eventbrite https://www.eventbrite.com/e/speaker-series-meeting-9112021-tickets-165170839427 to receive the Zoom link and password.

Humpback whale song has fascinated both the public and scientists for decades and has been the focal point of the acoustic research in this species. However, the humpback whale communication system is made up of other sounds other than song. Humpback whales also produce a variety of calls (also known as “nonsong calls” or “social sounds”) which have been historically less studied. While song is produced by only males and primarily on the breeding grounds, these sounds can be detected on breeding, feeding and migrating grounds. This talk will summarize research into humpback whale calls off Hawaii over a ten year period using underwater video and  audio recordings. This project explored the relationship between these calls and humpback whale social grouping and subsurface behavior. Comparisons between this population’s calls and the calls found in other populations around the world can provide a window into the communication story of humpback whales and help guide efforts to protect these populations from increasing noise pollution in their environment.

Sabena has always been fascinated with questions about animal communication. She was born in India and raised in the U.S. and she chased her passion for these questions through participation in projects involving manatee cognition, and cetacean communication and distribution in locations such as Egypt, The Bahamas, Florida, the North Atlantic, and Hawaii. Her interest in humpback whale communication led her to Woods Hole where she began studying humpback whale communication. Her experience on the east coast took her to Hawaii where she recently completed her master’s project on humpback whale calls on the Hawaiian breeding ground. She is now a PhD student at Oregon State University’s Marine Mammal Institute to study Arctic cetacean communication. Sabena is also involved with nonprofit work as a board member of the American Cetacean Society, where she has served as the organization’s student chair for 10 years, and she represents the organization at the International Whaling Commission. To promote gender equality and diversity in science, she served as the lead editor of the first publication highlighting women cetacean scientists through the ACS Whalewatcher.

The American Cetacean Society protects whales, dolphins, porpoises and their habitats. The non-profit organization was founded in 1967 and is headquartered in San Pedro, Calif. Information on the ACS can be found on the website: www.acsonline.org.

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