Whales of all varieties are some of the most frequently-studied marine mammals in the ocean today; and now, animal scientists with the Anderson Cabot Center for Ocean Life at the New England Aquarium say there could be an easier way to monitor their health.
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The researchers spent eight days capturing 100 blowhole spray samples from 46 right whales in 2015, and tests performed on these samples validated that it’s feasible to discern valuable hormonal data from them.
The findings appear this week in the journal Scientific Reports.
The standard method today for assessing whale health and their response to human activities is to collect fecal samples, but this new method is allegedly more accessible and could provide enhanced ‘real-time’ statistics.
The hormone data in a whale’s blowhole spray can say a lot about the animal; it can indicate any potential injuries, reveal secrets about its reproductive health, and underscore stress levels, just to name a few.
"It will be an early warning monitoring system. We're looking at quantifying the stress response to get ahead of what they're experiencing and to see if we need to make management changes before there are dire consequences," explained study lead author Liz Burgess.
With the rather small number of right whales in existence today, it's critical that we understand as much about them as we can if we're to save them from extinction. The team suggests that this new approach to monitoring their health could help with conservation and strengthen efforts to improve reproduction.
As technological advancements surface, the method could be improved. For example, aerial drones could one day chase right whales in a less-disturbing manner than scientists trying to get close enough to a whale with a boat and a pole.
It should be interesting to see what conservationists make of it. After all, everyone likes an easier way to get the job done.