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Right Whales Change Feeding Habits

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  • Pat Morris
    Endangered whales found feeding in new part of sea Paul Recer - Associated Press WASHINGTON _ North Pacific right whales, the most endangered of the whale
    Message 1 of 1 , Dec 1, 2001
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      Endangered whales found feeding in new part of sea

      Paul Recer - Associated Press

      WASHINGTON _ North Pacific right whales, the most endangered of the whale
      family, have been found feeding in a new area of the Bering Sea, giving
      scientists hope of finding ways to help the whales survive.

      "This is a very exciting discovery. ... These animals are on the brink of
      extinction," said Cynthia T. Tynan, an ocean biologist with the National
      Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

      In a study appearing Friday in the journal Science, Tynan and other
      researchers report that at least five North Pacific right whales are now
      regularly feeding in relatively shallow waters of the southeastern Bering
      Sea, far from their traditional feeding grounds.

      The animals also are feeding on a species of crustacean that was previously
      not their prey, an additional encouraging sign, Tynan said.

      The whales feed by straining small animals, called zooplankton, out of the
      sea. Tynan said the new group is feeding on a crustacean that is less than a
      one-tenth of an inch long and must be consumed in huge concentrations to
      nourish the whales.

      Tynan, a researcher at NOAA's Northwest Fisheries Science Center in Seattle,
      said their population was decimated before commercial whaling was stopped in
      the 1960s. Some estimates suggest there are only 100 to 200 of the animals
      left. They have not been seen in their traditional feeding grounds for
      years, and Tynan said it has been more than a decade since a documented
      sighting of a North Pacific right whale calf.

      "This new site is the only place where we know we can go and find the North
      Pacific right whale," Tynan said.

      She said the animals spend only their summers in the 150- to 240-foot deep
      shelf of the Bering Sea. The water surface freezes in the winter, forcing
      the whales to leave.

      "We don't know where they go in the winter," she said.

      Tynan said it is not known if the remaining North Pacific right whales are
      able to reproduce enough to keep the species alive.

      "We would like there to be both healthy males and females in the population,
      but that has not been established," she said.

      When whaling was permitted, the right whale was considered a choice target
      because it was easier to catch. The animal is slower than some other whales,
      has a good quality of oil and frequents coastal waters.

      Also, after the whale is harpooned, it tends to float, making it easier for
      the whalers to handle.

      The right whale is 45 to 55 feet long and can weigh up to 70 tons. Tynan
      said there are three types of related animals -- the North Atlantic, North
      Pacific and Southern Oceans right whales.

      The North Pacific is most endangered, but the North Atlantic is also in
      trouble, with only about 300 animals known to exist. The Southern Oceans
      right whale is recovering. Observers have reported sighting about 100
      newborn calves among the southern right whale herds, said Tynan.

      Science: http://www.eurekalert.org


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      "On the ragged edge of the world
      I'll roam.
      And the home of the Wolf
      Will be my home."

      Robert Service
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