The last time researchers were able to listen to humpbacks in a quiet ocean in Alaska was in 1976,
Since the coronavirus pandemic swept the world into a frenzy earlier this year we have been faced with a new way of living, new challenges and huge losses. But amongst all the confusion and discomfort there are amazing things happening all across the globe.
The COVID-19 disease that has almost brought the world to a standstill has allowed nature a moment to regenerate. From the animals enjoying their time without human intervention to people in northern parts of India being able to see the Himalayas from their homes after a noticeable drop in the air pollution level within the first week of April, it’s not a long term fix but we can take a minute to appreciate the good that is coming from this uncertain time and ultimately use this information to support us in the race to save our planet.
Summertime in Alaska means tourists and cruise ships, lots of them. The 2020 summer season was expected to begin with a record-breaking influx of 1.4 million tourists, fast forward to the present day and that couldn’t be further from reality. Paul Swanstrom said to The Guardian: “The town of Skagway gets a million people a year off cruise and is just completely shut-down.”
Meanwhile the economic impact is devastating, the states Humpback Whales are thoroughly indulging in the quiet sea. This has given Dr Michelle Fournet who has been listening in on whale conversations for 10 years an opportunity to experience the whales in a way that she never expected, “it’s the first time in human history that we’ve had the technological ability to listen to these whales in a meaningful way without us interfering … it’s a really, really big deal. “The last time researchers were able to listen to humpbacks in a quiet ocean in Alaska was in 1976,”
Most whale watching happens in an area of Alaska known as Juneau’s Auke Bay, on a busy day there can be 10 or more whale-watching vessels clustering around a single whale or group. As many as 65 boats covering the bay in a day during summer, which in turn causes the whales behaviors to change, they call louder and they call less. “When an animal calls less, the likelihood of it finding a comrade goes down significantly,” said Fournet. “So, we alter their social structure.”
The social restrictions that have been put in place because of COVID-19 is allowing researchers the perfect opportunity to study how the humpback whales are interacting with their environment without the interruption of humans. Although it’s still too soon to report the numbers or solid results as researchers are still amidst data collection we can take pleasure from a quote given by Dr Heidi Pearson an associate professor of marine biology at university of Alaska Southeast: “Based on my observations, it does seem that whales are exhibiting more resting behaviour this year … I have also observed larger groups and more social behaviour than I have in previous years.”
These findings can only be a good thing and hopefully we are going to learn from the positive impacts this global lockdown has had on the earth and really make an effort to change our behaviour and work towards a healthier future for both the planet and us. Only time will tell.