For the very first time in New York coastal waters, the voices of singing blue whales have been positively identified. Acoustic experts at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Bioacoustics Research Program (BRP) and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) confirmed that the voice of a singing blue whale was tracked about 70 miles off of Long Island and New York City on Jan. 10-11, 2009, as the whale swam slowly from east to west. At the same time, a second blue whale was heard singing offshore in the far distance.
“These endangered blue whales are the largest animals ever to have lived on this planet, and their voices can travel across an ocean. It’s just amazing to hear one singing out there on New York’s ocean stage only tens of miles from Carnegie Hall and Broadway!” said Christopher Clark, director of Cornell’s BRP. “This opens a whole new universe of opportunities for all of us to learn more about and appreciate these species and the vitality of New York’s marine environment.”
New York State’s DEC Commissioner Pete Grannis added, “This is a very important moment in the environmental history of New York State. Blue whales were almost hunted to extinction by the middle of the 20th Century, and the fact that now we're finding them migrating not far off our shores is truly remarkable. Although whaling no longer occurs in U.S. waters, whales still face numerous threats including vessel strikes and marine debris, and this latest finding will enable DEC and its partners to develop science-based management plans to protect these magnificent creatures.”
During 2008-2009, ten of Cornell’s acoustic recorders were deployed about 13 miles from the New York Harbor entrance and off the shores of Fire Island to study the acoustic environment of New York waters and examine whether noises, including shipping traffic, are affecting the whales. By knowing the whales’ seasonal presence, New York state policymakers can make critical conservation decisions to help protect blue whales by developing management plans to avoid ship collisions with whales and reduce noises that interfere with their communications.
The acoustic monitoring was initiated from March through mid-May of 2008 to record the northward migration of right whales from their calving grounds off the Florida eastern coast to their feeding grounds off Maine, New Hampshire and Massachusetts. Cornell scientists and DEC are able to monitor and provide specific data on the species that are detected, including when and where they occur in New York waters throughout the year.
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