It is an essential part of an ecological baseline study to find out how many blue whales there are, what they’re doing and how they communicate and interact with each other. It is a vital part of monitoring if their populations remain healthy. Started in 2007, the first field sequence recorded some previously unknown sounds, which is a first in terms of behavioural studies.
Listen to the new whale sounds recorded as part of this project:
The blue whale is the largest animal ever to have lived on the Earth. It measures up to 30 metres (100 feet) long and weighs up to 200 tonnes. The blue whale needs huge areas of the ocean to have a healthy population.
There are a lot of potential threats to this area, such as marine agriculture, i.e. the pressure for fishing and salmon farms. These lead to an increase in chemicals added to the water, a build-up of toxins and parasites that can impact seals and dolphins as well as whales and other creatures that live in this area.
The project leader is Suzie Buchan, supported by One World Wildlife in her doctorate at the University of St Andrews, supervised by Rodrigo Hucker-Gates, Instituto de Ecología y Evolución, Universidad Austral de Chile, and also by Luke Rendell. She is currently based at the Universidad de Concepcion in Chile, in the Department of Oceanography. You can read her recent research here.
This research is investigating whether it can be shown that this region is important for the whales from an international point of view. Further research is needed. It could be that this area is essential for blue whales as so many congregate in this area. We believe it is critical for the overall life history of the whales.
After setting up monitoring, further funding can be leveraged from sources such as the Darwin Initiative, which provides grants for international conservation projects.
One World Wildlife has committed around £8,000 over two years so far, and we would like to see further support come in for broader conservation in the area. Ultimately, the area could potentially be designated as a mixed-use marine reserve, which would mean any use of the area for commercial fisheries would be planned and sustainable and would not harm certain species.
Suzie Buchan has presented some of the acoustics data from this project at the International Whaling Commission conference. She has played newly discovered whale songs in radio campaigns and other outreach initiatives in the region. Along with her colleagues, she is hoping to persuade local fishermen to be involved in the project and encourage them to value their national heritage, to take pride in this remarkable animal and the home they share with it.