Orca

Two orcas socialising with each other.
Two orcas socialising with each other.

Drones reveal social lives of orcas

In the pre-drone days, researchers relied on their observations of the orcas when they surfaced, and this was understandably limited.

“Until now, research on killer whale social networks has relied on seeing the whales when they surface, and recording which whales are together," said lead author Michael Weiss, of the University of Exeter.

"Looking down into the water from a drone allowed us to see details such as contact between individual whales," he added.

Common dolphin (NOAA NMFS/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain)
Common dolphin (NOAA NMFS/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain)

Share your views on Scotland's first cetacean conservation strategy

Focusing on nine of the most commonly found dolphin, whale and porpoise species in UK waters, the strategy has been developed by the Scottish Government, in collaboration with the UK Government, the Welsh Government and the Northern Ireland Executive.

Its objective is to ensure the effective management to achieve and maintain the current favourable status of the nine species. It highlights certain pressures where further research or extra management measures may help to improve the conservation of marine mammals.

Mmo iwdg / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0
Long-finned pilot whale cow with her calf, off the coast of Ireland. Photo by Mmo iwdg / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

Buoy in Celtic Sea tracks oceanic noise

Equipped with an autonomous hydrophone, the buoy's function is to conduct for the first time real-time acoustic monitoring of the water's cetaceans to assess how oceanic noise pollution affects them. 

Deployed as part of the Smart Whale Sounds project, it will also track the distribution and behaviour of whale species in real-time and be used to train machine learning models to identify different species' calls. 

Swimming with dolphins
Swimming with and learning from dolphins

Learning the swimming secrets of dolphins and whales

This scenario may one day become reality. And to be efficient, such robots would need to be maneuverable and stealthy, and be able to closely mimic the movements of the marine creatures.

Scientists like Keith W. Moored are working on the next generation of underwater robots by studying the movements of dolphins and whales. "We're studying how these animals are designed and what's beneficial about that design in terms of their swimming performance, or the fluid mechanics of how they swim."

Whales, dolphins and porpoises should be enjoyed in the wild, not in captivity.

More companies cut ties with attractions housing captive cetaceans

Whether or not you have watched (or agree with) the movies Free Willy or Blackfish, the predicament of captive cetaceans is one that can spark off a heated debate from both sides of the fence.

Nonetheless, such movies and increased awareness have led to public calls for attractions and venues that keep wild animals captive to release them.

Marine-animal attractions like SeaWorld are particularly under fire due to their animal shows featuring captive cetaceans trained to perform for public entertainment.

Female orcas have extremely long postreproductive life spans; they stop reproducing in their late 30s and early 40s but can continue to live for decades thereafter

Orca grandmothers improve survival of their grandoffspring

In a study involving 378 orcas (or killer whales), researchers observed the first non-human example of the "grandmother effect" in a menopausal species.

This is when post-reproductive grandmothers (in this case, orcas) assist other members of the species with their offspring, thereby improving the young ones’ chances of survival. It was found that these post-reproductive orcas had the largest beneficial impact on their grandoffspring’s survival chances.

Male orca breaching

Sounds of orca send whales fleeing

Regarded as one of the ocean's most formidable predators, killer whales are pack hunters, with some orcas hunting other marine mammals while others prefer to eat only fish. In a new study published in the Journal of Experimental Biology, Matthew Bowers from Duke University and colleagues speculated whether aquatic mammals that are potential killer whale prey could distinguish calls of the predatory killers from those of other marine mammals.

Male orca breaching

Sounds of orca send whales fleeing

Regarded as one of the ocean's most formidable predators, killer whales are pack hunters, with some orcas hunting other marine mammals while others prefer to eat only fish. In a new study published in Journal of Experimental Biology, Matthew Bowers from Duke University and colleagues speculated whether aquatic mammals that are potential killer whale prey could distinguish calls of the predatory killers from those of other marine mammals.

The false killer whale (Pseudorca crassidens) is a cetacean, and the third largest member of the oceanic dolphin family (Delphinidae)
The false killer whale (Pseudorca crassidens) is a cetacean, and the third largest member of the oceanic dolphin family (Delphinidae)

False Killer Whales to recieve protection

False killer whales in the “Hawaiʻi Insular Stock” (animals found within 76 nautical miles of the main Hawaiian Islands) are being killed in Hawaiʻi-based longlines at nearly twice the sustainable rate, contributing to a 9 per cent decline in the population each year since 1989.

Currently, the Hawaii stock is estimated at 270 whales and the Northern Gulf of Mexico stock at 1040 whales.