In the 1960s and 1970s, the US Navy researched whether they could use synthesized whale sounds for submarines to have encoded conversations across long distances underwater. Called Project COMBO, it was a fascinating attempt at biomimicry. The project's culminating experiment even attracted a pod of whales. Alas, Project COMBO ultimately failed, but it makes for a great story. From Cara Giaimo's article in Atlas Obscura:
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Positioning themselves off of Catalina Island, 150 feet underwater, they blasted their squeaky, warbly codes through a transmitter. The receiver, placed at varying distances away, plucked the messages out of the noise flawlessly. Another test, in the fall, went deeper down and extended the range. In June of 1974, they sent out a real submarine, the USS Dolphin, which successfully transmitted sounds to a receiving ship—and, in a true vote of confidence, attracted a pod of pilot whales.
After these testing successes, researchers were left with a lot of work to do. Although they had the pilot whale on lock, they wanted to expand their repertoire by inventing “techniques and equipment to synthesize large whale sounds and small whale screams.” They still had to create scalable versions of their tools, including the call generator and the spectrograph-recognizer. Looking ahead, more problems loomed: the researchers figured this was a good enough idea that the Soviets would steal it, at which point American submariners would need to add another skill to their arsenal. “Fleet sonarmen must become more familiar with bioacoustic signals,” they wrote—inspiring thoughts of submarine soldiers, facing long days underwater, taking up sonic seal- and whale-watching.
We've posted about this in the past, but it was brought to my attention that the legendary exploding whale news report was rebroadcast not long ago, meaning that the best quality possible (given the age of the 8mm film) is now available for your whale-exploding pleasure.
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The Navy have been blasting the sea with louder than rock concert sounds, hunting for Red October. Apparently the U.S. Navy hasn't done enough to ensure its sonar technology isn't hurting whales tho. Regardless this decision being overturned, the Navy had already planned to phase out much of the harmful sound.
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“The Court of Appeals understood that the Navy can do more to reduce the risk of its powerful long-range sonar, especially in the vast reaches of the ocean where too little is known,” Michael Jasny of the National Resource Defense Council, one of several organizations behind suit, said in a statement. “Ignorance is no excuse for inaction where commonsense safeguards recommended by the government’s own scientists can prevent avoidable harm.”
The court’s ruling will send both parties back to a district court for further consideration. But time may well run out on the NMFS’s decision anyway; it expires in 2017. The Navy has already agreed to limit its use of sonar in certain locations starting in 2018. Soon, the only waves in the ocean will be the natural ones made of water, not man-made ones that come from sound.
Harald Albrigtsen shot this beautiful footage off the coast of Norway. (YouTube)
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Robyn Malcolm captured this wonderful photo of a fur seal surfing on a humpback whale off Eden, Australia.
"We'd seen some amazing whales coming out of the water, everything was happening so quickly," Malcolm told the Sydney Morning Herald. "And it was when I went back through the photos that I realised I had actually captured the seal on top of the whale."
Geoff Ross, a whale expert at New South Wales National Parks and Wildlife Service said the only other time he'd heard of this happening is when a seal was attempting to escape an orca. Read the rest
Humpback whales doing what they do, off Moss Landing, California. They kayakers were fine. From the YouTube post:
On our 08:00 am Sanctuary Cruises whale tour, just outside the harbor in Moss Landing, two kayakers on a tandam kayak were almost crushed to death by a massive, near full-size humpback whale. We stopped to see a large aggregation of humpbacks feeding and carrying on with random acts of hijinks. There were also a lot of kayakers right in the middle of it all. Humpbacks were coming up next to and in the middle of many kayakers. It was amusing. It's all fun and games until someone gets jumped on. The next thing we knew, this thing launched right on top of these two kayakers. That was heavy. The video was shot by Sanctuary Cruises passenger Larry Plants.
More: "Humpback whale breaches on top of kayakers in Moss Landing" (KSBW)
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Humpback whales with albinism are extremely rare, so it was a real treat when one appeared off the coast of Australia this week. Read the rest
Did you enjoy Ecco the Dolphin, but wish it had allowed you to commit mass murder? Then Pequod might be for you.
I have taken whale-watching boat rides off Newport Beach many times, and seen many beautiful things. But there's always new beauty nature has ready to surprise us. Read the rest
About two thousand feet (598 meters) below the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Louisiana, remotely operated vehicle Hercules encountered a magnificent sperm whale. Read the rest
Mammal penises, including those of cetaceans, are pretty easy to find, while vaginas are more difficult to examine; historically, accounts of animal reproduction have emphasized the features of penises and theories of sperm competition, but a burgeoning scientific emphasis on whale vaginas is revealing structures and strategies that are amazing and wonderful.
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Mother and daughter humpback whale. A photo captured and shared in the Boing Boing Flickr Pool by reader Christopher Michel. Read the rest
"Kristjan Loftsson, CEO of the the company Hvalur hf." Photo: News of Iceland.
Icelandic news outlets are reporting that an Icelandic whaling company, Hvalur hf, "caught its first fin whale yesterday evening," after sailing out yesterday with two boats, both due back in port today.
Fin whales are the second-largest whale, and are classified as an Endangered species.
From News of Iceland:
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Ambergris is often referred to as "whale vomit", but that's not really correct. A more accurate analogy would be to say that ambergris is like the whale equivalent of a hairball. It's produced in the whale digestive tract, possibly to protect intestines from the sharp, pointy beaks of squid — you'll often find squid beaks embedded in the stuff. Most of it gets pooped out. But the big chunks of ambergris have to exit the other direction. In the human world, these lumps — which have the consistency of soft rock or thickly packed potting soil — are famous because we use them to make things like perfume. The ambergris washes up on beaches, people collect it, and sell it to make cosmetics.
Anyway, that's what usually happens. Recently, a dead sperm whale washed up on a beach in Holland and the conservationists who dissected it found a huge quantity of ambergris in the animal's intestines.
That news made me realize that I'd never actually seen a picture of ambergris before, so I went hunting around to see what the stuff looked like. That's a photo of a lump of ambergris, above. But it's not really indicative of what ambergris looks like all the time. In fact, as far as I can tell, the stuff comes in a wide variety of shapes and colors — ranging from stuff that looks like small brown pebbles to yellow-green globs covered in bubbly nodules. The diversity is worth perusing. This website, for a company that buys and sells ambergris, has several nice photos. Read the rest
The 52 Hertz Whale
is the cetacean equivalent of a pop-culture phenomenon — a strange creature, known only through recording of whale songs picked up in the Pacific Ocean, who seems to not be a part of any identifiable whale group. Also known as The Loneliest Whale in the World it is a source of pity and fascination among the general public. At PLOS Blogs, Hannah Cheng has a three-part feature on what we do and don't know about the Loneliest Whale. Why, despite 20 years of tracking this thing in sound recordings, do we not have any direct observation of the Loneliest Whale?
She's got the answers. Read the rest