Watch: Whale Cam in Antarctica
University of California researchers have attached cameras to 30 rare Antarctic minke whales to see how sea ice affects their behavior.
The tags, clinging to the animals’ backs with suction cups, recorded video and motion data for 24 to 48 hours. Each time the whales surfaced, the researchers could calculate from the video how much sea ice was present, providing clues on how it influenced the whales’ behavior.
Previous research has relied on satellite images to study the whales’ habitat.
Ari Friedlaender, leader of the project at the University of California Santa Cruz, says preliminary data from the whale cams are already revealing surprising results. From the six tags analyzed so far, the researchers saw that whales were spending 52 percent of their time in open water compared to just 15 percent in water with high concentrations of sea ice.
As Antarctic sea ice continues to shrink under climate change, understanding its importance for the whales will be crucial for protecting them, says Friedlaender.
The Antarctic minke is among the smallest of the baleen whales and feeds mainly on krill. At physical maturity around 18 years old, females average 8.9 meters (29.2 feet) and males 8.6 meters (28.2 feet). Calves are estimated to be 2.74 meters (nine feet) at birth, born after a 10-month gestation. Females can live for over 40 years.