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Bermuda teams up with Caribbean countries to study whales

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Atlantic oasis: a pod of humpback whales surface off Bermuda in a photograph taken by veteran marine life cameraman Andrew Stephenson and featured in his book, Secret Lives of the Humpbacks (Photograph supplied)

Bermuda has joined forces with Caribbean countries in a research project designed to examine the lives of Atlantic whales.

The Department of Environment and Natural Resources has teamed up with the Caribbean Marine Mammals’ Passive Acoustic Observatory – a network of underwater microphones set up to record whale songs – to help conserve the giants of the sea.

The DENR said: “Many of the marine mammal populations in the Atlantic are shared between countries and need protection.

“The project aims to develop common management and assessment tools across the region to conserve and manage these shared populations.”

The autumn edition of the DENR’s Envirotalk newsletter said that a specially designed microphone was installed off Bermuda’s south shore in February as part of the one-year study.

The newsletter said: “The hydrophones for this project were designed by the University of Toulon in France.

“They are optimised to record sounds produced by cetacean species across the Caribbean over a wide range of frequencies.

“Examples are the fin whale, which produces very low frequency noises that travel long distances, to the high frequency sounds of the pygmy sperm whales, used for communicating over short distances, as well as man-made noises.”

The newsletter added that humpback whales were well known in Bermuda’s waters, but that little was known about other whales that may pass through.

It said: “The data will tell us the time of year and type of species detected in Bermuda’s waters.

“It will hopefully also provide information on abundance estimates for each species and seasonal movement patterns.

“The size of sperm whales can also be estimated, thereby allowing us to identify specific individuals.”

The information already collected has still to be analysed, but the newsletter said that humpbacks had been heard when the hydrophone was first deployed.

Bermuda has a long history of scientific studies of whales, including their songs.

Frank Watlington, a Bermudian, recorded humpback whales in the 1950s when he worked with the US Navy to develop underwater microphones to detect and track Soviet Union submarines.

The recording, Solo Whale, was later included in a record of whale songs and was part of an insert in National Geographic Magazine.

Mr Watlington’s work inspired US folk singer Pete Seeger who wrote and recorded the hit Song of the World's Last Whale.

A hydrophone off Bermuda’s south shore designed to record whale noises for research (Photograph from the Envirotalk newsletter)

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Published October 14, 2021 at 7:49 am (Updated October 14, 2021 at 7:47 am)

Bermuda teams up with Caribbean countries to study whales

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