Subject: Beluga Whales: STAY-AT-HOME WHALES ARE SECRET TRAVELLERS (fwd)

Mike Williamson (pita@www1.wheelock.edu)
Thu, 11 Sep 1997 13:42:59 -0400 (EDT)

From: Terry Hardie <terry@bytes.gen.nz>
Reply-To: Marine Mammals Research and Conservation Discussion
     <MARMAM@UVVM.UVIC.CA>
To: MARMAM@UVVM.UVIC.CA
Subject: STAY-AT-HOME WHALES ARE SECRET TRAVELLERS

09-Sep-97 04:46 am Regular  International

STAY-AT-HOME WHALES ARE SECRET TRAVELLERS


   Leeds, England, Sept 8 Reuter - Beluga whales, long thought to be
huge stay-at-homes who hardly left the Arctic coast, are secret
travellers with astonishing powers of navigation and dive to great
depths, scientists said on Monday.
   The discovery follows the development of new tracking techniques
using the latest in radio technology.
     Scientists from the Sea Mammal Research Unit of the University
of St Andrews in Scotland tracked North American populations of the
beluga, or white WHALE.
   The unit's Tony Martin told Britain's main annual science
festival that the research had overturned accepted wisdom about the
mammals, which can grow up to five metres long and weigh up to two
tonnes.
   ``The Eskimos who hunt belugas saw our findings and said they
were rubbish... at first,'' Martin said.
   Instead of hugging the shoreline of the High Arctic, male belugas
raced thousands of kilometres to a deep marine trench to gorge
themselves on polar cod, he said.
   To do so, they swim under apparently unbroken ice, using
previously unsuspected skills to navigate their way over thousands
of kilometres and to find isolated breathing holes in the ice cover.
   The secrets of how the whales navigate have yet to be deciphered
but the scientists believe they might find airholes by listening for
faint sounds of water swirling around them.
   Once at the marine trench, the whales then dived up to 550 metres
to catch fish, said Martin, who said the new discovery showed the
belugas were in fact ``able to exploit the entire Arctic''.
   Female belugas do not accompany the males but travel with their
young -- both male and female -- to a shallower trench closer to
home.
   Martin told The British Association festival that the new
findings could help in devising conservation strategies -- and could
also force scientists to revise their estimates of the beluga WHALE
population.
   Official estimates of the numbers of the 18 kinds of beluga WHALE
around the Arctic range from 40,000 to 80,000. Martin said this
might now have to be revised to 200,000.


Reuter pm