Subject: Beluga Whales:Stay-at-home whales are secret (fwd)

Mike Williamson (
Sun, 14 Sep 1997 20:32:13 -0400 (EDT)

---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Sat, 13 Sep 97 14:15:00 GMT 
Subject: Stay-at-home whales are secret

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 (miles) 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
     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 numbersof 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.