Subject: Satellite helps in whale study
Sat, 19 Oct 96 12:03:00 GMT

Satellite helps in whale study

   PASADENA, Oct. 18 (UPI) -- Marine biologists aboard a ship in the Gulf
of Mexico are using maps of ocean currents produced with satellite-
gathered data to locate and count sperm whales and dolphins, researchers
said Friday.
   "The goal of our cruise is to make a visual and acoustic census of
marine mammals and to define their physical and biological habitat in
the northeastern gulf in areas potentially affected by oil and gas
activities now or in the future," said Randall Davis, head of the
Marine Biology Department at Texas A & M University in Galveston.
   The space-age maps provide timely information about rapidly changing
ocean features, enabling the whale watchers to head in the right
direction at the right time, said scientists at the National Aeronautics
and Space Administration's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena.
   The data, from NASA's ocean-observing satellite TOPEX/Poseidon and
the European Space Agency's ERS-2 satellite, are faxed to scientists
aboard the research vessel R/V Gyre to keep them abreast of the latest
ocean current developments.
   "There is evidence whales prefer to feed in the edges of cyclonic
eddies, and the satellite data give us a good picture of where those
oceanographic features are located," said George Born, principal
investigator on the project from the University of Colorado at Boulder.
   "The data from TOPEX/Poseiden and ERS-2 greatly enhance our ability
to identify and map circulation features as they occur in the gulf,"
said Robert Leben, co-principal investigator on the project.
   The ship, which left Pascagoula, Miss., Oct. 10, will remain in the
northeastern Gulf of Mexico through Oct. 28, surveying whales and
dolphins,which previous studies found most abundant in the area where
warm water eddies break off from the Gulf Loop Current, a strong ocean
current circulating around the gulf, the reseachers said.
   "Altimeter data like that from TOPEX/Poseidon are the only
information that enableon-site adjustments to the cruise plan to
optimize the survey track, utimately saving us time and money," Davis
   The satellite was develoed to study global ocean circulation but is
unexpectedly providing a bonanza of information for marine biologists.
   "We are very excited that these data are being used in new and
different ways," said Lee-Lueng Fu, project scientist at JPL.
   "Scientists are continuing to find new applications for this project
and are proving they can study not only ocean currents but also the
creatures that inhabit the oceans."
   The satellite uses an altimeter to bounce radar signals off the ocean
surface to get precise measurements of the distance between the
satellite and sea surface. These and other measurements from other
instruments pinpoint the satellite's exact location in space.
   Every 10 days, scientists produce a complete map of global ocean
topography, the barely perceptible hills and valleys on the sea surface.
Armed with such knowledge, they can then calculate the speed and
direction of worldwide ocean currents.
 (Written by UPI Science Writer Lidia Wasowicz in San Francisco)
d be
exempt from the ban.
   A spokesman for the foreign ministry's fishery division told IPS this week
Japan is "continuing efforts to convince other countries to allow resumption
of commercial whaling in the hope they will eventually change their minds."
   In the meanwhile, Japanese fishermen are celebrating their catches. "The
(Taiji) has a total catch quota of 2,380 for the season," said a proud
official of the Japanese Whaling Association after last week's haul. "Coastal
small whale fishing is outside the control of the International Whaling
   News of the catch was welcomed by a restaurant owner in a busy Tokyo
one of many which serves whale meat.
   "What some environmental organizations say isn't true," says the owner of
restaurant, established in 1955. "If the number of whales were really
decreasing I would have to close the business."
   The International Convention for Regulation of Whaling, which the IWC
administers, does allow for a limited amount of whaling for scientific
purposes. Under the agreement, Japan is allowed to hunt annually for a maximum
50 whales.
   Tokyo, however argues, that for "scientific purposes" that number is not
enough. The Japanese fishery ministry says it needs to catch at least 300
whales a year to gather information and produce more accurate data on the
mammals. And so it does.
   The IWC agreement does not forbid Japan or any other nation from selling the
meat from the whales, after research is conducted. to restaurants.
   But a Greenpeace representative in Tokyo said that in the case of Japan,
"scientific whaling" is simply an excuse to "slaughter minke which ends up on
restaurant tables."
   "Japan as a whaling nation faces now tough tasks and decisions," added the
Greenpeace spokesman.