Tuesday, March 03, 2009

ENV: Blue Whales

Discovering the Blue Whale
Little Is Known About the Massive Mammal
By LINDA OWENS, March 3, 2009

They are capable of making sounds louder than a jet engine, but we can barely hear them. Known as the gentle giants of the sea, blue whales consume 7,000 pounds of tiny shrimp called krill daily, but still scientists know very little about the massive mammals.

"Blue whales have always captured everyone's imagination because they're so enormous. But what do we really know about them?" said Steve Palumbi, a population biologist.

A team of scientists tagged some blue whales off California's coast to learn more about the elusive animals.

Unlocking the mystery behind the blue whale's life cycle has become even more important because more are dying now than at any other time since a 1966 ban on whale hunting was enacted.

At one point hundreds of thousands of the animals swam in the world's seas, but the majestic creatures, which are the largest ever to live on Earth, are increasingly rare.

Even experts find themselves with more questions than answers. What they have noticed is evidence of a new threat to the endangered species.

In 2007 at least four beached blue whales were killed by fast-moving cargo ships.

Scientists hope that by learning more about the blue whale's migration paths, they'll be able to help adjust shipping lanes to avoid similar fates for other whales.

Off the coast of Costa Rica, a crew witnessed sharking, a courtship dance between the mammoth whales.

And the scientists now believe pregnant blue whales arrive in Costa Rica's warm water during their last trimester.

On their journey, the experts spotted a mother traveling with her very small calf  at least small for a whale.

Baby whales aren't tiny newborns. They come in at 25 feet long and are the largest babies on land or sea in the planet's history.

Though the researchers captured images of the baby blue on film, they missed the birth.

The pictures are the first ever of a baby blue whale caught on film.

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