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Researchers make crucial breakthrough with major whale mapping project: 'The recovery of large whales is key'

"The more accurate and detailed the mapping, the better chance we have."

"The more accurate and detailed the mapping, the better chance we have."

Photo Credit: NOAA Fisheries

Marine researchers have developed a new method that could help preserve dwindling populations of an endangered species.

According to the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, North Atlantic right whales were hunted to near extinction before the 20th century, and their population has never fully recovered.

Data from NOAA shows that only about 360 remain in the wild, and less than 70 of those whales are females capable of reproduction. The primary threats to the animals are still collisions with ships and boats or entanglements in fishing gear; 24 of 40 recorded right whale deaths between 2017 and 2024 are traceable to these culprits, with two more due to birth complications, and a further 14 having unconfirmed causes of death.

Like most other aquatic animals, they also face the threats of shifting ocean conditions caused by climate chaos. 

Luckily, as featured in Futurity, researchers have developed a way to track whale populations in order to prevent dangerous interactions.

By using aggregate aerial survey data accrued over nearly two decades combined with data from nearly 500 hydrophone audio recording devices in the Atlantic Ocean, researchers have been able to geographically map what they are calling whale density, according to the news outlet.

Tracking the occurrences of whales in certain areas allows researchers to create a more conclusive picture of their travel patterns. With this understanding, they can limit potentially harmful human interactions.

North Atlantic right whales are part of vital ocean ecosystems that are essential to people all around the world. Oceans and the life they support produce about half the world's oxygen and absorb a quarter of all our carbon pollution. They also provide sustenance to communities around the globe and create jobs in industries that could not survive without them.

This new method of tracking whale migration routes to reduce danger to the species is a victory for everyone involved; nobody benefits from the extinction of a species.

Organizations worldwide are fighting to save marine mammals, which are facing new dangers from human development and rising global temperatures. Legal protections have even been placed on some wild flora and fauna without justifying their utility to humans.

Concerning the recent uptick in right whale mortality, Whales and Dolphins Conservation warns,  "The recovery of large whales is key to combating climate change and saving our own future."

Patrick Halpin, director of the Marine Geospatial Ecology Lab at Duke, was quoted in Futurity saying, "The more accurate and detailed the mapping, the better chance we have to save dwindling numbers of right whales from preventable injury and fatality."

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