Earthshaking News for Fin Whales

Using Earthquake Sensors to Track Endangered Whales

A decade ago, researchers began studying tremors on the Juan de Fuca Ridge off the Washington coast. While using seafloor seismometers to collect data, they also recorded some “nuisance noise,” or fin whale calls. However, some of the scientists decided to pursue this avenue and focus their research on learning more about the second-largest animal ever to live on Earth. Not much is known about these whales, but they have a tendency to get struck by fast-moving ships. The whales frequently die from these collisions. Researchers are hoping that more information about the whales’ habits may help boaters avoid them. University of Washington researchers were able to collect and analyze more than 300,000 whale calls. By using eight seismometers, the research team was able to calculate a whale’s position by how far away it was from each device. A fin whale’s call usually averages 190 decibels underwater (130 in air or about the same loudness as a jet engine!)

I thought it was neat that we can use devices that are supposed to detect earthquakes to also study whales. It’s not exactly the function one would think to use it for, but it works because the whales emit so many strong vibrations with their songs. Mainly, I’m glad someone decided to follow through with this study. It seems kind of obvious to me that people would try to take advantage of that opportunity to study the whales. However, I think there are quite a few times people stumble upon something that could be great, but don’t take the initiative, or don’t realize it could be really helpful. Thankfully, many people realize the potential of certain unexpected events (i.e. penicillin). Sometimes I wonder how many great inventions or discoveries could have been discovered already if people knew how to recognize the benefits of unexpected results or seemingly annoying data.

Fin Whale.

Fin Whale.

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