Tapping The Largest Animal For Science

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Ari Friedlaender, a marine ecologist at Oregon State University, deploying a multi-sensor tag on a blue whale off the California coast. Credit Jeremy Goldbogen

Camera traps, in the interest of science, and of conservation, are no longer a novelty. The story accompanying the photo above is new, for us. At first glance it looks like an act of aggression, which the history of whaling has taught us to expect. But this story has a much better outcome than the old obsessions:

How to Attach a Video Camera to a Humpback Whale

This is how you put a video camera on a whale.

Hop into an inflatable boat and head out to where they’re feeding. Stand in a pulpit with a 20-some-foot pole in your hands. Then watch and wait until you spot a whale. Plan your angle of approach with the driver of the boat. (Never approach directly from behind). Get close. Get closer. Get within 16 feet of this sea giant — which is more than twice the size of your boat if it’s a humpback — and as soon as it surfaces, tap the whale on its wet tire of a back with the pole. If you’re lucky, the detachable suction-cup on the end of the pole — which has a camera and sensors — will stick.

Congratulations.

“You’ve just put an instrument on the biggest animal that’s ever lived, and you got the most incredible view while doing it,” said Ari Friedlaender, a marine ecologist at Oregon State University who says he has become so proficient at tagging whales that he doesn’t even notice the boat rocking. “Afterwards there’s kind of an adrenaline rush.”

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Mr. Friedlaender deploying a multi-sensor tag on a humpback whale in Antarctica. “Afterwards there’s kind of an adrenaline rush,” he said. Credit Alison Stimpert

Dr. Friedlaender is working with scientists at Stanford University and in Italy who are studying the biology of whales. The video footage and information on a whale’s movement provides a fresh glimpse of the fish whales eat and how they respond to the movements whales make while hunting . The scientists hope to uncover the secret relationships of whales and their prey, including the reasons for a whale’s tailored hunting strategies.

The collaborators presented their ongoing project at the Society for Experimental Biology’s annual meeting on Wednesday and hope future work will contribute to the conservation of the animals and their habitat.

The researchers obtain federal permits to do their work, and their technology was developed with concern for the whales’ health and welfare…

Read the whole article here.

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