Magazine article Oceanus

D-Tags Record In-Depth Data of Beaked Whales in the Depths

Magazine article Oceanus

D-Tags Record In-Depth Data of Beaked Whales in the Depths

Article excerpt

Which air-breathing animal holds the record for diving deeper and longer than any other?

Using digital tags temporarily suction-cupped to whales, researchers led by scientists at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution tracked Cuvier's beaked whales diving to depths of nearly 6,230 feet (1,900 meters) and staying down for 85 minutes.

"These data establish beaked whales as the extreme breath-hold champions of all animals studied so far," said WHOI engineer Mark Johnson, who developed the "D-tags," which record whale movements, their echolocations, and other underwater sounds.

"Because these animals spend so much of their lives under water, we knew very little about them beyond what we could learn from stranded animals or see from research vessels," said WHOI biologist Peter Tyack, lead author of a paper published October 2006 in the Journal of Experimental Biology. "Now we know more about their behavior at depth than many of us had ever dreamed."

Tyack and Johnson worked with an international team, tagging seven Cuvier's beaked whales in the Ligurian Sea off Italy and three Blainville's beaked whales off Spain's Canary Islands. The research shines light on the mysterious world of beaked whales and should help answer questions about the possible impacts of sonar testing on the whales, which have been found stranded with symptoms of decompression sickness after naval exercises.

The D-tags show that when the whales dive deep in search of prey, they ascend slowly. …

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