Some marine mammal populations are in major recovery due to successful conservation efforts. Behind these efforts is better data. By filling gaps in our knowledge of marine mammal populations and their movement patterns, scientists are discovering the reality of their situation. Better data makes it easier to create more effective recovery programs.
The current picture
Marine mammals are a loose grouping of about 127 species including animals like whales, dolphins and polar bears. According to a report in the Public Library of Science (PLOS) that assessed the recovery of marine mammals, some species that have declined in numbers by as much of 96 per cent have recovered by 25 per cent. Recovery means the population has increased significantly since their decline was recorded. The report highlights the need for enhanced monitoring of marine mammal populations and for collecting more reliable population data so that scientists can make better population trend estimates and create population management programs that are sure to work.
How better data solves it
In the study published in PLOS, scientists employed a new statistical model that allowed them to estimate general population trends with greater accuracy. Innovations like this allow scientists to eliminate weaknesses presented by gaps in data. Scientists are also steadily moving monitoring from coastal areas to the deep sea, allowing for more accurate observations of the movements of marine mammal populations. However, to accurately monitor offshore populations, scientists must distinguish between cryptic populations (species that look alike) so that it’s easier to collect accurate information on them. In that area, innovations are already being made.
Eavesdropping on marine mammals
Custom-designed detection algorithms were used to listen to 57,000 hours of underwater ocean noise to find the songs of endangered blue whales. Two new blue whale populations were discovered using this innovative technology as well as new insights into their movements. Contrary to previous belief, Antarctic blue whales remain off the coast of South Australia all year and some years don’t return to their krill-rich feeding grounds. Compared to listening to each whale call individually, the detection program saves a massive amount of processing time. As such, the program will be critical in the future of observing the sounds of marine mammal populations. Innovative use of technology is crucial in collecting better data on marine mammal populations because it helps scientists better assess what can be done to protect the animals.
As scientists collect more and more data on endangered marine mammal populations, the easier it will be to target what threatens them and monitor their progress towards recovery. We will see more species like the Florida manatee leave the endangered list and once again become thriving populations. The data will also better reflect the effect pollution, climate change, commercial fishing, ship traffic and coastal construction projects have on marine mammal populations and encourage global environmental protection efforts. In the end, accurate data is what will help us solve a variety of environmental issues that threaten the future of our planet.