On October 17, 2018, a joint NOAA/PMEL and Oregon State University Marine Mammal Institute (OSU-MMI) team, with the assistance of a U.S. Coast Guard helicopter on patrol providing real time radio reports of cetacean sightings, traveled 27 miles off the Oregon coast (due west of Newport, Oregon) to acquire acoustic recordings and biopsy two North Pacific blue whales. Through MMI contacts, the Coast Guard helicopter out of North Bend spotted blue whales off shore during routine patrol, and alerted the team to their approximate location.
A PMEL drifting hydrophone was used to record the blue whale calls, while OSU-MMI personnel successfully collected a biopsy sample of one of the two blue whales, and documented the encounter with photographs. Genetic results show the biopsied animal was a male, acoustic analysis of call signal strength shows two animals observed during biopsying were likely source of recorded vocalizations. The researchers are currently doing further genetic analysis and photo identification work to confirm blue whale population and gender of animals recorded. These data will be used to correlate the genetic identity and acoustic call type of a North Pacific blue whale.
The goal is to quantify and relate call signal characteristics and genetic identity. Typically, only remote recordings of blue whale calls are used to assess population size and distribution of this endangered species.
All research was conducted under NMFS permit 20465 with the support of the Marine Mammal Institute whale telemetry group.