Dmitry Glazov, leading engineer at the Severtsov Institute of Ecology and Evolution at the Russian Academy of Sciences and deputy head of the White Whale Programme of the RAS Standing Expedition, spoke about the white whale research programme for 2017. The conversation took place prior to Marine Mammal Protection Day, marked on 19 February.
According to Mr Glazov, both field and laboratory research will continue in 2017. In particular, plans call for studying the reaction of white whales’ cardiovascular system to acoustic noises: the change in heartbeat, the production of stress hormones, and others.
The researcher said that the noise caused by tankers that go through seal breeding sites or by various construction and oil extraction works in the sea interferes with the animals’ natural habitat. “A strong human-made impact, including noise, results in deaths of certain animals, a decrease in the population, or forces them to migrate,” Mr Glazov said.
He added that the Severtsov Institute of Ecology and Evolution will start developing approaches to motivate wild white whales to respond to signals.
The research on the white whales’ signal system, or the language of the white whales of the White Sea, has made it possible to decipher some of their signals. The next step will be learning to talk to white whales. Probably, it will allow people to warn the animals about possible human-induced dangers such as explosions, oil spills and fast moving vessels.
“We hope to achieve that in the next few years,” Mr Glazov said.
The white whale is not listed as a rare or endangered species, but since it inhabits almost all Arctic seas and the Sea of Okhotsk, it was recognised as an indicator of the condition of marine Arctic systems. Researchers believe that the study of white whales will help assess the general situation within Arctic ecosystems.