Wildlife

“Whale superhighway” map marks World Whale Day

Plus: Marathon hare migrations, increasingly efficient wolves, wandering basking sharks and homemaking bees

Photo: Gabriel Dizzi/Unsplash
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To mark World Whale Day 2022, a new report and map, titled Protecting Blue Corridors, has been released. The report provides a comprehensive look at whale migration routes around the globe and highlights the myriad of impacts whales face on their long, far-ranging voyages. 

The satellite tracks of more than 1,000 migratory whales worldwide were visualized while making the map. The routes have been termed “migration superhighways” or “blue corridors,” and highlight areas dedicated to foraging, wintering, breeding and other activities. 

The satellite tracks of over 1,000 migratory whales worldwide were visualized while making the map. (Photo: WWF, CC BY-NC 4.0)
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Whales face mounting and cumulative challenges throughout their long life cycles, including impacts from industrial fishing, ship strikes, pollution, habitat loss and climate change. Together, they form a sometimes fatal obstacle course for the marine species. 

As a result of these hazards, six out of the 13 great whale species are now classified as endangered or vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. Of these, the most critically endangered is the North Atlantic right whale, a species that migrates between Canada and the United States. Only 336 individuals remain. 

The report calls for protection of the blue corridors through enhanced cooperation from local to regional to international levels. A growing body of evidence suggests whales are vital to ocean and planetary health, with one whale capturing the equivalent of thousands of trees-worth of carbon dioxide.

Hop to it

An arctic hare on Ellesmere Island, Nunavut, has travelled farther than researchers ever imagined — a whopping 388 kilometres over just 49 days. (Photo: Daniel W. Carstensen [UNESP, Rio Claro, Brazil], CC BY 4.0)
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Talk about an incredible journey. An arctic hare on Ellesmere Island, Nunavut, has travelled farther than researchers ever imagined — a whopping 388 kilometres over just 49 days.

During the summer, hares living on Ellesmere Island mate and breed near Alert in the north, then undertake an end-of-summer migration south in search of food as the weather turns colder. Researchers wondered just how far they travelled. And so they fitted 25 hares with satellite trackers, which provided daily location updates.

The record setter, a two-year-old female named BBYY, was fitted with a collar on June 18, 2019. She began her trek south on Sept. 17 and settled in on Nov. 29. Her epic journey ended for good on Dec. 1, when she died of unknown causes.

Arctic hares are an important prey species in ecosystems throughout the Arctic and researchers hope that by better understanding their migration patterns, they can enact better conservation and management plans.

Other hares in the study travelled between 113 to 310 kilometres. 

Road runners

Wolves living in road-dense areas need far less space to survive than in less disturbed areas. (Photo: Thomas Bonometti)
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Wolves living in areas with lots of roads and seismic lines need far less space to survive than in less disturbed areas, according to new research.

Scientists from UBC Okanagan fitted 142 wolves with GPS devices to analyze their impact on ecosystems, as well as the impact of roads, seismic lines and pipelines on wolves’ ability to access food in their home ranges. As these “linear features” increase in a habitat, wolves move more freely and therefore encounter and kill more prey — bad news for woodland caribou, in decline over much of their range due to rising predation. Restoring the natural landscape in some of these human-made corridors could decrease wolf abundance by making it more difficult for them to hunt.

Should I stay or should I go?

Basking sharks have been designated as endangered off Canada’s Pacific coast. (Photo: MaxPixel)
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When scientists tagged four basking sharks off the northernmost tip of Ireland, they were pretty sure they knew where the sharks would go as the weather turned colder. After all, it makes sense that the cold-blooded sharks would hang in Ireland’s coastal waters for the summer, then head south for warmer waters in the winter.

Instead, the information logged on the tags, which recorded the sharks’ location, along with water temperature and depth, “blew our assumptions out of the water,” according to Western biology professor Paul Mensink.

Two of the sharks migrated to tropical waters off Africa as expected, but instead of basking in the warmer seas, the two “snowbird” sharks spent their winter diving to depths of 200 to 700 metres each morning, where the water is a chilly 7 C, then returning to bask near the surface (about 27 C) near midday. When evening arrived, they would submerge to the chilly deeps once again.

Researchers theorized that the sharks were feeding on the gelatinous zooplankton that populate the deeps before rising at mid-day to enjoy a bit of warmth.

The sharks that remained in shallower waters near Ireland’s coast experienced neither extreme cold nor warmth, simply hanging out in water that ranged from 9 C to 17 C.

The research team, which published its findings in the journal Environmental Biology of Fishes, aren’t yet sure why two sharks stayed and the other two swam south, but noted that their findings highlight that conservation of deep-ocean habitats is essential to basking sharks’ survival.

In Canada, basking sharks have been designated an endangered species off the Pacific coast.

Bee-ing at home

Bee Bricks will be implemented in newly built buildings and will help to promote and protect biodiversity across London, Ont. (Photo: MaxPixel)
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In London, Ont., BeeBricks are being used to provide tiny homes for local bees to thrive. In an attempt to save the dying bee population, Bee Bricks will be implemented in newly built buildings and will help to promote and protect biodiversity within the city. The bricks are also eco-friendly, made out of 60 per cent recycled materials. Across the pond in Brighton, England, recent planning law calls for all new buildings above five metres to include Bee Bricks in order to preserve the bee population.

When the bees go into hibernation, they’re able to cover the small holes within the bricks with chewed up vegetation or mud. Once done, they’ll come out from the bricks again and repeat their nesting cycle.

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