Our research focuses on studying the movements and behavior of whales in relation to the ocean ecosystems they inhabit. Because whales spend the vast majority of their time underwater and can move great distances in short periods of time (more than 60 miles in a day!), it is challenging to answer even basic questions like “where do they go and why?” So, we use electronic tags to “ride along” and remotely track whales over periods of several weeks to months via satellite. This lets us study multiple aspects of their lives, with basic information about movements and where different behaviors occur across the seascape forming the foundation from which we learn how and why they are using different habitats.
Almost all whale species found off the U.S. West Coast are classified as “Endangered” under the Endangered Species Act. They are also protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act. While it is great to learn more about what these whales are doing along their long journeys, the WHET Lab’s research is also critical to conservation efforts. In addition to the changing climate, whales face a variety of threats related to interactions with human activities. By developing a better understanding of the patterns of whale habitat use, their drivers, and the whales’ responses to different conditions, we are generating new information that is useful for improved conservation measures for the whales and the marine environment in which they live.