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Loud Mammal Roundup

May 16, 2008

North American right whales are on the brink of extinction. Could a new whale detection system save them?

Transcript

BOB HIRSHON (host):
Giving right whales the right of way. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Right whales got their name because they were the favorite prey of whalers. Today, only 400 of the whales remain. While protected from hunting, the whales still fall prey to collisions with ships. That’s why Cornell researchers have invented the Right Whale Listening Network. It’s a series of buoys near Cape Cod Massachusetts that listen for the calls of the right whales, and then send out a warning to ships in the area to slow down.

In other mammal vocalization news, researchers working in Panama have calculated that some insect-eating bats emit echolocation calls of 140 decibels. For comparison, a loud rock concert is just 120. Since high frequency sounds can’t travel very far, the bats have to really pump up the volume to locate insects more than a few inches away. I’m Bob Hirshon for AAAS, the Science Society.