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Climate linked to reproduction of right whales

ITHACA, N.Y. -- The highly endangered North Atlantic right whale population is facing a difficult journey to recovery. That recovery may become even more precarious if North Atlantic climate takes a turn for the worse, according to Cornell University ecologists.

Cornell scientists say that winter atmospheric conditions over the North Atlantic affect the abundance of zooplankton eaten by right whales, one of the most endangered species of marine mammal. New models developed by these scientists can be used to explain the relationships among climate changes, atmospheric temperatures and winds; patterns in ocean currents, water temperature and salinity; the food resources required by whales and other animals; and the reproductive success of right whales.

Details of the whale-climate studies are reported by Charles H. Greene and Andrew J. Pershing, of the Cornell Ocean Resources and Ecosystems Program, in an article entitled "Impact of Climate Variability on the Recovery of Endangered North Atlantic Right Whales" to appear in the December 2003 issue of Oceanography. Other authors of Oceanography paper are Robert D. Kenney of the University of Rhode Island and Jack W. Jossi of the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS). A second article, "Climate and the Conservation Biology of North Atlantic Right Whales: Being a Right Whale at the Wrong Time?" will be published in the February 2004 issue of the journal, Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment .

As Pershing explains: "Only about 300 North Atlantic right whales remain, and their reproductive health depends on finding enough food. Starting in late winter, right whales make their way to the Gulf of Maine, where they feed on high-density patches of copepods (free-floating crustaceans roughly the size of rice grains), and just like New England weather, the physical conditions in the Gulf of Maine can be highly variable." An earlier study by Pershing and Greene found that temperatures
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Contact: Roger Segelken
hrs2@cornell.edu
607-255-9736
Cornell University News Service
19-Nov-2003


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