The Divina Guadalupe research project records highest worldwide sighting rate of Cuvier’s beaked whales ever recorded
A group of Mexican and U.S. scientists, aided by the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, surveyed an area off the coast of Mexico that appears to contain the highest number of worldwide sightings of Cuvier’s beaked whales ever recorded over a two-week period.
Twenty-nine groups of Cuvier beaked whales were encountered during a field survey at Mexico’s Guadalupe Island, some 150 miles off the west coast of Baja California Peninsula in October of this year. Twenty-nine of the sighted animals were individually catalogued by photo-identification.
The impressive 29 encounters in just two weeks positions the island as a key habitat for Cuvier’s beaked whales and a prime destination for scientists to study these mysterious creatures.
“These sightings represent a big deal for the scientific community especially when you realize how difficult it is to observe Cuvier’s beaked whales,” said Chief Scientist Gustavo Cárdenas-Hinojosa of the research expedition, known as Divina Guadalupe. “Just as an example, a recent 40-day research cruise in California yielded five sightings of Cuvier’s beaked whales.”
Cuvier’s beaked whales are considered the most extreme mammal divers in the world, with the ability to dive down to almost 10,000 feet or 3000 meters - roughly the length of eight Empire State Buildings! They can stay under water for up to two hours and only need a few minutes of surface oxygen before going back down. Therefore, this exceptional diving ability makes beaked whales elusive to scientists and challenging to study.
(In comparison, the second most extreme diving mammal, the sperm whale, has been documented to reach a maximum depth of 7382 ft. and spends longer periods of time at sea surface in between deep dives.)
The discovery of such a high number of Cuvier’s beaked whales during a two-week period gave the Divina Guadalupe scientists on board Sea Shepherd’s vessel an opportunity to study their habitat and behavioral patterns – essential to gaining more knowledge and understanding of these elusive cetaceans.
“We can only protect what we know,” said Sea Shepherd Captain Oona Layolle. “That is why Sea Shepherd partners with marine scientists to conduct their research on board the R/V Martin Sheen. The more they study ocean wildlife, the better we can understand how to protect it.”
About Guadalupe Island
Up until now, Guadalupe Island has been mostly known for its congregation of great white sharks during the fall and winter months. Recently the island gained notoriety when a viral You Tube video showed a great white breaking through a dive cage after pursuing bait put out by a tour operator. Miraculously, the cage diver inside was unharmed.
This incident occurred in the same bay as the 29 Cuvier’s beaked whale sightings.
Still, Jenny Trickey from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography stated: “Guadalupe Island is an amazing place to study Cuvier’s beaked whales. The deep waters around the island due to the narrow continental shelf means we can sight these whales frequently and close to land.”
This is Cárdenas-Hinojosa’s second expedition to Guadalupe Island to study Cuvier’s beaked whales. His previously published paper in 2009 hypothesizes about the Cuvier’s beaked whales’ presence in Guadalupe Island. Possible reasons included the island’s far proximity from the mainland, which reduces maritime activity disruption; the island’s possible abundance of prey resources for the beaked whales; and potentially acting as a refuge from their killer whale predators. Additionally, despite sharing waters with great whites, there are no recorded reports of great white shark attacks on these cetaceans.