Research efforts to save the beluga whale

Beluga whale
© iStock/jclegg

Research efforts are now underway in attempt to save the beluga whale from extinction, amid the publication of various studies suggesting drastic changes to the environment.

Less than 30 vaquitas and fewer than 1,000 right whales swim in our waters at this moment. Four additional whale species number less than 10,000 each. Beluga whales in Cook Inlet and St. Lawrence are endangered.

The news is dire. But all is not lost. The ongoing efforts to stem the tide of climate change and cetacean extinction has ramped up in the scientific community; especially from renowned conservation researcher, Dr. Tracy Romano, Mystic Aquarium‘s Chief Scientist.

Recent studies have revealed that the adverse impact of climate change is having a more severe effect on the environment of beluga whales than previously realised. A report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change indicates that warming in the Arctic is happening two to three times faster than anywhere else on Earth. Arctic melting has dire implications for belugas, including the endangered Cook Inlet Beluga in Alaska, of which NOAA estimates just over 300 remain.

Dr Romano has been conducting research on beluga whales in the Arctic for decades. Her work is critical for the survival of belugas and endangered cetaceans in general: the data her team collects is creating a baseline of understanding for the species’ overall health as a means to determine the impact of human activities.

Without a careful and dedicated study of belugas, populations of the species are destined for extinction. Dr Romano’s research is more crucial now than ever before.

“Our research while focused on belugas is applicable to other cetacean species,” said Dr Romano. “The technologies and health monitoring–like gene expression, immune function and much more–that we are developing and carrying out daily can be applied to all whale species.”

Dr Romano’s research and conservation work over the last year has taken her across the Arctic, including visits to Anchorage and Barrow, Alaska and Vestmannaeyjar, Iceland. She has collaborated with native communities and scientists and led science based educational and cultural exchange programs in her pursuit to save beluga populations.

Dr Romano is an emblematic representation of Mystic Aquarium’s mission to save endangered ocean animals through a commitment to vital research.

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