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Study will look at oil spill's effect on whales

PASCAGOULA, Miss. (AP) - Tags, tissue samples and sound are
among methods being used on a scientific cruise to study the Gulf
of Mexico oil spill's effects on whales and other endangered
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration research
ship Gordon Gunter returned to the waters Thursday after stopping
in Pascagoula, its home port, for equipment and supplies.
As part of the study, listening buoys will remain on the sea
floor for months, letting researchers track changes in what kinds
of marine mammals show up and what they're doing as the amount of
oil changes through the fall.
Cornell University scientists will lower a dozen units all
around the Gulf to listen for sperm whale clicks and Bryde's
(BRU-des) whale calls. Since whales use different clicks and calls
while communicating, navigating and finding food, scientists can
tell not only what species are around, but what they are doing.
A new technology that can record all marine mammal species
living in the Gulf, including beaked whales and a variety of
dolphins, is being deployed by a group from Scripps Institution of
Oceanography of the University of California San Diego.
One unit is already in place near the sunken drilling rig
Deepwater Horizon, and three more will be set in areas getting
other amounts of oil.
Recording sounds from all the mammals living in the Gulf will
provide a more complete picture of the ecosystem's health, said Dr.
John Hildebrand of Scripps.
NOAA scientists will collect biopsies from sperm whales and
other marine mammals, and will track where and how many there are
by sight and - with towed underwater microphones - by sound.
Oregon State researchers hope to tag up to two dozen sperm
whales near the wild well. The satellite tracking tags will tell
the scientists whether the spill affects the size of the whales'
home range and their movements within feeding areas.
Tagging healthy whales from a number of different groups will
let him see if their movement patterns have changed. Researchers
will also try to tag whales in the spill's projected path, to see
what they do when the oil arrives.
The studies began in mid-June and the research ship is scheduled
to return to shore Aug. 4.

(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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