CAMARILLO, Calif. - There is something magical about seeing a humpback whale breach out of the water. While it may look like it is just a fun way for a calve and its mom to interact and play, a new study published this week by a professor at Cal State University Channel Islands suggests much more.
"We have been able to establish that there is a link between exercise such as breaching and the development of their dive capacity," said Dr. Rachel Cartwright.
Cartwright explains that all the activity is helping the calves build up, a protein called myoglobin in their muscles. The more activity they get, the more myoglobin they build up and that helps them on their long migrations.
"Myoglobin is one of the characteristic of animals that can dive and it literally holds oxygen so that oxygen can be used to support an extended dive," said Cartwright.
Cartwright's paper has been in the works for years. She collaborated with fellow professors and even a group of undergraduate students as CSCUI to do the research.
Now that her research is published, she is not done studying whales just yet, instead she is trying to get a new perspective on the giant mammals with the use of unmanned aerial vehicles.
"This particular one we are using is water proof so we could operate it from the water and once we identified where the whale is we would work with Dr. Cartwright to get over the whale and the altitude so they could get the imagery, and it was a pretty novel use of the technology," said Alan Jaeger, a UAV instructor.
"Now that we really understand how baleen whales are developing in their early phases of their lives we can now keep track as well of their body conditions and how they go on and develop and mature," said Cartwright.
"We were able to get a unique perspective which was straight above them so that we could see them as they come up to the surface. So she could measure the size of them so that she could get that angle and that shot without disturbing the whales itself," said Jaeger.