Why whales in Alaska are happy

Photo credit: Christopher Michel licensed under CC BY 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This report from BBC News explains why whales in Alaska have been happy. Namely, the coronavirus pandemic shut down tourism, quieting the waters in which they live, and making it easier for them to communicate.

Whales are social animals. When it’s noisy, they stay closer together, make louder sounds, and communicate more simply.

But when tourist boat traffic dropped sharply during the pandemic, the waters suddenly became quieter. The whales spread out across Glacier Bay, mothers left their calves to play while they searched for food, whale songs grew more varied.

The problem is that tourism is big business in Alaska, with thousands of people dependent on it for their livelihoods.

In the short term, the quiet that’s good for the whales isn’t good for businesses dependent on the people who come to Alaska to see them.

In the long term, though, maybe quiet is good.

As Prof. Christine Gabriele said, “[t]ourism is important to Juneau’s economy, and we love to share this place with others.” But, she adds, “it’s not good for anyone–the whales or the whale watching companies or the conservationists–if the whales feel too much pressure and they leave.”

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