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Undersea microphones listen for whales threatened by Gulf oil spill

A team from Cornell is working with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to listen in on whales who may have been affected by the Gulf oil spill.

Sperm whales (pictured here in this 2001 photo) have been identified as a species of concern in the Gulf of Mexico as a result of the Gulf oil spill.

Chris Bangs/Guam Variety News/AP/File

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Recently deployed electronic ears are eavesdropping on whales in the Gulf of Mexico, giving scientists insights into what areas they frequent, population numbers and how they are faring in the oil-ravaged waters.

"Night after night, on TV and on webcams, we saw oil spewing from the bottom of the ocean," said Christopher Clark, head of the Bioacoustics Research Program (BRP) team at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. "You wonder, 'What can we do? What's the impact of this?' In the case of marine mammals, we don't know because we don't even know what's there."

The study will focus on sperm whales and Bryde's whales (a baleen whale that feeds on plankton), which the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) identified as species of concern in the Gulf as a result of the oil spill.

IN PICTURES: The Gulf oil spill's impact on nature

Eavesdropping on whales


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