The tags, clinging to the animals’ backs with suction cups, recorded video and motion data for 24 to 48 hours.
Each time the whales surfaced, the researchers could calculate how much sea ice was present, providing clues as to how the amount and type of sea ice influenced the whales’ behavior. Previous research had relied on satellite images to study the whales’ habitat, but scientists needed to get a closer look to understand how these creatures were moving through their sea ice environment.
While the research is ongoing, preliminary data from the whale cams are already revealing surprising results. From the six tags analyzed so far, the researchers saw whales were spending 52% of their time in open water compared to just 15% in water with high concentrations of sea ice.
As the tagged minke whales swam and dived under the ice, the scientists also learned new things about the cryptic species and its behavior. The piggybacking cameras allowed scientists a whale’s-eye view of a day in the life of an Antarctic minke;its feeding habits, social life, and where it spent most of its time.
As Antarctic sea ice continues to shrink under climate change, understanding its importance for the whales will be crucial for protecting them, the researchers note.