To Find the Killer Whale, Scientists Think Like One

Off of Scotland, team stakes out its prey
By Katherine Thompson,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 25, 2009 5:52 PM CST

(Newser) – Killer whales spend most of their time tracking their prey, and so do the scientists who study them. Marine biologists at Scotland's St. Andrews University spent 3 months among the Shetland Islands in search of their cetacean quarry, and caught sight of whales only about 12 times. They explain to NPR what drives them to seek the elusive Orca.

"It takes a kind of love" to spend so much time in a one-sided search, says producer Ari Daniel Shapiro, because "it's not like they're waiting for us to show up." But scientists have to find the whales in order to study them, to find out, among other things, how orcas incorporate sounds into their hunting. The trick is "to strip your biases as a terrestrial, visually based mammal" and imagine a world "where vision is not very useful, where sound travels for large distances," one scientist said. (Read more marine biology stories.)

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