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Humpback whales are ‘happier’ during pandemic, study finds

Humpback whales are ‘happier’ during pandemic, study finds

Humpback whales are ‘happier’ during pandemic, study finds

Humpback whales migrating off Australia’s east coast were happier and less stressed during the COVID-19 pandemic, research has found.

The University of Queensland’s School of Environment led the study using drone vision and blubber samples to measure the health, size and condition of the mammals off Minjerribah, near North Stradbroke Island.

Whales were monitored during their annual migration and intense breeding period in 2020 and 2021 and were found to have lower cortisol concentrations as the pandemic entered its second year.

Australian humpback whales migrating off the east coast were happier and less stressed during the COVID-19 pandemic, research has found.
Humpback whales migrating off the East Coast were happier during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Jake Linsky)
Australian humpback whales migrating off the east coast were happier and less stressed during the COVID-19 pandemic, research has found.
The University of Queensland’s School of Environment led the study using drone vision and fat samples. (Dana Cusano)

The findings indicated a decrease in “environmental stressors” in part because people were confined at the time, said researcher Dr. Jake Linsky.

“Several things happened during this period that likely contributed to our findings, including a shift in climate toward La NiƱa and dramatic changes in human activity during the pandemic,” he said.

“Our gene expression results also raise another hypothesis: the whales may have been responding to a decrease in pollutants in their remote feeding waters.”

Australian humpback whales migrating off the east coast were happier and less stressed during the COVID-19 pandemic, research has found.
Research teams collected bubble samples by approaching the whales by boat. (Rafael Mayoud)

Linsky said the human impact on the East Coast environment needs to be addressed.

“Eastern Australian humpback whales have demonstrated a remarkable ability to adapt to changes in their environment, but our study underscores the importance of mitigating human impacts so they can continue to thrive in our rapidly changing oceans,” she said.

“By continuing to monitor and protect humpback whales off Australia’s east coast, we can ensure their health and stability while also providing valuable insights into how other struggling whale populations could be conserved.”

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The research supported similar studies that found decreased stress hormones in whales on the opposite side of Antarctica.