Monday, October 26, 2009

PBS Jean-Michel Cousteau: Ocean Adventures - Sea Ghosts

There are places on this planet where it's a marvel that anything survives. But in the arctic waters of the Far North, the sea is alive with sound. The canaries of the sea are singing. They're beluga whales, named from the Russian word for "white ones." They're an evolutionary surprise -- a warm-blooded mammal in a numbingly cold sea. Resembling curious ghosts, these intelligent mammals use one of the most complex sonars of any animal.

Belugas inhabiting Cook Inlet, close to Anchorage, Alaska, were added to the endangered species list in October 2008. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) stated that a decade-long recovery program had failed to ensure the whales' survival. The relationship between people and belugas is ancient. For more than 4,000 years, hunters of the Far North have depended on these whales for their own survival in a land with little else to offer. These traditional cultures have now partnered with scientists and modern technology to protect the beluga, which, in turn, ensures their own future. Yet these efforts are only a small part of the story, as new discoveries have raised troubling questions about the health of belugas and their long-term survival.

Their world is now ground zero for climate change, but what threatens them is not confined to the Arctic, it's global. What lies ahead for the beluga could become prophesy for many species everywhere, including our own.

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