The North Atlantic right whale got its name from whalers. Because these whales travel slowly and spend a lot of time at the surface, they were easy targets. For whalers they were the "right" whales to hunt. With fewer than 400 left, they are now the "right" whales to save. Marine biologists track their migratory routes off North America for the spring and fall, but the wintering grounds for much of the right whale population are unknown. Using hydrophones, scientists recorded whale calls in the waters between Greenland and Iceland from July to December of 2007. A hydrophone is simply a microphone designed to capture underwater sounds. North Atlantic right whale calls sound like screams, bangs, and groans. After deciphering thousands of these new recordings, there was evidence of right whales calling nearby many times. This area was thought to be an abandoned habitat, but this discovery confirms that it continues to be used. New discoveries always lead to more questions: How many whales are there? Could these whales be members of a totally separate population, or even an eastern population thought to be extinct? Whatever the answers may be, hydrophones helped us find these whales in a hard to reach location. But most important, if we know where these right whales are wintering, then we can better protect them and maybe even help them recover.

Underwater microphones have detected sounds of North Atlantic right whales in a habitat long thought to be abandoned. Mapping migration paths of endangered species is key to protecting them.

Credit: NOAA

More from LiveScience