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Lowell Lecture

The Mystery of Whale eyesight and (big) things that go bump in the night

Date & Time

May 10, 2016 at 7 p.m. - 9 p.m.


New England Aquarium
1 Central Wharf Boston, MA 02110
Driving Directions


Scott D Kraus, PhD, Vice President Research, New England Aquarium

Presenting Organization

New England Aquarium



Both right and humpback whales get entangled in fishing gear along the east coast of the U.S. at rates that are unsustainable for these endangered species. Failure to solve this problem may jeopardize the viability of several fisheries. Dr. Kraus and his team set out to study why whales don’t see ropes and avoid them. Then they wondered if ropes can be developed that provide whales a visual deterrent, thereby averting entanglements. In addition, they knew that most knowledge about whale behavior is primarily derived from daylight observations. Since most terrestrial mammals exhibit diurnal changes in behavior, it is reasonable to expect changes in whale behavior at night. Do those changes put whales at risk of encounters with fishing gear? The questions then multiplied! Do they see color? Can they see at night or in the darkest depths of the ocean? How small an object can they see?

Whales live in a world where visibility is rarely more than 40 feet, and most people believe they find their way around by sound. In fact, their use of sound is critical, but for close-up interactions with neighbors, feeding, and collision avoidance, vision may be even more important. Over the last five years, we have been doing field and laboratory experiments to develop an understanding of what whales see. Join Dr. Kraus to find out how their findings may help reduce fatal entanglements by large whales in fishing gear.