Logbooks, a historic underpinning for Ocean Research

In the Environmental Journal section of the 11/29  Providence Journal, Peter B. Lord writes about a massive research project, an ocean census undertaken by 2,000 scientists from 62 countries to answer three huge questions about the world’s oceans.

  • What once lived in the oceans?
  • What is living in them now?
  • What will be living in them in the future?

A book new about the census, “World Ocean Census: A Global Survey of Maritime Life”, was written by three  Rhode Island based writers:  Darlene Trew Crist, Gail Scrowcroft, and James Harding. The book is published by Firefly Books .

One valuable resource for scientists as they try to gain a historic view of oceans are whaler’s logbooks.  The New Bedford Whaling Museum  Research Library has an unparalleled collection of 2,300 of these.  A database of logbooks is available through the museum website.

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2 responses to “Logbooks, a historic underpinning for Ocean Research

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Logbooks, a historic underpinning for Ocean Research « Whaling Museum blog -- Topsy.com

  2. The Census of Marine Life http://www.coml.org/ has indeed been a major undertaking, with huge value. One of the tangible products of this work has been the development of a publicly accessible website http://www.iobis.org/ where data about the global distribution of selected marine species can be mapped. The strength of the system is that it integrates data from multiple databases, whose originators can upload to the site. Searching for a species, such as the sperm whale, whose scientific name is Physeter macrocephalus, gives a global distribution map, and a list of agencies contributing data. It is important to realize though, that this is by no means a comprehensive statement of a particular species’ habitat, as the sperm whale map is for instance very limited, compared to what we know in terms of their worldwide distribution off the continental shelf. For instance the map shows only one data point in the South Pacific. We know that there are many sperm whales in that region, indeed 19th century whaling logbook hotspots have been used by scientists such as Hal Whitehad to plan field studies on sperm whales in places such as around the Galapagos Islands. One could argue that for the sperm whale at least, the Yankee whaling era, as cataloged by whaling logbooks to be found in New Bedford and elsewhere, was perhaps the most comprehensive, albeit largely destructive, assessment of sperm whale distribution ever undertaken, and likely will never be repeated at such a scale. Of course failure to harvest the species sustainably was as much of a concern as our current failure to sustainably harvest other predators such as blue fin tuna today.

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