Humpback whales seize chance to sing in Alaska's cruise-free COVID summerResearchers given unique opportunity to eavesdrop


(LONDON GUARDIAN) For Alaskans, summertime means cruise ships. Lots of cruise ships. The 2020 season was expected to commence with a record-breaking deluge of 1.4 million tourists and glacier gazers that would effectively triple the state’s scant population of 730,000. Once the pandemic hit, that number effectively dropped to zero.

“The town of Skagway gets a million people a year off cruise ships and is just completely shut down,” said Paul Swanstrom, longtime bush pilot and founder of Mountain Flying Service, which operates out of the southern Alaska community. “It’s nuts. All the south-east has been hit pretty hard.”

Yet although the economy is being decimated by the reduction in tourist vessels, the state’s humpback whales are some of the few locals actually enjoying the silence. Dr Michelle Fournet, director of the Sound Science Research Collective and research fellow at Cornell University, has been listening in on whale conversations for 10 years, but never before has she seen a summer like this.

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