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Marcus Michado
Some of the whales never come back
 real 28k

Tuesday, 21 November, 2000, 17:54 GMT
Saving the whale from space
Southern right BBC Wild
As a slow-swimmer, the whale is an easy target for hunters
By BBC News Online's Helen Briggs

A satellite has been launched into space that will track the migratory route of endangered whales.

Conservationists hope the mission will help save the Franca whale, which was hunted nearly to extinction in the 18th and 19th Centuries.

The spacecraft is one of two satellites sent into orbit that will survey natural resources on Earth.

Both satellites blasted off aboard a Delta II rocket from the Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, US, at 1024 local time (1824 GMT) on Tuesday.

Tracking effort

The whale-watching project is part of a wider mission being carried out by the US space agency Nasa and international collaborators.

E0-1
An artist's impression of the E0-1 satellite
Marcus Michado, director of the Argentinean Space Agency, said they hoped the satellite would shed light on the whales' movements.

"We are going to put transmitters on some whales," he told the BBC.

"Every few hours the transmitters will send a message to the satellite telling this satellite where the whales are and whether they are submerged or not.

"We will keep track of where they go after they leave Argentina."

Extinction threat

The satellite will chart the migratory route of the Franca, or southern right whale. The whales feed in unknown parts of the South Atlantic in summer and autumn and then return to Argentine waters in winter and spring to raise their calves.

But some never return, possibly because of illegal culling. The Franca whale was hunted almost to extinction at one time but became protected more than 50 years ago, under an agreement set down by the International Whaling Commission.

However, the whale's recovery has been slow and it is believed that there are no more than 4,000 to 5,000 animals left.

The SAC-C satellite is also carrying out other scientific tasks during its mission. It will study the Earth's atmosphere and geomagnetic field and will measure space radiation.

Eye in the sky

Another satellite, the Earth Observing-1 (EO-1), was also successfully deployed by the Delta rocket.

EO-1 will survey the Earth from space, gathering information on crops, rainforests, coral reefs and other natural resources for 10 scientific institutions around the world.

Programme manager Bryant Cramer said: "This mission will change the way we do land imaging by demonstrating new technologies that will lower the cost of future missions while providing image products of greater clarity, greater accuracy and greater spectral detail than previously available.

"These capabilities will provide fresh insights into the health of our crops, forests, and wetlands while also being able to track natural disasters such as floods, volcanic eruptions and large storms and their impact on our environment."

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06 Jul 00 | Sci/Tech
DNA tracking for whale meat
28 Sep 00 | Sci/Tech
Growing threat to rare species
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