Read the full story in Science.
After the coronavirus pandemic exploded worldwide, Ari Friedlaender, a marine ecologist at the University of California (UC), Santa Cruz, had to abandon his fieldwork in Antarctica, where he was studying the effects of tourism and fishing on humpback whales. He was stressed, but after returning home Friedlaender realized the pandemic offered an unprecedented opportunity for similar studies of whales in nearby Monterey Bay. Lockdowns had dramatically reduced noisy boat traffic, which can stress marine life, and he and his colleagues were soon discussing how to investigate the whales’ response to the hiatus.
The study, which received funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF) this week, is just one example of how wildlife scientists are now working to understand the impacts of what many are calling the “anthropause”—the dramatic slowdown in human activity caused by the pandemic. Some are tracking how fish, mammals, and even iguanas are reacting to steep declines in tourism. Others are pooling data on animal movement, gathered from GPS tracking devices and automated cameras, to probe large-scale responses to emptier roads and airports. In particular, the pause has created unique natural experiments, allowing researchers to compare how animals behaved before, during, and after the pandemic.