Whales Benefit From Action on Ocean Noise
- by Pallab Ghosh
Scientists are working to reduce the noise levels experienced by whales from North Atlantic shipping.
The blare is making it difficult for the animals to communicate with each other, which in turn is affecting their ability to find food and mates.
The researchers have persuaded shipping companies to change their routes in and around the Boston area.
Sea captains use an iPad App that helps them to understand the locations of the whales and when to slow down.
The change in operations has helped to lower the din. Scientists hope it will also limit the number accidental collisions.
The waters off New England are a home to many species of whale. Many are now suffering because of increased noise levels.
Research presented at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) suggests that it has doubled each decade over the past 30 years.
Dr Mark Baumgartner of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution played me the sound of a passing container ship as a whale might hear it.
It was a thunderous, unchanging drone.
"How would you like to have that in your bedroom, your kitchen, your work all the time?" he asked plaintively. "That’s what the acoustic environment for whales is like all the time."
The effect is to reduce the range whales can communicate.
Social communication is necessary so that they can get together for important activities, such as mating, and it is unclear just what the ramifications of cutting off that communication will mean for them.
But the ships are not just disrupting communication; they also collide with whales from time to time.
Dr Dave Wiley who works for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has seen the consequences at first hand.
"Our scientists found shattered bone and large hematomas which are indicative of a ship strike," he told BBC News.
Each year, there are one or two North Atlantic Right Whales stuck by ships in the area. Although that does not sound like a lot, it was enough to concern environmental groups because it is thought that there are just 500 of these animals left in the wild and mothers with calves get hit more frequently.