Lost In The Sound - New Sound Maps Show Ship Noise Blocking Whale Communication

whale ship noise map image

This animation frame shows in color the loudness of calling right whales off the Cape Cod-Boston area with no ships in the area. Image: Dimitri Ponirakis, via Cornell University

We know that ocean noise is damaging to whales, especially when it comes to the deadly effects of military sonar. But what about the less drastic noise of ships? As more ships hit the waters along coasts, the noise pollution is blocking whales' ability to communicate over distances. New animations show how noise pollution is jamming up daily communication among whales in the ocean, and what impact that is having on the animals. Physorg reports that Christopher Clark, the I.P. Johnson Director of the Bioacoustics Research Program at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology has created state-of-the-art acoustic animations that show how whale song gets lost among the noise of ship traffic, and therefore whales that require the quiet of the ocean to communicate over miles of open water are not able to hear one another's songs.

Clark created animations of time-elapsed maps showing data of whale and ship sounds recorded over three months. It is part of an effort to understand what the increase in oceanic noise pollution is doing to whales who struggle to communicate with one another over the din.

"Now I can quantify how much [sound is generated] every time a ship comes through," Clark said. "It creates acoustic 'bleaching,' and you can measure how much acoustic space is lost by ships coming through. For example, every day right whales lose 80 to 85 percent of their opportunities to communicate as a result of ship traffic."

The researchers are finding that whales leave the area when they can't hear one another due to ship noise. How that might affect migration routes and whale interaction as coastlines become more urbanized is yet to be uncovered. Just think about how noise pollution affects the stress and health levels of humans - it can be far-reaching and significant. Now apply that to whales...

Whales are extremely sensitive to sound, and it is known that military sonar is a significant cause of whale deaths. Shipping noise, while not as direct, is still likely diminishing whales' ability to thrive in the oceans if they can't communicate with one another.

More on Whale Communication
Screaming to be Heard Over Ship Noise is Taking It Out of Killer Whales
Interactive Website Shows How "Acoustic Smog" Is Killing Whales
Ocean Film Fest 2010: It's Not If, But How Military Sonar Kills Whales (Video)

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