Underwater Noise Makes Whale Communication Difficult

Written by on August 24, 2012 in Marine Life

New research, led by NOAA and published in the journal Conservation Biology last week explains that high levels of background noise reduce the ability of North Atlantic right whales to communicated with each other by almost two thirds.

North Atlantic Right Whale head. Photo Credit: NOAA.

North Atlantic Right Whale head. Photo Credit: NOAA.

North Atlantic right whales are critically endangered.  They live along the east coast of North America and can be found from Nova Scotia to Florida.  The most recent data suggests that there are only 350-550 individuals left, putting them on the brink of extinction.

A collaboration of scientists from Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, NOAA’s Northeast Fisheries Science Center and Marine Acoustics Inc. used acoustic readers to monitor noise levels of both whales and commercial vessels from 2007 to 2010.

By comparing noise levels from commercial vessels today with noise levels nearly a century ago, the researchers determined that the whales lost between 63-67 percent of their communication space in the Stellwagen Bank Sanctuary and the surrounding area.

“A good analogy would be a visually impaired person, who relies on hearing to move safely within their community, which is located near a noisy airport,” explained Leila Hatch, Ph.D., lead author of the paper and NOAA’s Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary marine ecologist.  “Large whales, such as right whales, rely on their ability to hear far more than their ability to see.  Chronic noise is likely reducing their opportunities to gather and share vital information that helps them find food and mates, navigate, avoid predators and take care of their young.”

You can read the full press release from NOAA here: Underwater noise decreases whale communications in Stellwagen Bank sanctuary.


North Atlantic Right Whale. Photo Credit: NOAA.

North Atlantic Right Whale. Photo Credit: NOAA.

Copyright © 2012 by Marine Science Today, a publication of OceanLines LLC.

About the Author

About the Author: Emily Tripp is the Publisher and Editor of MarineScienceToday.com. She holds marine science and biology degrees from the University of Miami's Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science and a Master of Advanced Studies degree in Marine Biodiversity and Conservation from Scripps Institution of Oceanography. When she's not writing about marine science, she's probably running around outside or playing with her dog. .


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