Researchers Record Whales’ Reaction to Sonar

Written by on July 8, 2013 in Marine Life, Whales & Dolphins
Blue whale photographed in California.

Blue whale photographed in California. Photo credit: Ken Bondy via photopin cc.

The Southern California Behavioral Response Study found that some blue whales off the coast of California change their behavior when exposed to military sonar. This is one of the first studies to focus on how military sonar affects blue whales, specifically.

Scientists tagged blue whales with non-invasive suction cups that recorded acoustic data and high-resolution movements. The whales were then exposed to mid-frequency sonar sounds significantly less intense than the sonar used during U.S. military exercises. The researchers found that some whales altered their diving behavior and temporarily avoided important feeding areas.

For example, some of the whales that were engaged in deep feeding stopped eating and sped up or moved away from the source of the noise.

The researchers note that not all whales responded to the noise and not all responded in the same way.

A related study found that beaked whales — the ones most commonly killed in strandings — are highly sensitive to sonar. Unfortunately for the whales, their strong response was observed at noise levels well below those used by U.S. military exercises.

Cuvier's beaked whales.

Cuvier’s beaked whales. Photo credit: tim ellis via photopin cc.

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Copyright © 2013 by Marine Science Today, a publication of Marine Science Today LLC.

About the Author

About the Author: Emily Tripp is the Publisher and Editor of 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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