January 23, 2013

Traffic Noise Threatens Whales

Researchers say that background noise from ships is damaging communications between some whales.

Julian: This is the primary way a group of whales communicates. And this is the sound of trouble.

Government researchers have concluded that high levels of background noise, mostly from ships, is damaging the communication ability of the whale population off the northeast coast.

Leila Hatch: I think we’re trying to understand what kind of a crisis this is.

Julian: Leila Hatch is co-author of that study of underwater noise in the shipping lanes of the Boston Harbor. And the increased traffic there is causing whales, specifically the right whale, to lose their ability to chat with each other.

Leila: These animals have lost over 60%, and upwards of 70% under some measures, of the space that they used to have to communicate with one another.

Julian: Researchers use submerged acoustic recorders to capture the sounds from ships and whales. The spike in noise they detected from the ships disrupts the whale’s basic functioning.

Christopher Clark: When the noise level goes up, it’s harder to hear where the weather systems are, where the food might be, where my buddies might be, where the mating parties are.

Julian: Fourteen years ago, there were nearly 350 cruise ships and cargo vessels that used the Port of Boston. In 2011, there were more than 420.

The noise from increased shipping disorients the whale population, sometimes with devastating results.

Christopher: When a ship hits a whale, the whale is dead. Collisions have increased along the East Coast and, in some cases, are responsible for many, many deaths. And a high percentage of the population is being killed from ship strikes.

Julian: Researchers warn manmade threats, like ships and the underwater noise they make, are helping to push the North Atlantic right whales to the brink of extinction.

Julian Dujarric, Channel One News.


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