Whales Get Opportunity To Chat Now Oceans Are Quieter Due To Quarantine
Countries worldwide have witnessed a sharp drop in air pollution ever since lockdown measures were introduced, but now scientists are saying these imposed measures may also be beneficial for our oceans.
Researchers have found evidence of a significant drop in underwater noise pollution, specifically low-frequency sounds associated with ships, leading them to believe the current crisis might actually be good news for whales and other sea creatures.
The scientists were examining real-time underwater sound signals from seabed observatories run by Ocean Networks Canada, near the port of Vancouver, when they made the recent discovery.
A research paper discussing the phenomena describes the examination of sound power in the 100Hz range from two sites – one inland and one further offshore – as a way of measuring ‘loudness’. They found a significant drop in noise from both.
David Barclay, assistant professor of oceanography at Dalhousie University and the lead author of the study, said they ‘know’ underwater noise at this frequency ‘has effects on marine mammals’.
He continued, via The Guardian:
There has been a consistent drop in noise since January 1, which has amounted to a change of four or five decibels in the period up to April 1.
Barclay also said economic data from the port showed a drop of around 20% in exports and imports over the same time period.
One of the sites, which was around 60km away from shipping lanes and 3,000 metres deep, also showed a drop in average weekly noise of 1.5 decibels – or around a 15% decrease in power, Barclay said. ‘This gives us an idea of the scale over which this reduction in noise can be observed,’ he added.
Michelle Fournet, a marine acoustician at Cornell University who studies humpback whales in south-east Alaska, said we are ‘facing a moment of truth’. April usually marks the beginning of the cruise ship season in the state, but the ongoing public health crisis has put a stop to it.
As Fournet said:
We have an opportunity to listen – and that opportunity to listen will not appear again in our lifetime. We have a generation of humpbacks that have never known a quiet ocean.
What we know about whales in south-east Alaska is that when it gets noisy they call less, and when boats go by they call less. I expect what we might see is an opportunity for whales to have more conversation and to have more complex conversation.
Elsewhere, other scientists are looking to collect data from the ocean because they are currently in such a unique position, with Nathan Merchant – a bioacoustics expert at the UK government’s Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (Cefas) – saying his team are on ‘tenterhooks’ while they wait to see what their records produce.
Cefa is currently collecting noise data from four sites: two in the North Sea, one in Plymouth, and one near Bangor. Merchant also said there have been international efforts to coordinate such work, saying they’ll be looking at how the current pandemic is affecting underwater noise ‘throughout Europe’.
He and his colleagues have long hoped to conduct an experiment to make the oceans quieter, so are using this as a ‘natural experiment’ to find out what benefits it could have in the long term.
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