The Vancouver Sun reported this week on a study that shows two surprising facts, one of which is encouraging, the other, extremely discouraging.
The study was undertaken to investigate the communication among right whales in the North Atlantic. Whales use their calls to one another and to groups to establish contact and coordinate feeding and mating. Researchers from Canada attached suction-cup acoustic sensors to 14 right whales to monitor their calls.
The right whale is the most endangered marine species in Canadian waters and the acoustic sensors detected yet another significant threat to its survival: noise pollution. The rumbling of cargo ships in the North Atlantic creates ambient background noise that makes it difficult for right whales to speak to each other. The frequencies of the rumbling of cargo ships overlap with the frequencies of whale calls, which can interfere with their ability to find mates or food and threaten their survival.
The encouraging fact discovered by the researchers though is that right whales do have some ability to adapt to an increase in background noise. The data gathered over three years found that when there was more ambient noise, the whales would increase the volume of their calls to compensate. Having the ability to “raise their voice” so to speak gives the right whales a fighting chance at survival but it doesn’t solve all their problems. As ocean traffic increases, so will ambient noise and the right whale can only get but so loud.
The Canadian government has some measures in place to protect right whiles in the Atlantic, limiting speeds and routes for shipping traffic to prevent ships hitting whales. Whether they choose to issue new regulations on sea cargo traffic in light of this new information about the ambient sea noise it causes remains to be seen.
We as humans live in an era when we are able to understand on both a very large and very small scale how our actions affect the habitats and lives of the other creatures on the planet. The more we learn about species like the right whale whose numbers are being depleted due to our disregard for the environment, the more of a moral obligation we are under to change our ways.
Photo: Public Domain. Credit: NOAA