Noise Pollution Bothers Porpoises Too – Even Though They Speak At A Higher Frequency Than Whales

Source: Hakai Magazine/Amorina Kingdon 

Photo: Erik Christensen/Wikimedia Commons

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When pioneering whale biologist Roger Payne released the album Songs of the Humpback Whale in 1970, it was a big hit. People found the cetaceans’ haunting moans beautiful and relaxing. Unfortunately, whales can’t say the same about the sounds we produce—the low rumblings of a cargo ship are decidedly less soothing.

Artificial noise disrupts whales’ ability to communicate through sound, affecting their feeding and navigation. To date, most research and regulations have been aimed at understanding and preventing the disruption of big baleen whales (such as humpbacks, bowheads, and right whales) by big ships. But a new study on harbor porpoises suggests that toothed whales, such as killer whales and dolphins, may be getting an earful, too. Toothed whales use higher-frequency sounds to communicate than baleen whales do, so they can hear high-pitched anthropogenic noises such as those produced by ferries, pleasure craft, and sonar. And they may be finding them disruptive as well.

Marine biologist Danuta Wisniewska, who works at Aarhus University in Denmark, had heard tales of porpoises, dolphins, and killer whales visibly reacting to a single passing ship, but she wanted reliable data.

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Photo: Erik Christensen/Wikimedia Commons

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