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Santa Barbara Shipping Noise is Studied

Effects of Noise on Wildlife, Ocean Add comments

Ship Noise in Santa Barbara Channel Studied – A hydrophone deployed on the ocean floor in the Santa Barbara Channel is listening in on passing ships and resident and transient whales; researchers from Scripps Institute will analyze the results in an effort to learn more about whether increasing shipping noise is hampering whale communication. Blue whales are the most commonly heard, and also the species whose calls occur in the frequency ranges dominated by ship noise. Megan McKenna, doctoral candidate at Scripps, says, “These animals evolved in a much quieter environment. You’ve got to think there has to be some threshold of them being able to use their acoustic capabilities in this noisy environment.” If whales are communicating with one another about feeding opportunities at the same frequency as the ship’s noise, there’s a chance the whales won’t have the knowledge of food sources they normally would, McKenna said. Ship noise could be loud enough to drown out whale calls about three hours a day, she said, when the most ships are present. Robert Ovetz, director of Seaflow, a Bay Area-based group that is fighting noise pollution in the sea, said he’d like a speed limit to be imposed in California’s four national marine sanctuaries in order to quell some of the noise. Currently, ships have no speed limits. “Our marine sanctuaries are being violated by these superhighways of the sea,” he said. The noise may also lead indirectly to the flustered whales being struck by the ships. Such occasions have historically been rare. Between Los Angeles and the Point Reyes Peninsula from 1986 to 2004, only 12 whales are known to have been hit by ships. But between September and October of 2007, three blue whales and two humpbacks were found dead on Southern California beaches with cracked skulls and other injuries plainly suggestive of violent interactions with big metal objects. Another humpback was found in similar condition at Point Reyes this fall. The abrupt increase in ship-whale collisions cannot be ignored, says Ovetz. “This is a record number of highly endangered species being killed by shipping traffic,” he charges. Sources: Ventura County Star, 2/19/07 [READ ARTICLE] The Bohemian, 2/6/08[READ ARTICLE]

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