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5-Year Study Finds Little Impact on Sperm Whales From Distant Seismic Surveys, With Some Indications of Closer Range Effects

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The Minerals Management Service has released the final report of the Sperm Whale Seismic Study, which lasted five years and used acoustic D-tags that track the movements of whales while also recording received sound levels. Unfortunately, few of the 98 whales that were successfully tagged during the study came any closer than 5km to the seismic survey air guns being used as the test sound source, so the final conclusions only address long-range impacts. According to Doug Biggs of Texas A&M, one of the lead scientists, “The bottom line is that airgun noise from seismic surveys that are thousands of yards distant does not drive away sperm whales living in the Gulf.” Biggs also noted that some individual whales feeding at depth reduced the rate at which they made echolocation clicks while in search of prey when the air guns came closer; not enough instances of this occurred during the study to make definitive conclusions about how large an impact this might cause. The study provided a wealth of new information about the Gulf of Mexico sperm whale population, which appears to be genetically distinct from open-ocean sperm whale stockes, smaller in size and with distict vocalization patterns. Sources: PhysOrg.com, 8/21/08 [READ ARTICLE]  ScienceDaily/Texas A&M, 8/21/08 [READ ARTICLE]

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