Using the same recording units that have provided a rich stream of new data on the effects of shipping noise on whale communication off Boston, Chris Clark of Cornell is spearheading a new project to study the acoustic ecology of the Gulf of Mexico. According to a press release from Cornell:
“The team will anchor 22 marine autonomous recording units (MARUs) to the sea floor in an arc stretching from Texas to western Florida, along the edge of the continental shelf. These units will record underwater sounds for three months before they receive a signal to let go of their tethers and pop to the surface for retrieval. After analyzing the data, the team will deliver a report to NOAA and other agencies involved in the oil leak response. The MARUs will listen for endangered sperm whales and a small population of Bryde’s (BRU-des) whales. They will also pick up sounds of fish and ship traffic. Some devices will be placed in areas apparently unaffected by the oil to collect “control” site information; others will be close to the gushing well. The goal is to document the state of the sounds in the ecosystem over an extended period of time and compare them with known information of the oil spill.
“This will be the first large-scale, long-term, acoustic monitoring survey in the Gulf of Mexico,” Clark said. “We can provide one more layer of understanding about this ecosystem, using sound to measure animal occurrences, distributions and communication, as well as background noise levels from shipping and weather, and perhaps visualize how these features are being influenced by the oil. The whales are like oversized canaries in the coal mine — they reflect the health of the environment they live in.”