How important is sound to whales? About as important as sight is to humans, claims one marine science research and protection group.
Oceans Initiative has launched a new research project that studies sound's importance to B.C.'s fin, humpback, and killer whales. The acoustics research, led by scientists Chris Clark and Dimitri Ponirakis at Cornell University's Bioacoustics Research Program, will also look at how researchers think these sounds affect whales' ability to find each other and food, and stay away from danger.
As it says on their website:
Sound travels farther in the ocean than light does — so whales and dolphins grunt, call, click or sing, or listen intently, and their lives depend on sending and receiving these acoustic cues reliably. They’re quite good at it. Whales and their prey have evolved these acoustic systems over millennia. The problem is that in the last hundred years or so, we have started competing with whales for acoustic space by using ships and conducting other activities that create a lot of underwater noise (mostly unintentionally).
So a whale singing in a noisy habitat is like having a great cell phone that relies on a terrible network provider. Unfortunately for whales, fish, squid and other marine life, the consequences of a “dropped call” are more serious than they are for us. If human activities jam whale acoustic signals, the information lost is not trivial. We suspect that the acoustic information being transmitted is of the kind: “There is a predator just around the corner.” Or, “Eat this fish. It may be the last one you see for days.” Or, “Mate with me.” You don’t want to miss these calls.
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