Quiet! Your Noisy Ship is Really Stressing Out the Whales

Mike Schuler
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February 10, 2012

Do loud noises tend stress you out?  If so, turns out you’re not alone.

Researches working with the New England Aquarium have linked increased and prolonged noise levels, such as that of a ship under way, with chronic stress in whales.

The findings, which were published in the Proceeding of Royal Dutch Society B in London, actually came about by chance.

In 2001, whale researches working in Canada’s Bay of Fundy stumbled upon the connection while routinely measuring stress hormones found in the excrement of North Atlantic Right Whales.  In the immediate hours of the 9/11 tragedy, as commercial traffic across the globe came to an utter stand still, including ship traffic, the usually busy Bay of Fundy went quiet.

As a result, researchers saw decreased levels of faecal stress hormones in association with the reduced noise, and an unintended experiment was born. Researches conclude that the underwater noise from large ships overlaps with the low-frequency acoustic signals large whales, such as the North Atlantic Right whales and Baleen whales, use to communicate.

The study is the first such evidence that exposure to ship noise is associated with chronic stress in whales.

So now when you’re asked to slow down to save the Right Whales, you’re actually relieving the whales’ stress in more ways than one.

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