Underwater noise pollution is risking the lives of whales and dolphins - Natural History Museum

Loud sound bursts are scaring cetaceans and causing them to flee into the depths of the ocean.

The noise is throwing their bodies out of balance and risking their health, amid growing concern over the impacts of anthropogenic noise pollution.

The hunt for fossil fuels is pushing cetaceans to their limit.

A recent study found that when narwhals exposed to seismic air guns, which are used for surveying in the oil and gas industry, they immediately begin diving to escape from the noise. These high-intensity dives use much more energy than normal and put the marine mammals' health at risk.

Lead author Professor Terrie Williams says, 'They're swimming as hard as they can to get away, and yet their heart rate is not increasing. We believe this is because of a fear response in the narwhals. This affects how much blood and oxygen can circulate, and that's going to be problematic for the animals.'

'Not only is this reaction costly in terms of the energy needed for diving, the escape time will also take away from time spent foraging for food and other normal behaviours.'

The study, published in the journal Functional Ecology, provides some of the first evidence of how the physiology of cetaceans is affected by loud noise immediately after exposure.

It adds to a growing body of evidence that has linked marine noise to strandings, decompression sickness and behavioural changes in whales and dolphins, putting pressure on populations which already face a range of challenges.

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Posted On: 15/07/2022

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