Blue whales disturbed by seismic surveys: scientists

September 23, 2009
A blue whale swims in the deep waters off the southern Sri Lankan town of Mirissa. Seismic surveys used for oil and gas prospecting on the sea floor are a disturbance for blue whales, the world's biggest animal and one of its rarest species, biologists reported.

Seismic surveys used for oil and gas prospecting on the sea floor are a disturbance for blue whales, the world's biggest animal and one of its rarest species, biologists reported on Wednesday.

Lucia Di Iorio of Zurich University, Switzerland, and Christopher Clark, an acoustics specialist at the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology in New York, recorded the calls of at a feeding ground in Canada's St. Lawrence estuary in August 2004.

The 11-day experiment was conducted during a period when a survey vessel was using a "sparker", a low-to-medium power device that sends an acoustic pulse to the and picks up the reflected signal to get a picture of the topography.

"On the days when the vessel was operating, the whales called more than two and a half times more frequently than on days when the vessel was not operating," Di Iorio told AFP.

For humans, "it would be the same as if you were next to a roadworks hammer and have to shout or repeat what you say," she said.

Di Iorio said further work would show whether blue whales suffered stress or other problems from the acoustic kerfuffle.

"Blue whales are rather solitary whales which swim all the time, are highly dispersed and always travelling, and feeding areas are places where they have the chance to get together in a small range and with a lot of social activity as well.

"Being disturbed during social interactions that don't occur very often could have an influence, perhaps in mating, but we can't really say for sure, or what kind or if it is short term or long term."

One concern is that oil and gas prospecting is venturing out into ever-deeper water, and little is known about the impact this might have on whales' feeding and migratory patterns.

The paper appears in Biology Letters, a journal of Britain's Royal Society.

In April, an experiment reported in the same journal found that very loud, repeated blasts of sonar caused an Atlantic bottlenose dolphin to temporarily lose its hearing.

Numerous beachings of whales, dolphins and porpoises have occurred over the past decade, prompting a finger of blame to be pointed at warship exercises.

Measuring up to nearly 33 metres (100 feet) and weighing as much as 180 tonnes, the blue whale (Balaenoptera musculus) was hunted almost to extinction until it was given international protection in 1966.

Estimates of this species' population today vary widely. A 2002 Canadian study put the global numbers at between 5,000 and 12,000.

Before large-scale whale hunting, there may have been more than a quarter of a million of the giant mammals.

(c) 2009 AFP

Explore further: Blue whales found near NY, off their usual path

Related Stories

Blue whales found near NY, off their usual path

May 28, 2009

(AP) -- There's a monster lurking off the coast of New York. Experts in a Cornell University acoustics program said Thursday that blue whales have been positively identified in the area for the first time.

Recommended for you


Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

not rated yet Sep 23, 2009
acoustic kerfuffle??
1 / 5 (2) Sep 23, 2009
So what?? We live here too. I assume volcanoes and hurricanes bother them a bit too. Whales are probably more prone to tolerating and sharing than humans anyway. We should learn how to say "Excuse us- better leave now, testing shortly" in whalish.
not rated yet Sep 24, 2009
the problem of ocean noise is going to get much worse. the oceans are soon to become an even more crowded swimming pool for automated robotic subs that can be produced at very cheap cost, relative to manned subs. this is going to revolutionize ocean research. while it would behoove us to make protective standards to prove we can 'save' the whales, we all know that technology will march onward and the whales had better adapt (like learning to swim away from these things) or many will sadly die.
not rated yet Sep 25, 2009
"So What"
So would it be OK for me to go into your front yard with a train horn and deafen your family?

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.