Blue whale sound production has been thought to occur by Helmholtz resonance via air flowing from the lungs into the upper respiratory spaces. This implies that the frequency of blue whale vocalizations might be directly proportional to the size of their sound-producing organs. Here we present a sound production mechanism where the fundamental and overtone frequencies of blue whale B calls can be well modeled using a series of short-duration (<1 s) wavelets. We propose that the likely source of these wavelets are pneumatic pulses caused by opening and closing of respiratory valves during air recirculation between the lungs and laryngeal sac. This vocal production model is similar to those proposed for humpback whales, where valve open/closure and vocal fold oscillation is passively driven by airflow between the lungs and upper respiratory spaces, and implies call frequencies could be actively changed by the animal to center fundamental tones at different frequency bands during the call series.
Soundscapes and Acoustics
The effect of various anthropogenic sources of noise (e.g. sonar, seismic surveys) on the behaviour of marine mammals is sometimes quantified as a dose–response relationship, where the probability of an animal behaviourally ‘responding’ (e.g. avoiding the source) increases with ‘dose’ (or received level of noise). To do this, however, requires a definition of a ‘significant’ response (avoidance), which can be difficult to quantify. There is also the potential that the animal ‘avoids’ not only the source of noise but also the vessel operating the source, complicating the relationship. The proximity of the source is an important variable to consider in the response, yet difficult to account for given that received level and proximity are highly correlated. This study used the behavioural response of humpback whales to noise from two different air gun arrays (20 and 140 cubic inch air gun array) to determine whether a dose–response relationship existed. To do this, a measure of avoidance of the source was developed, and the magnitude (rather than probability) of this response was tested against dose. The proximity to the source, and the vessel itself, was included within the one-analysis model. Humpback whales were more likely to avoid the air gun arrays (but not the controls) within 3 km of the source at levels over 140 re. 1 µPa2 s−1, meaning that both the proximity and the received level were important factors and the relationship between dose (received level) and response is not a simple one.
Protected areas are critical locations worldwide for biodiversity preservation and offer important opportunities for increasingly urbanized humans to experience nature. However, biodiversity preservation and visitor access are often at odds and creative solutions are needed to safeguard protected area natural resources in the face of high visitor use. Managing human impacts to natural soundscapes could serve as a powerful tool for resolving these conflicting objectives. Here, we review emerging research that demonstrates that the acoustic environment is critical to wildlife and that sounds shape the quality of nature-based experiences for humans. Human-made noise is known to affect animal behavior, distributions and reproductive success, and the organization of ecological communities. Additionally, new research suggests that interactions with nature, including natural sounds, confer benefits to human welfare termed psychological ecosystem services. In areas influenced by noise, elevated human-made noise not only limits the variety and abundance of organisms accessible to outdoor recreationists, but also impairs their capacity to perceive the wildlife that remains. Thus soundscape changes can degrade, and potentially limit the benefits derived from experiences with nature via indirect and direct mechanisms. We discuss the effects of noise on wildlife and visitors through the concept of listening area and demonstrate how the perceptual worlds of both birds and humans are reduced by noise. Finally, we discuss how management of soundscapes in protected areas may be an innovative solution to safeguarding both and recommend several key questions and research directions to stimulate new research.
Scientific evidence suggests that rising levels of anthropogenic underwater sound (“ocean noise”) produced by industrial activities are causing a range of injuries to marine animals—in particular, whales. These developments have forced states and development proponents into acknowledging ocean noise as a threat to marine economic activity. This paper delivers a Gramsci-inspired critique of the modernizations of ocean noise regulation being wrought by science, state and politics. Gramsci was acutely interested in the dynamic and social nature of scientific research, and his writings affirm science's powers and ambitions. At the same time, he was keen to observe how science participates in the process he called hegemony. Using examples drawn from Canada's West Coast, I suggest that capital is engaging ocean noise not only as a regulatory problem issuing from legal duties and legitimacy concerns, but opportunities linked to the commercialization of ocean science.
This paper reviews the use of acoustic telemetry as a tool for addressing issues in fisheries management, and serves as the lead to the special Feature Issue of Ecological Applications titled Acoustic Telemetry and Fisheries Management. Specifically, we provide an overview of the ways in which acoustic telemetry can be used to inform issues central to the ecology, conservation, and management of exploited and/or imperiled fish species. Despite great strides in this area in recent years, there are comparatively few examples where data have been applied directly to influence fisheries management and policy. We review the literature on this issue, identify the strengths and weaknesses of work done to date, and highlight knowledge gaps and difficulties in applying empirical fish telemetry studies to fisheries policy and practice. We then highlight the key areas of management and policy addressed, as well as the challenges that needed to be overcome to do this. We conclude with a set of recommendations about how researchers can, in consultation with stock assessment scientists and managers, formulate testable scientific questions to address and design future studies to generate data that can be used in a meaningful way by fisheries management and conservation practitioners. We also urge the involvement of relevant stakeholders (managers, fishers, conservation societies, etc.) early on in the process (i.e., in the co-creation of research projects), so that all priority questions and issues can be addressed effectively.
The development of risk assessments for the exposure of protected populations to noise from coastal construction is constrained by uncertainty over the nature and extent of marine mammal responses to man-made noise. Stakeholder concern often focuses on the potential for local displacement caused by impact piling, where piles are hammered into the seabed. To mitigate this threat, use of vibration piling, where piles are shaken into place with a vibratory hammer, is often encouraged due to presumed impact reduction. However, data on comparative responses of cetaceans to these different noise sources are lacking. We studied the responses of bottlenose dolphins and harbor porpoises to both impact and vibration pile driving noise during harbor construction works in northeast Scotland, using passive acoustic monitoring devices to record cetacean activity and noise recorders to measure and predict received noise levels. Local abundance and patterns of occurrence of bottlenose dolphins were also compared with a five-year baseline. The median peak-to-peak source level estimated for impact piling was 240 dB re 1 μPa (single-pulse sound exposure level [SEL] 198 dB re 1 μPa2 s), and the r.m.s. source level for vibration piling was 192 dB re 1 μPa. Predicted received broadband SEL values 812 m from the piling site were markedly lower due to high propagation loss: 133.4 dB re 1 μPa2 s (impact) and 128.9 dB re 1 μPa2 s (vibration). Bottlenose dolphins and harbor porpoises were not excluded from sites in the vicinity of impact piling or vibration piling; nevertheless, some small effects were detected. Bottlenose dolphins spent a reduced period of time in the vicinity of construction works during both impact and vibration piling. The probability of occurrence of both cetacean species was also slightly less during periods of vibration piling. This work provides developers and managers with the first evidence of the comparative effects of vibration and impact piling on small cetaceans, enabling more informed risk assessments, policy frameworks, and mitigation plans. In particular, our results emphasize the need for better understanding of noise levels and behavioral responses to vibration piling before recommending its use to mitigate impact piling.
Concern is growing that marine fauna can be affected by noise such as naval sonar, pile driving or geophysical surveys, among others. Literature reports a variety of animal reactions to human noise (from apparently null or negligible to strong). However, conclusive results on its effects on marine mammals at individual and population level are still lacking. In 2015, the Italian Environmental Impact Assessment Commission mandated seismic operators apply a standard scientific protocol comparing marine mammal presence before, during, and after offshore seismic survey. For 60 days before and after the survey, marine mammals are monitored using visual and acoustic methods. One or more acoustic autonomous recorders, depending on area size, must also be deployed throughout the three phases for continuous monitoring. Consistent data gathered from many surveys will enable robust statistical analysis of results. Diffusion of this monitoring method internationally would improve the study of far-reaching, intense, low frequency noise.
The population of beluga whales in Cook Inlet, Alaska, USA, declined by nearly half in the mid-1990s, primarily from an unsustainable harvest, and was listed as endangered in 2008. In 2014, abundance was ~340 whales, and the population trend during 1999-2014 was -1.3% yr-1. Cook Inlet beluga whales are particularly vulnerable to anthropogenic impacts, and noise that has the potential to reduce communication and echolocation range considerably has been documented in critical habitat; thus, noise was ranked as a high potential threat in the Cook Inlet beluga Recovery Plan. The current recovery strategy includes research on effects of threats potentially limiting recovery, and thus we examined the potential impact of anthropogenic noise in critical habitat, specifically, spatial displacement. Using a subset of data on anthropogenic noise and beluga detections from a 5 yr acoustic study, we evaluated the influence of noise events on beluga occupancy probability. We used occupancy models, which account for factors that affect detection probability when estimating occupancy, the first application of these models to examine the potential impacts of anthropogenic noise on marine mammal behavior. Results were inconclusive, primarily because beluga detections were relatively infrequent. Even though noise metrics (sound pressure level and noise duration) appeared in high-ranking models as covariates for occupancy probability, the data were insufficient to indicate better predictive ability beyond those models that only included environmental covariates. Future studies that implement protocols designed specifically for beluga occupancy will be most effective for accurately estimating the effect of noise on beluga displacement.
The recovery of whale species at risk requires the implementation of protection measures designed to mitigate the risks posed by various stressors. In the St. Lawrence Estuary (Canada), several whale species are threatened by navigation activities in various ways. Since 2013, seasonal voluntary ship strike mitigation measures, including a speed reduction area (SRA) and a no-go area, were implemented annually and largely adopted by the maritime industry to reduce the risks of lethal collisions with four species of baleen whales. While the endangered St. Lawrence beluga population is unlikely to be subject to collisions with large merchant ships, it is known to be negatively affected by vessel-generated underwater noise. To assess how these protection measures modify the beluga’s soundscape throughout their critical habitat, we implemented an underwater acoustic module within an existing agent-based model (3MTSim) of ship-whale movements and interactions in the St. Lawrence Estuary. We ran multiple simulations for two scenarios 1) without and 2) with the protection measures to compare the level of noise received by belugas before and after 2013. Overall, the simulations showed a statistically-significant 1.6% decrease in the total amount of noise received by belugas in their critical habitat following the implementation of the protection measures. Although slowing down ships reduces instantaneous radiated noise, it also increases the total amount of acoustic energy released in the environment by extending the time spent in the SRA. Accordingly, our simulations showed a 2.4% increase in the cumulative noise from shipping received by beluga in the SRA. Conversely, belugas located in the Upper Estuary, mostly females and calves, i.e., the most valuable individuals experienced a 5.4% reduction in the cumulative received level of shipping noise. Although refinements are required to improve the modelling of noise sources and propagation for finer scale projections in this complex nearshore environment, this agent-based modelling paradigm of 3MTSim proved informative for underwater acoustic impact assessments.
Anthropogenic noise in the ocean has been shown, under certain conditions, to influence the behavior and health of marine mammals. Noise from human activities may interfere with the low-frequency acoustic communication of many Mysticete species, including blue (Balaenoptera musculus) and fin whales (B. physalus). This study analyzed three soundscapes in the Atlantic Ocean, from the Arctic to the Antarctic, to document ambient sound. For 16 months beginning in August 2009, acoustic data (15 – 100 Hz) were collected in the Fram Strait (79 °N, 5.5 °E), near Ascension Island (8 °S, 14.4 °W), and in the Bransfield Strait (62 °S, 55.5 °W). Results indicate (1) the highest overall sound levels were measured in the equatorial Atlantic, in association with high levels of seismic oil and gas exploration, (2) compared to the tropics, ambient sound levels in polar regions are more seasonally variable, and (3) individual elements beget the seasonal and annual variability of ambient sound levels in high latitudes. Understanding how the variability of natural and man-made contributors to sound may elicit differences in ocean soundscapes is essential to developing strategies to manage and conserve marine ecosystems and animals.