How whale songs can help us explore the ocean


Illustration for the article How Whale Songs Can Help Us Explore the Ocean

Photo: David mcnew (fake images)

Some whale songs can give scientists valuable information on the geography of the ocean, according to to study published Thursday in Science magazine. Furthermore, thIts ridges can be used as a form of seismic testing, which uses bursts of sound to map the ocean floor. Forms of this technology it can be harmful to whales and other marine life.

If only we had listened more closely to the whales, we may not have needed to develop certain practices that hurt them.

“I’m not entirely surprised by this study,” said Michael Jasny, director of the Marine Mammal Protection Project at NRDC. “And if I had been asked to guess which animal this study used, I would have said fin whales. Fin whale calls they have for some years been mistaken for a regular geological wail … It took some time before oceanographers realized that it was actually an animal. “

Jasny, who was not involved in this study, noted that scientists and some industries that rely on seismic testing have been exploring for years how to replace natural sounds, including geological noises and animal sounds, with human-made ones.

Fin whales can scream quite loud, hydrologically speaking. Your calls can reach up to 189 decibelslouder than firecrackers or gunshots and comparable to the noises of large ships, explains the study. They are also remarkably consistent: Fin whales Assemble individual calls into long, low-frequency songs. It can go on for hours, taking short breaks only to surface for air.

This constant noise, the study found, it has valuable information stored inside it. The researchers analyzed six different songs, ranging from 2.5 to 5 hours, from individual whales captured at ocean floor seismometer stations off the Oregon coast, which were initially installed to monitor seismic activity along a fault zone.

“The powerful sound waves these songs produce reverberate and refract through the rock layers below the station,” the study notes. The researchers were able to use these recordings to gather information about the sediment along the floor, as well as the crust beneath it. “Our study demonstrates that animal vocalizations are useful not only for studying the animals themselves, but also for investigating the environment they inhabit,” the authors write.

It is useful to know what is happening at the bottom of the ocean for a variety of different reasons. Unfortunately, the search for oil and gas reserves along the ocean floor has become one of the most common:Y more disruptiveuses of technology. To survey the seafloor, the fossil fuel industry uses seismic guns that fire incredibly loud explosions, disturbing marine mammals that They have evolved to use sound as their primary underwater navigator.

The seismic cannons “are towed behind the boats on the surface of the water,” Jasny explained. “The sounds they generate have to go down through the water column, hundreds or thousands of meters, penetrate the seabed, penetrate layers of sediment …5, 10 miles to what the industry cares about:and then the sound has to come back up and be received by the ship to convey information that is worth millions or billions of dollars. “

“Air pistols fire approximately every 10 seconds or so for weeks or months. I“It just breaks the fabric of ocean life,” he continued. “Studies have been done indicating that it could mask the songs of whales, particularly fin and humpback whales, thousands of kilometers from the source—so a single seismic study could interfere with fin whale breeding. “

The study is quick to point out that fin whale songs probably won’t replace these kinds of high-powered seismic studies. Fortunately, as the price of oil plummets around the world and the search for new offshore reserves becomes a riskier financial gamble, the industry has suffered a series of setbacks in its drive to find more oil. even national legislation to prohibit the practice in certain areas and concentrated local opposition.

Still, there are other uses of seismic technology that do not serve fossil fuels. and that could be helped by new research on the use of natural sounds. Offshore construction work, for example including the construction of offshore wind turbines and other renewable infrastructure, it needs to be based on data about what is on the ocean floor to properly locate projects.

“In general, there is great potential in using a large number of sounds that are both geological and biological …[this is] an exciting study, ”said Jasny. “It makes you think of the sounds that animals make as another engine of human exploration. There is so much we don’t know about the oceans. “

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