Wildlife Acoustics Blog

Whales

Whales might be protecting their ears

Whales might be protecting their ears

Humans may be working on reducing underwater noise for whales and other marine life, but it looks like whales are already taking matters into their own hands…or fins.

It’s clear that the level of noise in the ocean has increased with industrialization. Today, sea creatures have to contend with the racket from sonar, boat engines, oil rigs, and more. In fact, it is estimated that just the noise from underwater Navy testing alone is leading to temporary or permanent hearing loss of at least a quarter of a million underwater critters every year.

The physiological effects of extremely loud noise on whales is evident deafness, tissue damage, and mass strandings.

Whales seem to be adapting to this acoustical assault. Using special suction cup electrodes connected to whales and dolphins in captivity, Dr. Nachtigall of the Marine Mammal Research Program was able to measure and study hearing sensitivity. He played a gentle warning tone to one whale in particular, Kina, and then followed it with a louder tone repeatedly and noticed Kina’s ability to reduce her hearing sensitivity when she anticipated a loud noise.

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