Whales get hearing aid

Posted on 05 July 2012    
Bowhead Whales seen in the Bering Sea during the April 2006 US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) Walrus Survey.
© USFSW/Brad Benter
Led by the United States delegation, several countries at the International Whaling Commission (IWC) meeting in Panama have agreed this week to take a step toward addressing the impacts on whales of ocean noise.

WWF has pressed the IWC and other national and international agencies to address the effects of noise on whales, especially seismic noise from oil and gas exploration. Countries including the United States, Australia and Argentina have confirmed that they’ll participate in an intersessional working group to address ocean noise, work on guidelines to mitigate noise, and map noise hotspots.

Noise pollution endangers marine mammals

Underwater noise pollution – introduced into the ocean as a byproduct of shipping, seismic testing during oil exploration, and military sonar – can cause temporary and permanent hearing loss, serious injury and even death in marine mammals.

"The cacophony of man-made noise in our oceans severely impacts the ability of whales to feed, navigate, communicate and, simply, to survive," said WWF's Leigh Henry. "Today, the IWC took a great first step in recognizing the significant threat posed by ocean noise and the necessity of addressing it if we are to secure any kind of future for the world's whales."

The Arctic is getting louder

The Arctic is home to 17 species of whales, including three particularly adapted to life at the ice edge - beluga, narwhal and the bowhead whale.

As summer sea ice in the Arctic shrinks, oil exploration and shipping -- and noise -- are on the rise. Seismic testing has already taken place on the coasts of several Arctic countries. Alaska's first offshore project is slated to begin in a few days, as Shell Oil Company starts drilling for oil and gas in Alaska’s Beaufort and Chukchi Seas, home to a subpopulation of bowhead whales listed as conservation dependent by IUCN. In Russia, the Northern Sea Route opened to commercial traffic in late June -- the earliest in history. Cargo shipping on the route is expected to double this year.

Bowhead Whales seen in the Bering Sea during the April 2006 US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) Walrus Survey.
© USFSW/Brad Benter Enlarge
Two narwhal (Monodon monoceros) surfacing to breathe in Admiralty Inlet, Lancaster Sound, Nunavut, Canada.
© Paul Nicklen/National Geographic Stock / WWF-Canada Enlarge
Beluga whales trapped at ice hole (Delphinapterus leucas) too far away to reach open sea, Canadian High Arctic
© WWF / Sue Flood, naturepl.com Enlarge

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