Scientists have discovered that noise emitted from ships can cause chronic stress to whales, a problem that is particularly heightened around busy shipping lanes.

Scientists have discovered that noise emitted from ships can cause chronic stress to whales, a problem that is particularly heightened around busy shipping lanes.

Published earlier this year, the study explored the levels of hormones found in the faecal balls of the Right Whales. During periods of low shipping traffic, researchers found significantly lower levels of hormones associated with stress in the faecal balls than in periods of high marine traffic.

The research was carried out in Canadian waters rather fortuitously during a period of low shipping traffic in 2001. Shortly after the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the US less vessels were allowed to operate in North American waters because of the threat of further terrorist attacks, hence opening up an opportunity to investigate the effects of less shipping activity.

Background noise levels have risen by 10 dB from the 1960s to 1990s. Since then the rise has been at a slower pace, however compared to the 1960s the range at which a whale could hear its companion has been reduced significantly.

Just last month, a Dutch Seas At Risk member organisation, the North Sea Foundation called for action on underwater noise.

As part of their ‘Sound Solutions’ campaign the Dutch group are focusing on offshore wind energy and aim to reduce the negative effects associated with noise whilst doing so in a way that should not mean a delay to future offshore wind farm development.

Under the EU’s Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD), Member States are obliged to take action on under water noise. In July of this year states have to set out their objectives for achieving Good Environmental Status by 2020 under the MSFD.

Noise is also now on the agenda of the UN’s International Maritime Organisation.

 

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