Jul 21 2012

Whales Show Signs of Coping With Man-Made Noise Underwater

By  | Senior Science Writer

Perhaps we can save the whales — or at least their hearing.

Scientists have long known that man-made, underwater noises — from engines, sonars, weapons testing, and such industrial tools as air guns used in oil and gas exploration — are deafening whales and other sea mammals. The Navy estimates that loud booms from just its underwater listening devices, mainly sonar, result in temporary or permanent hearing loss for more than a quarter-million sea creatures every year, a number that is rising.

Now, scientists have discovered that whales can decrease the sensitivity of their hearing to protect their ears from loud noise. Humans tend to do this with index fingers; scientists haven’t pinpointed how whales do it, but they have seen the first evidence of the behavior.

“It’s equivalent to plugging your ears when a jet flies over,” said Paul E. Nachtigall, a marine biologist at the University of Hawaii who led the discovery team. “It’s like a volume control.”

The finding, while preliminary, is already raising hopes for the development of warning signals that would alert whales, dolphins and other sea mammals to auditory danger.

Read the rest of the article online in The New York Times.

 

Leave a Reply