Whale protection: Noise pollution from oil and gas exploration is on the increase

Earlier this month, scientists released information on an unplanned finding of a long running study they were conducting on stress levels in whales in Canada’s Bay of Fundy. Their monitoring continued throughout the period just after the bombing of the Twin Towers and to their surprise, the stress levels in the whales reduced markedly in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attack in New York.

Their explanation? That in the days following the attack most commercial shipping as well as oil and gas production in the North Atlantic stopped.

This is a sad but also significant conclusion. While it’s already known that ocean noise is a major threat to whales, this new study, led by the New England Aquarium in Boston, is the first to show a link between chronic stress in whales and low-frequency noise from shipping. A result welcomed, I can imagine, by whales everywhere!

Hearing is the most important sense for whales. All baleen whales communicate using low frequency sounds and the noise from large ships overlaps these signals. Imagine yourself surrounded by almost constant noise so disturbing you are unable to communicate, navigate or even orientate yourself to find food. We know that blue whales are producing louder sounds than before, possibly to be heard over the background noise. 

Noise pollution from shipping and oil and gas exploration is on the increase and Australia is not immune. As a large, relatively remote island continent, Australia’s economy is reliant on shipping. Almost all imports and exports are carried by ship and Australia’s busy ports manage some ten percent of the global sea trade. Additionally, a vast increase in oil and gas development in our North-west means shipping traffic is on the rise here too, bringing with it increased noise..  Add in the accompanying seismic testing, dredging and construction and the whales that live in and migrate through the tranquil waters of the North-west may never experience a peaceful moment again.

What can be done? By letting our Federal Government know that you do not accept continued damaging oil and gas development in our North-west, you will not only be helping safeguard one of our most precious and most vulnerable whale and dolphin habitats but you’ll be helping to keep our whale stress free as well. 

-- IM

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