Ship Noise Prevents Killer Whales From Catching Prey

Posted: Feb 4 2016, 9:58pm CST | by , in News | Latest Science News

 
Ship Noise Prevents Killer Whales to Catch their Prey
The male orca uses echolocation to find his food in Haro Strait, WA, USA. Credit: beamreach.org

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Ship noise interferes with killer whales or orcas ability to locate their prey and it eventually has an impact on their survival.

Ship noise poses huge threat to endangered killer whales. According to a new research published in Peer Journal, ship noise disrupts the ability of killer whales to locate their prey, which eventually has an impact on their survival.

Killer whales or orcas use clicks and listen to their echoes in the murky waters of oceans but noise created by ships extends to frequencies used by these whales and interferes with their ability to catch their prey.

To understand the impact of ship noise, researchers looked at 1,600 ships as they passed through Haro Strait, in Washington State. The area is a critical habitat of endangered salmon-eating Orcas and also a popular tourist destination which helps earn millions of dollars every year.

Orcas use mid and high frequencies to communicate and find their prey. Therefore, researchers measured a wide range of frequencies from 10 Hz to 40,000 Hz. Results showed that ships were responsible for elevating underwater noise pollution and were potentially interfering with communication and echolocation of killer whales.

Commercial shipping has intensified noise frequency almost 10 times since 1960, which is dangerous for both whales which either use low frequency to track their prey such as baleen whales or higher frequency used by killer whales or orcas.

Research found that military ships produced the lowest frequency while container ships exhibited the highest levels among at all frequencies below 20,000 Hz (killer whales can hear best up to 20,000 Hz).

The only way the noise pollution can be reduced is slowing down their speed. On average, each reduction in ship’s speed by 1 knot could reduce broadband noise levels by 1 dB.

Veirs S, Veirs V, Wood JD. (2016) Ship noise extends to frequencies used for echolocation by endangered killer whales. PeerJ 4:e1657 https://doi.org/10.7717/peerj.1657

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