Cities and suburbs have recently experienced a surge in wildlife activity as lockdown measures reduce human activity. From waterways clearing to air pollution dropping, there has also been a decrease in oceanic noise pollution. Researchers are developing insights as to how this affects the whale population and their communication. The silence beneath the waves is showing to be optimal for the gentle giants and it is important that we listen.
Ocean Networks Canada is a seabed observatory near the port of Vancouver where researchers have found a significant drop in low-frequency sounds often caused by ships.
While many wonder when flights, businesses, and events will return researchers take advantage of the silence to learn more about our underwater worlds. However, funding is needed to continue this work.
“Generally, we know underwater noise at this frequency has effects on marine mammals,” Barclay said. His research has been published in The Narwhal.
“There has been a consistent drop in noise since 1 January, which has amounted to a change of four or five decibels in the period up to 1 April,” he said. Economic data from the port showed a drop of around 20% in exports and imports over the same period, he said.
As a global community, we are poised at an important time to listen. The buzz of our world has reduced to a low hum and there is a lot to be discovered in that. From a societal perspective, we have an open window of time to reflect on how we once led our lives and reimagine how we want to continue. In this case, we are also presented with a silent soundscape to reflect on the consequences our imprint leaves on marine life.
“We are facing a moment of truth,” said Michelle Fournet, a marine acoustician at Cornell University, who studies humpback whales in south-east Alaska. “We have an opportunity to listen – and that opportunity to listen will not appear again in our lifetime.”
“We get this window, we get a snapshot into life without humans. And then when we come rushing back, that window will close,” she continues.
“It’s really an important time to listen.”
Studies are still in development yet it is clear, for most humans, that noise leaves lasting effects on the ability to focus and relax. In a case where whales rely on communication to hunt and mate, it is sure that this silence will allow for better living conditions. The next question is how will we take what we learn and apply it post-lockdown?
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