Feces sniffing dogs and the timing of a national tragedy helped scientists get their proof that the sound of ships is stressing whales out.
The research, printed in the Royal Society journal Proceedings B , had already been underway in the Bay of Fundy in Canada in separate forms when al-Qaida terrorists attacked the United States in 2001. The aftermath of the attacks included a decrease in shipping, which led to less underwater background noise.
Scientists noticed there was also a decrease in stress-related hormones in the whales they were studying.
Veterinarian Rosalind Rolland of the New England Aquarium told Science magazine that researchers had figured the sound of the ships had disturbed baleen whales’ use of low-frequency sounds to communicate. They had no way to control the amount of background noise, but the aftermath of the tragedy took care of that problem.
Her team located the feces by using a dog’s nose as a sort of poop detector. She studied the hormone level in an attempt to figure out a sort of whale pregnancy test.
The research on the ship noise was unrelated, but she figured out that she could combine the two data sets.
What they found out over the next four years was that the only year that saw a decrease in stress hormones was 2001, when there was also a decrease in ship traffic.
“This is the first time that anyone’s documented any physiological effect,” Rolland told the BBC . “These are after all 50 ton animals so they don’t make terribly easy things to study.”
She told Science that these findings show there should be reason for concern about how the noise is affecting ocean life. She added it isn’t only ships but oil and gas exploration, wind farms and sonar as well.
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