One of the most difficult problems faced by those charged with protecting animals from anthropogenic noise in marine environments is decision-making in the absence of essential information. The mysticetes, or baleen whales, are species of particular concern with respect to this issue for several reasons, including their dependence on sound for social communication, their global distribution, and their vulnerable conservation status following massive human exploitation over the past several centuries. Presently, there is an immediate need for reliable estimates of hearing sensitivity in mysticetes; however, scientists face numerous challenges in acquiring this information. A coordinated research strategy that identifies possible technical approaches to this problem, evaluates potential benefits and limitations of these approaches, prioritizes technology development and research efforts, and outlines funding and logistical requirements, is the vital first step towards addressing a topic of this scale and significance. This paper suggests such a research strategy for the Joint Industry Programme on Sound and Marine Life, whose interest and action with respect to this problem may significantly advance current understanding of whales and sound in the oceans.
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