Behavioral and physiological response of baleen whales to ships and ship noise

Open Access Report

Cascadia Research Collective

This study began in late 2013 with the primary goal of examining the behavioral and physiological response of baleen whales to ships and ship noise off California using a combination of opportunistic and controlled research. Ship noise has been identified as the major source of anthropogenic noise in the oceans especially in areas of high vessel traffic. Ship strikes are also a growing concern especially for several species including blue and right whales that appear to be particularly susceptible. Initial research demonstrated the feasibility of documenting whale response to opportunistic close approaches of ships in areas of high levels of ship traffic particularly near known high concentrations of whales off California (McKenna et al. 2015). This juxtaposition has resulted in high levels of ship strikes (Berman-Kowalewski et al. 2010) as well as potential impacts of ship noise on blue whales (Melcon et al. 2012) and other species. In this study we continue research on behavioral response of baleen whales to ship close approaches and specifically examine how this varies with ship speed;one strategy proposed to mitigate ship strikes. We also test the response of blue whales to controlled playback of ship noise to determine the cues blue whales respond to and also to allow comparison between the response to ship noise and other anthropogenic sounds like mid-frequency sonar. To gain insight into whether ship noise and frequent passages of ships might be causing a stress response, the study includes collaboration with SWFSC to compare stress hormone levels in blue whales feeding for extended periods in areas of high ship traffic with those feeding away from shipping lanes.

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