BRAHSS - Behavioral Response of Australian Humpback Whales to Seismic Surveys

Open Access Report 2019

Final Report

The project has demonstrated the importance of obtaining an adequate sample size of active and control treatments and baseline data, to ensure that responses to exposure to air guns can be distinguished from normal behavior. Whales exhibit a wide range of behaviors during normal social activity. Without the baseline studies, normal behaviors might have been attributed to responses to the air gun sounds. Baseline data are also needed to place behavioral responses into the context of normal behavior. Without controls, responses to the source vessel might have been attributed to the air gun sounds. The success of the project owes a lot to the quality of the staff, with their extensive experience working at sea and their expertise across all the disciplines required, from biology to acoustics. The complexity of the experiments and the number of personnel in the field increased with each experiment and was almost 100 in 2014 with the full seismic array. This worked, because we had a well-developed management structure with division of personnel into teams who were well experienced in working together. Volunteers were mainly well-qualified early career scientists, with an appropriate degree and experience and with our extensive training they performed very well. The sound propagation measurements showed that propagation in shallow water can be quite variable in a way that could not be predicted by propagation models without detailed information about the sea bed, and such information is usually not available. Measurements are necessary to provide adequate predictions of sound levels received by whales.

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