April, 2016

Posted on 04/21//16

Guest blogger Nigella Hillgarth is President and CEO of the New England Aquarium and a W2O board member

Several hundred years ago there was said to be a strange and fierce sea creature that attacked ships.  The Water-Owl or Ziphius had the body of a fish and a head of an owl with huge eyes and a beak-like a sword. Today we think the animal behind these stories is Cuvier’s beaked whale or Goose-beaked whale. This deep water whale is the most widely distributed beaked whale species.

In early February I was on a sailing ship in the Caribbean passing through the channel between St Lucia and Martinique.  It is deep in that area –  several thousand feet and suitable for beaked whales. I was not thinking about whales at the time because I was busy photographing the brown boobies that were following the ship. Suddenly a robust, chocolate brown animal appeared next to the ship below me. I took as many photographs as I could before it disappeared into the deep. I was pretty certain I had seen a beaked whale but I had no idea what species.  It was not large – about 10 to 12 feet long but had the typical curved dorsal fin towards the back of the body and a strange elongated and slightly bulbous head. When I returned one of our marine mammal scientists at the New England Aquarium identified it as a young Cuvier’s beaked whale. I feel so lucky to have seen one of these elusive animals.

Cuvier’s beaked whales can dive deeper than any other marine mammal. A recent study shows that at least one individual went down as far as 9,816 feet!  Not much is known about these elusive and extreme divers, but there is concern that noise in the ocean from sonar and seismic testing may cause these whales to strand.  There is evidence to suggest that some of these stranded animals have surfaced too quickly and developed damage similar to that of the bends in humans.

Noise in the ocean is a serious threat to marine mammals and other marine life.  Commercial shipping noise, sonar testing and seismic surveys can clearly have significant, long-lasting, and widespread impacts on marine mammal and fish populations. Normally, when we think about pollution in the seas we don’t think about noise. We think about plastics and chemicals and ghost fishing nets.  Noise in its various forms is just as big a problem for life in the ocean.  If we care about the future of strange and elusive mammals such as the ‘Water-owl’ we need to understand and mitigate noise impacts in the ocean far more than at present.

Photo: Nigella Hillgarth

Learn more about seismic testing and how you can help stop ocean noise HERE

 

Posted on 04/06//16

Stop Ocean Noise That Threatens Marine Life

We think of our oceans as a silent underwater world. In reality, the ocean is full of noise. Diving on any given day, anywhere in the world, you might hear fish chomping, waves crashing, mammals calling to each other and even rain falling. Sink a hydrophone in the ocean and discover a marine jungle of animal noises from the tiniest shrimp to the largest blue whale. Marine life depends on this soundscape for mating, finding food, navigation and avoiding predation.

Keith Ellenbogen's school of Bigeye Trevally

Keith Ellenbogen’s school of Bigeye Trevally

This ocean cacophony was all natural until the advent of the industrial revolution when human-made sounds from blasting, drilling, military, and shipping began drowning out these important biological cues.  To search for oil and gas, arrays of airguns are towed behind ships and release intense blasts of compressed air into the water–think about a dynamite explosion underwater every 10 seconds for days and sometimes months on end. Airgun noise can displace and confuse whales, dolphins and porpoises by interfering with their ability to communicate.

Recently, the Obama administration moved to prohibit lease sales for testing in the Mid and South Atlantic for 2017-22. That decision does not halt seismic permitting in the Atlantic. The federal government will likely propose opening up Atlantic waters for oil and gas exploration with airgun surveys, affecting many marine mammal species, including the endangered North Atlantic right whale. According to the Department of Interior’s own estimates, the proposed seismic airgun array blasting in the Atlantic could harm up to 138,00 whales and disrupt their behavior over 13 million times. Take action to stop ocean noise. Tell your elected officials that you do not want them to support seismic testing.

Use this template to email or mail your Senator to stop ocean noise.  Use this link, Find your Senator or Congresswoman/Congressman for the address.

If you live in Massachusetts:
Letter to MA Senator Markey

Letter to MA Senator Warren

Your voice matters!