ITHACA, N.Y. -- Humpback whales seem not to be bothered as they swim near a scaled-down version of the Acoustic Thermometry of Ocean Climate (ATOC) underwater speakers that produce a sound some critics fear would harm them, a Cornell University team of biologists has reported to the National Marine Fisheries Service.
When the independent biologists, who are hired to monitor marine mammal behavior before and during the ATOC experiment, previewed the low-frequency sound for the whales, nearby pods of humpbacks carried on as if it were just another noisy day in the ocean.
"In 84 trials beginning in February and continuing through March off the Kona-Kohala coast of Hawaii, we saw no overt response from the whales. For example, a cow-calf pod remained about 100 meters from our playback boat throughout an entire playback," said Adam S. Frankel Ph.D., the biologist from the Cornell Bioacoustics Research Program who directed the study. "We saw whales swim directly under the playback boat to join others in their pod, and in at least one case, a humpback continued singing very close to the speaker."
Previous observations of ATOC transmissions at Pioneer Seamount, the California coastal site for the other ATOC speaker, also found no sign of disturbance among marine mammals, including elephant seals and several whale species. Full operation of the controversial ATOC experiment is subject to approval of the National Marine Fisheries Service, which is reviewing reports from the Marine Mammal Research Program.
Start-up of ATOC was delayed in 1994 when some biologists and environmentalist
groups expressed concern that ATOC sounds could harm -- or even deafen -- whales and
other marine mammals with sensitive hearing. Run by Scripps Institution of
Oceanography, ATOC seeks to measure global ocean temperature by transmitting sound
signals along deep-ocean paths from California and Hawaiian speakers to 18 receivers
Contact: Roger Segelken
Cornell University News Service