Short- and long-term changes in right whale calling behavior: the potential effects of noise on acoustic communication. Academic Article uri icon

abstract

  • The impact of anthropogenic noise on marine mammals has been an area of increasing concern over the past two decades. Most low-frequency anthropogenic noise in the ocean comes from commercial shipping which has contributed to an increase in ocean background noise over the past 150 years. The long-term impacts of these changes on marine mammals are not well understood. This paper describes both short- and long-term behavioral changes in calls produced by the endangered North Atlantic right whale (Eubalaena glacialis) and South Atlantic right whale (Eubalaena australis) in the presence of increased low-frequency noise. Right whales produce calls with a higher average fundamental frequency and they call at a lower rate in high noise conditions, possibly in response to masking from low-frequency noise. The long-term changes have occurred within the known lifespan of individual whales, indicating that a behavioral change, rather than selective pressure, has resulted in the observed differences. This study provides evidence of a behavioral change in sound production of right whales that is correlated with increased noise levels and indicates that right whales may shift call frequency to compensate for increased band-limited background noise.

publication date

  • December 2007