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Researchers To Study Effects Of Noise On Marine Mammals

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Aired 8/13/10

Researchers will soon begin examining how loud noises affect the behavior of marine mammals off the Southern California Coast. The California Coastal Commission gave its approval to the project at a meeting Thursday.

Researchers will soon begin examining how loud noises affect the behavior of marine mammals off the Southern California Coast. The California Coastal Commission gave its approval to the project at a meeting Thursday.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Navy are collaborating on the five-year project. Noises used for the experiments will reach about 160 decibels.

Researchers will be tracking changed in animals’ diving and vocal behaviors.

“So, it involves putting tags on these animals and monitoring their behavior before, during and after their exposure to different kinds of sounds, including sounds that simulate military sonar,” said Dr. Brandon Southall, a member of the research team.

The research proposal’s approval was delayed by commissioners’ concerns that the noise could harm wildlife. One hundred sixty decibels is far louder than even the sound of a jet engine. One particular worry was that the sounds would cause dependent whale calves to separate from their mothers.

The research plan was modified to explicitly require that experiments be stopped if they appear to be causing harm.

“If we have any indications that there’s a physical separation of mother and calves that we would take basically a safe interpretation of that in implementing the shut down," Southall said. "And, I’ll be the one on the ship saying, turn it down.”

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