Human-generated noise noted as key factor endangering whales off East Coast

Noise from ships, vessels and seismic exploration for oil and gas is impeding their survival

Scientists who evaluate the health of whales have added three of the aquatic mammals to the list of threatened species in Canada’s waters due in part to human-created noise. Sowerby’s Beaked whales are seen in an undated handout photo in a marine protected zone off the Nova Scotia coast. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Dalhousie University, Whitehead Lab)

Canadian scientists say human-made sounds in the ocean are a key factor contributing to the threatened status of three types of whales off the east coast.

The Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada released its findings today on the sei whale, fin whale and Sowerby’s beaked whale following a gathering of 43 scientists in St. John’s, N.L., over the weekend.

READ MORE: Vancouver Aquarium, Ontario’s Marineland shipping beluga whales out of country

Researchers who study marine mammal populations say that the continuing low numbers of the sei whale in the aftermath of decades of whaling led them to ask for an endangered designation.

They also found that the fin whales and the Sowerby’s beaked whales should continue to be designated as species “of special concern.”

Hal Whitehead, the co-chair of the marine mammals sub-committee, says the whales’ assessments are linked to fishing gear entanglements and the whales being struck by the increasing number of large ships in the Atlantic Ocean.

The Dalhousie University scientist says that in addition, the growing levels of noise from ships, navy vessels and ongoing seismic exploration for oil and gas is impeding the whales communication and survival.

He says the Sowerby’s beaked whale, which is slower and smaller than the fin and sei, is believed to be particularly susceptible to noise pollution.

The committee’s news release says that much like bats, the Sowerby’s beaked whale uses sound to navigate and to hunt, and the human-generated noise impairs the whale’s ability to find its way.

Whitehead says the hope is that the federal government will take steps to protect habitat for the whales by adding to the size and number of marine protected areas.

The Canadian Press

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