Singing humpback whales respond to wind noise, but not to vessel noise

Proc Biol Sci. 2023 May 10;290(1998):20230204. doi: 10.1098/rspb.2023.0204. Epub 2023 May 10.


Animal communication systems evolved in the presence of noise generated by natural sources. Many species can increase the source levels of their sounds to maintain effective communication in elevated noise conditions, i.e. they have a Lombard response. Human activities generate additional noise in the environment creating further challenges for these animals. Male humpback whales are known to adjust the source levels of their songs in response to wind noise, which although variable is always present in the ocean. Our study investigated whether this Lombard response increases when singing males are exposed to additional noise generated by motor vessels. Humpback whale singers were recorded off eastern Australia using a fixed hydrophone array. The source levels of the songs produced while the singers were exposed to varying levels of wind noise and vessel noise were measured. Our results show that, even when vessel noise is dominant, singing males still adjust the source levels of their songs to compensate for the underlying wind noise, and do not further increase their source levels to compensate for the additional noise produced by the vessel. Understanding humpback whales’ response to noise is important for developing mitigation policies for anthropogenic activities at sea.

PMID:37161338 | DOI:10.1098/rspb.2023.0204


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