VIDEO: Method seeks noise protections for whales

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A bioacoustics engineer at Cornell University is hoping the computer animation he developed will lead to more water restrictions and protections for whales, particularly from whale-watching boats.

Chris Clark developed a moving visualization of what he calls noise smog created by whale-watching boats in Puget Sound in Washington state.

In one video he shows how boat traffic moving through water outside Boston silences whale echolocation. In another video he shows how whale-watching boats near San Juan Island hurt the ability of orcas to receive sound signals needed to find food.

In the video of whales near Boston, moving blue dots represent whales to show how they disappear when the boats, represented by yellow or red dots, pass over.

“When the light of the whale disappears under the acoustic footprint of the ship, that whale has lost all its opportunity to communicate with other whales,” Clark told KING TV 5, an NBC affiliate in Seattle.

His visualization comes as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is taking public comments regarding a proposed orca protection zone in Puget Sound. The comment period lasts until April 13.

Opponents of the proposed regulation say it punishes a small group of boats without affecting large-boat traffic. Clark counters by saying a small whale-watching boat can be just as damaging as a larger vessel if its motor’s noise is a lower-pitched sound.

Clark met with federal officials from NOAA in Seattle to show them the noise he believes is killing killer whales. He traveled from New York on behalf of a group petitioning for tighter whale-watching regulations and a protection zone around San Juan Island.

“Realize this: The phenomenon of ocean noise from humans is a relatively new event,” he said.


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