July 6, 2013
Whales flee from the loud military sonar used by navies to hunt submarines, new research has proven for the first time. The studies provide a missing link in the puzzle that has connected naval exercises around the world to unusual mass strandings of whales and dolphins.
Beaked whales, the most common casualty of the strandings, were shown to be highly sensitive to sonar. But the research also revealed unexpectedly that blue whales, the largest animals on Earth and whose population has plummeted by 95% in the last century, also abandoned feeding and swam rapidly away from sonar noise.
The strong response observed in the beaked whales occurred at noise levels well below those allowed for US navy exercises. “This result has to be taken into consideration by regulators and those planning naval exercises,” said Stacy DeRuiter, at the University of St Andrews in Scotland, who led one of the teams.