Flawed Noise Experiment Carried Out On Whales

Posted on July 26th 2022

A study of whale response to ocean noise was carried out in June this year. The experiment was opposed by conservationists and ended with no measurable results except causing stress to juvenile minke whales.

No reliable results recorded

The experiment was set up by researchers connected with the US Navy, Norway’s defence department, various government agencies and companies within the energy sector. The research aims to capture 12 juvenile minke whales, holding them for up to four days off the coast of Norway and measuring their reaction to naval sonar and noise from oil and gas exploration. However, the team failed to get any reliable results.

Conservation groups such as The Animal Welfare Institute (AWI) and Whale and Dolphin Conservation (WDC) had repeatedly asked the Norwegian government to stop the approved study.

Desire to test stress levels

The study requires a mile long net to herd juvenile minke whales in to an enclosure. Then whales from the group are separated and captured within individual cages. The team then attach electrodes to the animals to measure brain waves for up to 6 hours to see how the animal reacts to underwater noise. Blood samples are also taken to check for stress markers.

The US government is spending $3.7 million to co fund this experiment. Energy companies also contributed funds.

Conservationists concerned

Conservationists are concerned that the data from this study will be used incorrectly. Past studies of a similar nature have failed to form any practical conservation and management measures, and the same could be the case for the latest tests. They fear that this ‘flawed’ study may be used by the defence and energy industries as a means to justify their activities.

Testing failed

Last year the first phase of the research ended without testing being carried out because a juvenile whale was trapped for 8 hours in the net before escaping. A humpback whale was also captured accidentally.
This year, two juvenile whales were captured but only one whale was moved to the cordoned off area for research. That whale was released following signs of stress. It is not known if the research team followed the whale after release to continue to monitor its stress levels.

Those that are opposed to the experiments are angry that the team plan to try again next year. It is already known that noise from oil and gas exploration and military sonar has adverse effects on whales and other marine life. Conservationists think that the money spent on the experiments would be better placed on reducing the noise pollution in the ocean, not testing to see how stressful the current noise levels are.


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