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      Evidence that ship noise increases stress in right whales

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          Abstract

          Baleen whales (Mysticeti) communicate using low-frequency acoustic signals. These long-wavelength sounds can be detected over hundreds of kilometres, potentially allowing contact over large distances. Low-frequency noise from large ships (20-200 Hz) overlaps acoustic signals used by baleen whales, and increased levels of underwater noise have been documented in areas with high shipping traffic. Reported responses of whales to increased noise include: habitat displacement, behavioural changes and alterations in the intensity, frequency and intervals of calls. However, it has been unclear whether exposure to noise results in physiological responses that may lead to significant consequences for individuals or populations. Here, we show that reduced ship traffic in the Bay of Fundy, Canada, following the events of 11 September 2001, resulted in a 6 dB decrease in underwater noise with a significant reduction below 150 Hz. This noise reduction was associated with decreased baseline levels of stress-related faecal hormone metabolites (glucocorticoids) in North Atlantic right whales (Eubalaena glacialis). This is the first evidence that exposure to low-frequency ship noise may be associated with chronic stress in whales, and has implications for all baleen whales in heavy ship traffic areas, and for recovery of this endangered right whale population.

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          Most cited references 20

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                Author and article information

                Journal
                Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
                Proc. R. Soc. B
                The Royal Society
                0962-8452
                1471-2954
                February 15 2012
                June 22 2012
                February 08 2012
                June 22 2012
                : 279
                : 1737
                : 2363-2368
                Affiliations
                [1 ]Research Department, New England Aquarium, Boston, MA 02110, USA
                [2 ]Applied Research Laboratory, The Pennsylvania State University, State College, PA 16804, USA
                [3 ]Alaska Fisheries Science Center, NOAA National Marine Mammal Laboratory, Seattle, WA 98115, USA
                [4 ]Bioacoustics Research Program, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY 14850, USA
                [5 ]Nicholas School of the Environment and Pratt School of Engineering, Duke University Marine Laboratory, Beaufort, NC 28516, USA
                [6 ]Center for Conservation Biology, Department of Biology, University of Washington, Seattle, WA 98195, USA
                Article
                10.1098/rspb.2011.2429
                3350670
                22319129
                © 2012

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