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      Evidence that ship noise increases stress in right whales

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          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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          How Do Glucocorticoids Influence Stress Responses? Integrating Permissive, Suppressive, Stimulatory, and Preparative Actions

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            Acoustic masking in marine ecosystems: intuitions, analysis, and implication

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              Corticosterone levels predict survival probabilities of Galapagos marine iguanas during El Nino events.

              Plasma levels of corticosterone are often used as a measure of "stress" in wild animal populations. However, we lack conclusive evidence that different stress levels reflect different survival probabilities between populations. Galápagos marine iguanas offer an ideal test case because island populations are affected differently by recurring El Niño famine events, and population-level survival can be quantified by counting iguanas locally. We surveyed corticosterone levels in six populations during the 1998 El Niño famine and the 1999 La Niña feast period. Iguanas had higher baseline and handling stress-induced corticosterone concentrations during famine than feast conditions. Corticosterone levels differed between islands and predicted survival through an El Niño period. However, among individuals, baseline corticosterone was only elevated when body condition dropped below a critical threshold. Thus, the population-level corticosterone response was variable but nevertheless predicted overall population health. Our results lend support to the use of corticosterone as a rapid quantitative predictor of survival in wild animal populations.

                Author and article information

                Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
                Proc. R. Soc. B
                The Royal Society
                February 15 2012
                June 22 2012
                February 08 2012
                June 22 2012
                : 279
                : 1737
                : 2363-2368
                [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
                © 2012


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