In a noisy room, humans will yell to be heard, eventually giving up when communication becomes impossible. Now researchers have found that North Atlantric right whales, too, get louder in response to the noise level of their environment.
Left unanswered is what might happen when an increasingly noisy ocean becomes too loud for easy communication.
Monitoring 14 right whales — seven males and seven females — in the Bay of Fundy, Canada, researchers from Pennsylvania State University, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute and Duke University found that the animals’ call amplitude rose proportionately as background noise increased. Their study was published in the July issue of Biology Letters.
“Whales are compensating for increased ocean noise by going up in volume when they call to one another, which is basically the same thing that humans do when they’re trying to talk in really noisy bars,” said Joseph Gaydos, chief scientist for the SeaDoc Society at UC Davis, who was not involved in the study.
Previous studies had shown that numerous species of animals, including some whales, alter their call amplitudes in response to rising noise levels. This is the first study to show that right whales do this as well, expanding the number of species potentially affected by man-made changes in their auditory environment.