THE ASSOCIATED PRESS In this Jan.
23, 2005, file photo, a whale leaps out of the water in what is called
'breaching,' as seen from a whale watching boat operated by the Pacific Whale
Foundation in the channel off the town of Lahaina on the island of Maui in
drowning out song of whales
ROME - The songs
that whales and dolphins use to communicate, orient themselves and find mates
are being drowned out by human-made noises in the world's oceans, United
Nations officials and environmental groups said Wednesday.
That sound pollution - everything from increasing
commercial shipping and seismic surveys to a new generation of military sonar -
is not only confounding the mammals, it also is further threatening the
survival of these endangered animals.
Studies show that
these cetaceans, which once communicated over thousands of kilometres to forage
and mate, are losing touch with each other, the experts said on the sidelines
of a UN wildlife conference in Rome.
"Call it a
cocktail-party effect," said Mark Simmonds, director of the Whale and Dolphin
Conservation Society, a Britain-based group. "You have to speak louder and
louder until no one can hear each other anymore."
indirect source of noise pollution may also be coming from climate change,
which is altering the chemistry of the oceans and making sound travel farther
through sea water, the experts said.
more than 100 governments are gathered in Rome for a meeting of the UN-backed
Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals.
The agenda of the conference, which ends Friday, includes
ways to increase protection for endangered species, including measures to
mitigate underwater noise.
Environmental groups also are
increasingly finding cases of beached whales and dolphins that can be linked to
sound pollution, Simmonds said.
Marine mammals are
turning up on the world's beaches with tissue damage similar to that found in
divers suffering from decompression sickness. The condition, known as the
bends, causes gas bubbles to form in the bloodstream upon surfacing too
Scientists say the use of military sonar or
seismic testing may have scared the animals into diving and surfacing beyond
their physical limits, Simmonds said.
Several species of
cetaceans are already listed as endangered or critically endangered from other
causes, including hunting, chemical pollution, collisions with boats and
entanglements with fishing equipment. Though it is not yet known precisely how
many animals are affect ed, sound pollution is increasingly being recognized as
a serious factor, the experts said.
As an example,
Simmonds offered two incidents this year which, though still under study, could
be linked to noise pollution: the beaching of more than 100 melon-headed whales
in Madagascar and that of two dozen common dolphins on the southern British
The sound of a seismic test, used to lo cate
hydrocarbons beneath the seabed, can spread 3,000 kilometres under water, said
Veronica Frank, an official with the international Fund for Animal Welfare.
A study by her group found that the blue whale, which
used to communicate across entire oceans, has lost 90 per cent of its range
over the last 40 years.
Despite being the largest mammal
ever to inhabit Earth, the endangered blue whale still holds mysteries for
"We don't even know where their breeding
grounds are;' Simmonds said. "But what's most important is that they need to
know where they are."
Other research suggests that rising
levels of carbon dioxide are increasing the acidity of the Earth's oceans,
making sound travel farther through sea water.
by the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute in the United States shows the
changes may mean some sound frequencies are travelling 10 per cent farther than
a few centuries ago. That could increase to 70 per cent by 2050 if greenhouse
gases are not cut.
"This is a new, strange and unwanted
development;' Simmonds said. "It shows how the degradation of the environment
is all linked."
However, governments seem ready to take
action, said Nick Nutall, a spokesman for the UN Environment Program, which
administers the convention being discussed in Rome. The conference is
discussing a resolution that would oblige countries to reduce sound pollution,
Measures suggested include rerouting shipping
and installing quieter engines as well as cutting speed and banning tests and
sonar use in areas known to be inhabited by the endangered animals.