Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Unique study shows oil, gas seismic work not affecting Gulf sperm whales

26.08.2008
Noise can be irritating and possibly harmful for everything from mice to humans – and maybe even 60-foot whales in the Gulf of Mexico.

In recent years, there has been concern that man-made noise may be a cause of stress for dolphins, whales and other marine mammals, but the results of a five-year study show that noise pollution – especially noise generated by seismic airguns during geophysical exploration for oil and gas – seems to have minimal effect on endangered sperm whales in the Gulf of Mexico, say researchers from Texas A&M University who led the project and released their 323-page report today at the Houston Museum of Natural Science.

The multi-year $9 million study, the largest of its type ever undertaken and formally titled Sperm Whale Seismic Study in the Gulf of Mexico, was conducted by the Minerals Management Service and featured cooperation with the Office of Naval Research, the National Science Foundation and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. The project brought together researchers from eight universities, but it was managed overall by Texas A&M's Department of Oceanography, with research scientist Ann Jochens and professor Doug Biggs serving as principal investigators.

"The bottom line is that airgun noise from seismic surveys that are thousands of yards distant does not drive away sperm whales living in the Gulf," Biggs explains.

"However, some individual whales feeding at depth reduced the rate at which they searched acoustically for their prey when scientists carried out controlled exposure experiments by bringing seismic surveys close by the whales. As a result, the oil and gas industry has agreed to a best-practice attitude that seismic surveys should shut down temporarily when towed airguns come within one-third of a mile of whales or groups of whales in the Gulf."

Though not often seen, sperm whales are regular visitors to and residents in the Gulf of Mexico. They are the largest of all toothed whales and can reach lengths of 60 feet or more and live 60 years or longer. Their primary diet is squid and fish and they have been known to dive as deep as 7,000 feet. Humans no longer hunt them for their oil, but the whale in Herman Melville's classic novel Moby Dick was a sperm whale.

Sperm whales are not often seen because they prefer to stay in the deep waters of the Gulf, usually in depths of 3,000 feet or more and at least 150 miles offshore, Biggs says.

"Sperm whales go to where their food source is, and that means very deep water. So folks that do see them are marine mammal observers who ride the seismic survey vessels and the workers on the big oil and gas rigs, and even that does not happen often," Biggs adds.

The primary concern facing the scientific research group was noise – there's more of it in the world's oceans than you might think. A study by the Scripps Institution of Oceanography shows that the world's oceans are 10 times noisier since the 1960s, and at any one time, there are as many as 30,000 ships circling the globe.

Biggs says that over the course of five summers, 98 sperm whales were tagged with devices that relayed back critical data such as measurements about sound levels and behavioral aspects of whales, including tracking their movements. Of particular concern was the effect that loud low-frequency noises, such as those created by seismic activity, might have on sperm whales in the area.

Oil and gas companies prospect for subsea reservoirs by firing air guns during their seismic work, which government regulators thought might negatively affect sperm whale behavior. Also, the sheer volume of work being done in the Gulf was another concern: The Gulf of Mexico accounts for almost 70 percent of the oil and gas extracted from U.S. waters and there are thousands of oil and gas platforms in the region.

But the study found no unusual effects of controlled exposure to seismic exploration on the swimming and diving behavior by sperm whales in the Gulf, and also revealed a wealth of data about sperm whale biology and habitat.

"We now know that the sperm whales in the Gulf appear to be their own distinct stock – they show genetic and social differences from other sperm whales around the world," Biggs says.

"There are believed to be about 500 to 1,500 sperm whales that reside in the Gulf. Most of these are family groups of females and maturing young. When one family group socializes with another family group in the Gulf, they make very distinct sounds. Even though the family groups are visited by males that come into the Gulf from other oceans, their 'clicking' sounds, called codas, the Gulf sperm whales make appear to be different from most others made by sperm whale groups in other parts of the world.

"The five-year study has greatly contributed to our knowledge of sperm whales, especially those found in the Gulf of Mexico. It's also raised new questions we need to know more about, such as their feeding and breeding patterns. There's still a lot we don't know about these huge creatures."

Keith Randall | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.tamu.edu

More articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation:

nachricht Litter is present throughout the world’s oceans: 1,220 species affected
27.03.2017 | Alfred-Wegener-Institut, Helmholtz-Zentrum für Polar- und Meeresforschung

nachricht International network connects experimental research in European waters
21.03.2017 | Leibniz-Institut für Gewässerökologie und Binnenfischerei (IGB)

All articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: A Challenging European Research Project to Develop New Tiny Microscopes

The Institute of Semiconductor Technology and the Institute of Physical and Theoretical Chemistry, both members of the Laboratory for Emerging Nanometrology (LENA), at Technische Universität Braunschweig are partners in a new European research project entitled ChipScope, which aims to develop a completely new and extremely small optical microscope capable of observing the interior of living cells in real time. A consortium of 7 partners from 5 countries will tackle this issue with very ambitious objectives during a four-year research program.

To demonstrate the usefulness of this new scientific tool, at the end of the project the developed chip-sized microscope will be used to observe in real-time...

Im Focus: Giant Magnetic Fields in the Universe

Astronomers from Bonn and Tautenburg in Thuringia (Germany) used the 100-m radio telescope at Effelsberg to observe several galaxy clusters. At the edges of these large accumulations of dark matter, stellar systems (galaxies), hot gas, and charged particles, they found magnetic fields that are exceptionally ordered over distances of many million light years. This makes them the most extended magnetic fields in the universe known so far.

The results will be published on March 22 in the journal „Astronomy & Astrophysics“.

Galaxy clusters are the largest gravitationally bound structures in the universe. With a typical extent of about 10 million light years, i.e. 100 times the...

Im Focus: Tracing down linear ubiquitination

Researchers at the Goethe University Frankfurt, together with partners from the University of Tübingen in Germany and Queen Mary University as well as Francis Crick Institute from London (UK) have developed a novel technology to decipher the secret ubiquitin code.

Ubiquitin is a small protein that can be linked to other cellular proteins, thereby controlling and modulating their functions. The attachment occurs in many...

Im Focus: Perovskite edges can be tuned for optoelectronic performance

Layered 2D material improves efficiency for solar cells and LEDs

In the eternal search for next generation high-efficiency solar cells and LEDs, scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory and their partners are creating...

Im Focus: Polymer-coated silicon nanosheets as alternative to graphene: A perfect team for nanoelectronics

Silicon nanosheets are thin, two-dimensional layers with exceptional optoelectronic properties very similar to those of graphene. Albeit, the nanosheets are less stable. Now researchers at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) have, for the first time ever, produced a composite material combining silicon nanosheets and a polymer that is both UV-resistant and easy to process. This brings the scientists a significant step closer to industrial applications like flexible displays and photosensors.

Silicon nanosheets are thin, two-dimensional layers with exceptional optoelectronic properties very similar to those of graphene. Albeit, the nanosheets are...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

International Land Use Symposium ILUS 2017: Call for Abstracts and Registration open

20.03.2017 | Event News

CONNECT 2017: International congress on connective tissue

14.03.2017 | Event News

ICTM Conference: Turbine Construction between Big Data and Additive Manufacturing

07.03.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Transport of molecular motors into cilia

28.03.2017 | Life Sciences

A novel hybrid UAV that may change the way people operate drones

28.03.2017 | Information Technology

NASA spacecraft investigate clues in radiation belts

28.03.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>