Sonar signal “leaks” likely audible to some marine mammals
Killer whales and other marine mammals likely hear sonar signals more than we’ve known.
That’s because commercially available sonar systems, which are designed to create signals beyond the range of hearing of such animals, also emit signals known to be within their hearing range, scientists have discovered.
The sound is likely very soft and audible only when the animals are within a few hundred meters of the source, say the authors of a new study. The signals would not cause any actual tissue damage, but it’s possible that they affect the behavior of some marine mammals, which rely heavily on sound to communicate, navigate, and find food.
The findings come from a team of researchers at the Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, working together with marine mammal expert Brandon Southall of Southall Environmental Associates. The findings were published April 15 in the journal PLOS ONE.
A team led by Zhiqun (Daniel) Deng, a chief scientist at PNNL, evaluated the signals from three commercially available sonar systems designed to transmit signals at 200 kilohertz. The impact of such systems on marine mammals is not typically analyzed because signals at 200 kilohertz can’t be heard by the animals.
The team found that while most of the energy is transmitted near the intended frequency of 200 kilohertz, some of the sound leaks out to lower frequencies within the hearing range of killer whales and other animals such as harbor porpoises, dolphins and beluga whales. The three systems studied produced signals as low as 90, 105 and 130 kilohertz.
At the levels measured, the sounds would be quieter than many other sounds in the ocean, including the sounds the animals themselves make, and they wouldn’t be heard at all by the animals beyond a few hundred meters.
“These signals are quiet, but they are audible to the animals, and they would be relatively novel since marine mammals don’t encounter many sounds in this range,” said Southall, who is the former director of the Ocean Acoustics Program of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
“These sounds have the potential to affect animal behavior, even though the main frequency is above what they primarily hear. It may be that environmental assessments should include the effects of these systems. This may not be a major issue, but it deserves further exploration,” added Southall.
The new findings have their roots in a project to track marine mammals in Puget Sound, which was part of a broader effort to provide information on the environmental impact of a planned tidal energy project there near Seattle. Researchers had planned to use sonar to help locate killer whales, but some marine mammal experts had observed that the animals might actually be hearing the sonar. Those observations led to the study, which was funded by the Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy.
How do the sonar signals actually sound to marine mammals like killer whales? Since high-frequency sonar pings several times per second, it’s possible that it sounds like one continuous, high-pitched hum or ping.
“If you think of a keyboard on a piano, the ships would be hitting the low notes quite hard, the middle keys would be most of the sounds of the animals themselves, and the sonar systems we studied would be relatively quieter sounds in the top few octaves on the right of the keyboard,” said Southall.
The authors of the paper did not directly study the hearing capability of whales and other marine mammals. Instead, the study focused on the sounds produced by sonar systems, discovering that commercial sonar systems are emitting signals within the animals’ known hearing range. Deng and colleagues are currently considering ways to limit signal leakage to reduce the amount of sound from high-frequency sonar systems that would be audible to marine mammals.
# # #
Reference: Z. Daniel Deng, Brandon L. Southall, Thomas J. Carlson, Jinshan Xu, Jayson J. Martinez, Mark A. Weiland, and John M. Ingraham, 200 kHz commercial sonar systems generate lower frequency side lobes audible to some marine mammals, PLOS ONE, April 2014, http://dx.plos.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0095315.
Tom Rickey | newswise
The causes of soil consumption
14.06.2016 | Schweizerischer Nationalfonds SNF
Fishing prohibitions produce more sharks along with problems for fishing communities
09.06.2016 | Wildlife Conservation Society
High resolution rotational spectroscopy reveals an unprecedented number of conformations of an odorant molecule – a new world record!
In a recent publication in the journal Physical Chemistry Chemical Physics, researchers from the Max Planck Institute for the Structure and Dynamics of Matter...
Strands of cow cartilage substitute for ink in a 3D bioprinting process that may one day create cartilage patches for worn out joints, according to a team of engineers. "Our goal is to create tissue that can be used to replace large amounts of worn out tissue or design patches," said Ibrahim T. Ozbolat, associate professor of engineering science and mechanics. "Those who have osteoarthritis in their joints suffer a lot. We need a new alternative treatment for this."
Cartilage is a good tissue to target for scale-up bioprinting because it is made up of only one cell type and has no blood vessels within the tissue. It is...
Physicists in Innsbruck have realized the first quantum simulation of lattice gauge theories, building a bridge between high-energy theory and atomic physics. In the journal Nature, Rainer Blatt‘s and Peter Zoller’s research teams describe how they simulated the creation of elementary particle pairs out of the vacuum by using a quantum computer.
Elementary particles are the fundamental buildings blocks of matter, and their properties are described by the Standard Model of particle physics. The...
A year and a half on the outer wall of the International Space Station ISS in altitude of 400 kilometers is a real challenge. Whether a primordial bacterium...
Researchers at Case Western Reserve University have developed a way to swiftly and precisely control electron spins at room temperature.
09.06.2016 | Event News
24.05.2016 | Event News
20.05.2016 | Event News
27.06.2016 | Agricultural and Forestry Science
27.06.2016 | Physics and Astronomy
27.06.2016 | Life Sciences