"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
|Contact: Tom Rickey|
DOE/Pacific Northwest National Laboratory