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Silence is Golden for Whales as Global Lockdown Reduces Ocean Noise

Scientists say whales are less stressed out and enjoying conversations without all of the racket caused by ships.

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(TMU) — If we’ve learned one thing from the coronavirus pandemic, it’s that the dramatic global lockdown and economic downturn has given nature room to breathe.

It seems that the silver lining in the global health crisis has extended to more than a reduction of air pollution over urban zones and wildlife taking back its habitats in the absence of tourists. The drop in underwater noise pollution has also been quite beneficial for whales and other aquatic mammals.

And scientists just can’t resist the temptation of eavesdropping on their oceanic conversations.

Scientists who are tracking live underwater sound signals from ocean observatories near the port of Vancouver have found a major drop in low-frequency sound that comes from ships at sea, reports The Guardian.

David Barclay, assistant professor of oceanography at Dalhousie University, compared the sound power—a way of measuring loudness—within the 100 Hz range from an inland seabed observatory and one lying farther off the shore. Both observatories recorded major drops in noise.

Barclay explained:

“Generally, we know underwater noise at this frequency has effects on marine mammals.

“There has been a consistent drop in noise since 1 January, which has amounted to a change of four or five decibels in the period up to 1 April.”

The lowered volume correlates with an overall drop in maritime traffic during the same period, he added, noting that exports and imports fell by roughly 20 percent at that time.

The reduction of marine traffic in the world’s waterways—including tankers, cargo and container ships, cruise liners, yachts and fishing vesels—comes amid an unprecedented rapid collapse in economic activity across the globe.

However, scientists are hoping to take advantage of the massive pause in the movement of ships to find out about what effect this has on marine life. Barclay calls the moment a “giant human experiment,” and his colleagues agree.

Michelle Fournet, an acoustic ecologist at Cornell University who studies animal communication and especially whale communication around Alaska, said:

“We are facing a moment of truth.

“We have an opportunity to listen – and that opportunity to listen will not appear again in our lifetime.”

Traffic at land and sea also fell in the days following the events of September 11, 2001. During that time, researchers in the U.S. were also able to study how the quieter ocean impacted baleen whales, and they produced a landmark study showing that anthropogenic or man-made underwater ocean noise associated with ships led to chronic stress in whales.

Fournet added:

“We have a generation of humpbacks that have never known a quiet ocean.”

An expected halt in cruise ship activity in south-east Alaska during this time of year due to the coronavirus will also give researchers a window through which they can gain more insights on how whales interact with each other.

Fournet said:

“What we know about whales in south-east Alaska is that when it gets noisy they call less, and when boats go by they call less.

“I expect what we might see is an opportunity for whales to have more conversation and to have more complex conversation.”

Fournet’s enthusiasm is shared by oceanologists across the globe, who just hope to listen while their practical work has been interrupted by the pandemic.

Bioacoustics expert Nathan Merchant of the U.K. government’s Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (Cefas) said:

“We are on tenterhooks waiting to see what our records are saying.”

In fact, Merchant’s crew had been planning on figuring out how they could make the ocean quieter for the purpose of an experiment in order to gauge what benefits, if any, it may have on marine life.

As the world economy continues to stand still amid a crisis of global proportions, whales and their mammalian relatives are experiencing a drop in noise pollution and moment of aural peace they’ve likely never enjoyed before in their lives. And for researchers, the moment is priceless.

Merchant said:

“We have this natural experiment going on. Of course it is a terrible crisis, but we may as well get on and look at the data, to find out what effect it is having.”

By Elias Marat | Creative Commons | TheMindUnleashed.com

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Animals

Dolphin Swims Through Louisiana Neighborhood in Aftermath of Hurricane Ida

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A Louisiana family was shocked to find a dolphin swimming through their neighborhood in the aftermath of Hurricane Ida.

Amanda Huling and her family were assessing the damage to their neighborhood in Slidell, Louisiana, when they noticed the dolphin swimming through the inundated suburban landscape.

In video shot by Huling, the marine mammal’s dorsal fin can be seen emerging from the water.

“The dolphin was still there as of last night but I am in contact with an organization who is going to be rescuing it within the next few days if it is still there,” Huling told FOX 35.

Ida slammed into the coast of Louisiana this past weekend. The Category 4 hurricane ravaged the power grid of the region, plunging residents of New Orleans and upwards of 1 million homes and businesses in Louisiana and Mississippi into the dark for an indefinite period of time.

Officials have warned that the damage has been so extensive that it could take weeks to repair the power grid, reports Associated Press.

Also in Slidell, a 71-year-old man was attacked by an alligator over the weekend while he was in his flooded shed. The man went missing and is assumed dead, reports WDSU.

Internet users began growing weary last year about the steady stream of stories belonging to a “nature is healing” genre, as people stayed indoors and stories emerged about animals taking back their environs be it in the sea or in our suburbs.

However, these latest events are the surreal realities of a world in which extreme weather events are fast becoming the new normal – disrupting our lives in sometimes predictable, and occasionally shocking and surreal, ways.

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Mom in LA Suburbs Fights Off Mountain Lion With Bare Hands, Rescues 5-Year-Old Son

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A mother in Southern California is being hailed as a hero after rescuing her five-year-old son from an attacking mountain lion.

The little boy was playing outside his home in Calabasas, a city lying west of Los Angeles in the Santa Monica Mountains, when the large cat pounced on him.

The 65-pound (30 kg) mountain lion dragged the boy about 45 yards across the front lawn before the mother acted fast, running out and striking the creature with her bare hands and forcing it to free her son.

“The true hero of this story is his mom because she absolutely saved her son’s life,” California Department of Fish and Wildlife spokesman Captain Patrick Foy told Associated Press on Saturday.

“She ran out of the house and started punching and striking the mountain lion with her bare hands and got him off her son,” Foy added.

The boy sustained significant injuries to his head, neck and upper torso, but is now in stable condition at a hospital in Los Angeles, according to authorities.

The mountain lion was later located and killed by an officer with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, who found the big cat crouching in the bushes with its “ears back and hissing” at the officer shortly after he arrived at the property.

“Due to its behavior and proximity to the attack, the warden believed it was likely the attacking lion and to protect public safety shot and killed it on sight,” the wildlife department noted in its statement.

The mountain lion attack is the first such attack on a human in Los Angeles County since 1995, according to Fish and Wildlife.

The Santa Monica Mountains is a biodiverse region teeming with wildlife such as large raptors, mountain lions, bears, coyote, deer, lizards, and snakes. However, their numbers have rapidly faded in recent years, causing local wildlife authorities to find new ways to manage the region’s endemic species.

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Blue Whales Return to Spain’s Coast After Disappearing for 40 Years

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Blue whales have been returning to the Atlantic coast of Spain after an absence of over 40 years in the region, when whaling industries drove the species to the brink of extinction.

Blue whales, which are the world’s largest mammals, had long disappeared from the region until the recent sightings.

The first was spotted off the coast of Galicia near Ons Island by marine biologist Bruno Díaz, who heads the Bottlenose Dolphin Research.

Another one of the majestic creatures was spotted the following year in 2018 and yet another in 2019. In 2020, two whales again made their return to the area.

It remains unclear as of yet as to why the creatures have returned to the area, but controls on local whaling industries are believed to play a role.

“I believe the moratorium on whaling has been a key factor,” Díaz remarked, according to the Guardian. “In the 1970s, just before the ban was introduced, an entire generation of blue whales disappeared. Now, more than 40 years later, we’re seeing the return of the descendants of the few that survived.”

Whaling had been a traditional industry in Galicia for hundreds of years before Spain finally acted to ban whaling in 1986, long after the blue whale’s presence in the region had faded away.

Some fear that the return of the massive sea mammals is a sign of global warming.

“I’m pessimistic because there’s a high possibility that climate change is having a major impact on the blue whale’s habitat,” said marine biologist Alfredo López in comments to La Voz de Galicia.

“Firstly, because they never venture south of the equator, and if global warming pushes this line north, their habitat will be reduced,” he continued “And secondly, if it means the food they normally eat is disappearing, then what we’re seeing is dramatic and not something to celebrate.”

Díaz said that while the data certainly supports this theory, it is too early to determine climate as the precise cause.

“It is true that the data we have points to this trend [climate change] but it is not enough yet,” he told Público news.

Another possibility is that the ancestral memory of the old creatures or even a longing for their home may offer an explanation, according to Díaz.

“In recent years it’s been discovered that the blue whale’s migration is driven by memory, not by environmental conditions,” he said. “This year there hasn’t been a notable increase in plankton, but here they are. Experiences are retained in the collective memory and drive the species to return.”

In recent years, researchers have found that migratory patterns are also driven by the cultural knowledge existing in many groups of species.

Researchers believe this type of folk memory, or cultural knowledge, exists in many species and is key to their survival.

A typical blue whale is 20-24 metres long and weighs 120 tonnes – equivalent to 16 elephants – but specimens of up to 30 metres and 170 tonnes have been found.

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