Studies Uncover 'Missing Link' in Whale Strandings
Researchers observe how sonar affects behavior
By Kate Seamons, Newser Staff
Posted Jul 4, 2013 3:03 AM CDT
In this Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2011 photo released by the New Zealand Department of Conservation, pilot whales are stranded at the tip of Farewell Spit.   (AP Photo/New Zealand Department of Conservation, Simon Walls)

(Newser) – Two new studies have uncovered what the Guardian is terming a "missing link" between sonar and whale strandings. Though the advent of military sonar in the 1950s coincided with a spike in strandings, one of the researchers involved explains that an unknown piece of the puzzle has been how—and even whether—whales respond to the noise. In one study off Southern California, a simulated military sonar signal was sounded at levels well below the military's threshold, at distances between roughly 2 and 6 miles from two beaked whales that had been studded with suction cups; that particular species was chosen because it is most regularly the victim of mass strandings.

The result: The whales first stopped feeding (and didn't resume eating for as long as seven hours, which is unusual) and swimming, then high-tailed it away from the noise and were observed to have taken longer dives. A second study in the same region suggested that blue whales' feeding was similarly disrupted; a creature lost the equivalent of a day's meal, which a researcher says could "have significant and previously undocumented impacts" on the animals' health. But he called the responses "complex," with PhysOrg noting that not all the whales reacted in the same way—and some didn't react at all. The US Navy provided funding for the studies, which it points out only concern behavior, not any eventual harm. (In other fascinating whale news, scientists have figured out how the creatures can hold their breath underwater.)

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Jul 25, 2013 10:05 AM CDT
Human beings are the worst thing to ever happen to Planet Earth. So much of what we do to each other and everything else is dispicable. The only thing that makes us OK is that I day the entire universe will cease to exist, so in the end, nothing we have ever done will matter.
Jul 16, 2013 5:22 PM CDT
They found out how whales hold their breath underwater. I guess taking a breath and shutting he air openings was too hard to fathom without research.
Jul 5, 2013 1:35 AM CDT
There was once a little creature that looked like a deer. He lived in the forest. He was called indohyus. His descendants decided to look for food by occasionally going into the water, similar to otters. He was called ambulocetus. Then his descendants realized it was a good idea, and stayed in the water. He was called basilosaur. Without limitations of gravity and weight, the descendants of basilosaurus started to grow very VERY big, and we now call them the whale. Must ALL four be extinct? The vast majority of the world realizes there is no healthy population of Whales, and the japanese hunting in their Sanctuary is not helping that. To top that, it's outrageous that they pretend they're doing "research" and LIE to the whole world about it, just so they may continue to flaunt the International Whaling Commission rules and collect whalemeat to sell. If the meat is found to have too much mercury in it, they "donate" it to schools to serve to children as lunches because they can't sell it as the high-price delicacy. What they don't sell goes bad in a warehouse and gets dumped. They then go back out for re-stock. There's no reason to slaughter dolphins either... especially since there ARE other sources of food. Whaling is actually a very antiquated way to gain food. It's prehistoric, and as humans, we've evolved and come way beyond it. Are the Asians TRYING to make a statement to the world that they want to appear that they have not matured? How about those claims of whaling as a "tradition"? America used to have slavery by tradition. Europe used to burn people for witchcraft by tradition. As a people develops and advances, we shed harmful traditions. This isn't 6000 BC anymore. The Problem: Man doesn't learn from history. Climate changes combined with man's overhunting is what made the mammoth extinct. Large animals just don't populate quickly enough to compensate. The Whales are facing the same situation, but with an added bane. Our world's oceans are being polluted. Mercury is becoming a big issue. So all this added up almost guarantees extinction of the Whales! Also, human-made sea-noise is NOT HELPING!