SEATTLE — The waters of Puget Sound are a pretty noisy place if you’re an orca. But what does a passing tanker ship or motorboat sound like to killer whales? How does it affect their behavior? Researchers are trying to find out.
Brad Hanson, a wildlife biologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, is heading out into Puget Sound this week to catch up with some of the region’s most eminent marine residents.
And when he does, he’s going to attach an underwater microphone to them. The goal is to hear what the orcas hear.
“It’s really interesting,” Hanson say. “We’ve never had a quantitative understanding of what the noise looks like. Being able to visualize this gives us such a better idea of what their behavior is like under water.”
The tags use suction cups to attach to the orcas and they stay on for about 3 and a half hours at a time. Then Hanson collects the tags when they float to the surface.
The tags will record audio and depth measurements as the whales hunt for food. Hanson says that data can then be correlated with vessel traffic and other noise contributors.
“We’re interested in trying to figure out if the noise levels are interfering with the whale’s ability to communicate effectively during foraging and or actually interferes with their foraging.”
The researchers will follow the resident orcas for the next three weeks, collecting hours of underwater audio.
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