North Atlantic right whales, one of the world’s most endangered whales, spend much of their summer in the Bay of Fundy, an Atlantic coast bay that lies between Maine and two Canadian provinces. These whales are about 55 feet long (imagine the width of a basketball court) and weigh up to 70 tons. They make a variety of sounds to communicate. Their sounds are at a very low frequency, similar to the sounds made by ships.
Many marine biologists believe that whales are stressed by ship noise, and that this stress affects their behavior, communication, and movement patterns. Researchers who study North Atlantic right whales have now reported that during a period when shipping routes through the Bay of Fundy were temporarily closed, the whales showed fewer signs of stress. How do they know? They studied the whales’ feces [pronounced FEE-seez, and yes, it means “poop”] during the no-shipping period and found lower than normal levels of stress-related hormones.
The study’s authors write, “This is the first evidence that exposure to low-frequency ship noise may be associated with chronic stress in whales, and has implications for all baleen whales in heavy ship traffic areas, and for recovery of this endangered right whale population.”
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