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Fun with Words

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Wordle is fun!  And even kind of informative…..

You plug in some text, and it makes a “word image” of the content.  Like this:

AEI’s Ocean Noise 2008 Special Report:

And one more, from one of my lyrical essay about listening entitled Ears Wide Open (this one I’ll paste closer to full size so you can see the smaller words better):

These images are from  Go and try it yourself!

More AEI Wordles, and these at full size, are at the AEI Gallery there.

Tidal Turbines Will Need to Find Goldilocks Sound Level: Not too Loud, but Not Too Quiet

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Thanks to the wonder of Google News customized daily news searches (in this case, “whales noise”), I came across a piece from the UK National Environment Research Council that raises a point I hadn’t considered before: as we develop undersea turbines to generate energy from tidal flows, the noise concern is not just whether it is too loud, but also whether it is loud enough.  An interview with bioacoustician Ben Wilson fleshes out this problem, which is, as root, that “they need to be noisy enough for sea creatures to avoid them but quiet enough to minimise noise pollution.”  The trick, and not a small one, will be that various species of fish, whales, and seals each hear very different frequencies of sound.
Listen to the interview here 

Baby Orcas Raise Hopes, Highlight Concerns

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Ken Balcomb, who monitors local populations for NOAA, has spotted two baby orcas off Vancouver Island, a splash of good news for the Puget Sound orca population, which has been falling in recent years. My first reaction, though, was a realization that these young ones will—by virtue of their small bodies and fresh auditory systems—be at especially sensitive to the very factors that are challenging the survival of their population.  Boat and shipping noise is ubiquitous in their habitat, and young whales have more sensitive hearing than older ones….recent news confirmed fears that the orca’s main food source, salmon, are carrying high levels of toxins….and young animals may be more susceptible to stress responses (especially to the degree that communication with adults is hindered on a regular basis by noise)  that could make this combination of noise and toxins especially damaging.  So, swim strong, young ones!  Ken Balcolmb says these two look hale and hearty at a month old, well filled out and energetic; that’s just the sort of gusto that will be required of them, and we wish them many fruitful years in a habitat that regains its health over the course of their long lives.
Photo: Ken Balcomb 

See article on the new ones from the Seattle Times: [READ ARTICLE]

And, see Chris Dunagan’s Kitsap Sun news story and his blog post on an older male in their family, who it appears has recently died.

Gray Whales Abandoning Crucial Feeding Ground at Sakhalin?

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It appears that concerns about the impact of a major oil development in the midst of one of the western gray whale’s key feeding grounds are coming to fruition: the World Wildlife Fund is reporting that the critically endangered western Gray whales have largely abandoned a formerly crucial feeding ground near the ever-expanding Sakhalin oil and gas development in far eastern Russia. Disruptions from tanker traffic, offshore construction, and seismic surveys is blamed for the whales’ move from offshore Sakhalin (just north of Japan) to an area closer to western Kamchatka (a peninsula across the Bering Sea from Alaska), where plans for a new oil field are brewing. Source: Russian News and Information Agency, 2/19/09 [READ ARTICLE]

AEI Annual Ocean Noise Recap for 2008 Now Available

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This year, the annual Acoustic Ecology Institute Spotlight Report on recent developments in ocean noise is too large for easy viewing on a web page. So, we’ve created a pdf version that you can download (or view in your browser if you’re a glutton for punishment). [AEI: Ocean Noise 2008 (pdf, 4MB)] Here’s what you’ll find there:

During 2008, four key pathways to future engagement with ocean noise issues clarifiedEach of these over-arching developments are fleshed out in more detail in the full report.

  • Behavioral impacts clearly replaced strandings and deaths as the key issue for marine mammals encountering human noise.  Several studies released during 2008 all suggest that whales of many species may stop or reduce their feeding when moderate to loud human sounds enter their habitat, and this particular impact is likely to become a central focus of future research and regulatory consideration.
  • The legal tussles over mid-frequency and low-frequency active sonars continued, and the Supreme Court decision does not put an end to the controversy.  The Navy crossed an important threshold, completing full Environmental Impact Statements for their sonar training procedures for the first time; the lack of sufficient NEPA analysis was the root of most of the legal challenges.  The plans they are putting forward to govern sonar training off most of the US coastline continue to rely on safety measures that Federal Courts have found wanting, though it appears that challenges to their proposals are more likely to focus on avoiding biologically important areas than increasing the safety zones that are designed to avoid injury.  All parties seem to be accepting that gross injury is rare to the point of being difficult to use as a lever to shift the balance of interests with the Navy’s national security imperative, but NGOs, many field researchers, and agency staff are all looking more closely at the behavioral impacts that take place at much longer ranges (up to several or even tens of kilometers).  The next round of Navy sonar conflicts will center on how willing the Navy is to consider these subtler impacts, and whether NMFS or the courts will impose broader territorial restrictions on sonar training to protect areas where whales may be more susceptible to repeated disruption by sonar transmissions.
  • Shipping noise is moving very quickly to the forefront of international concerns about rising ocean noise.  This year the US, with strong German support, initiated a two-year process at the International Maritime Organization to come up with ship quieting recommendations. Also, the unusual sensitivity of harbor porpoises to boat noise has become clearer.
  • The scientific community appears to be entering a new phase in its engagement with ocean noise, a natural result of the increasing emphasis on these issues over the past five years.  The European Science Foundation, the US Marine Mammal Commission, and a National Marine Fisheries Service-led group have all recently published important reports that attempt to provide frameworks within which future research priorities can be clearly considered.  These frameworks promise to provide much-needed big-picture coherence to what has been largely a scattershot approach to increasing our understanding of ocean noise.  An independent and striking development this year was the emergence of more scientists speaking out forcefully about their concerns about ocean noise; these scientists have, at times, directly critiqued the more modest and diligently objective conclusions of the larger institutional reports just noted, and are representative of a subset of scientists who are more willing to push for extra precaution in our noise-making until we better understand what the effects are. 

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Philippines Stranding Spurs Wild Speculation by Senator

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In the Philippines this week, over 200 melon-headed whales appeared in near-shore waters across a large bay from Manilla, and appeared confused about how to get out.  Initial speculation ran wild, as a Philippine Senator called for an inquiry into whether the US research vessel the R.V. Langseth had created the trouble while doing a seismic survey that has garnered criticism from environmentalists, and was apparently on the Senator’s radar.  The inquiry is likely to be brief, as the Langseth is currently over 4000 miles away, working near Fiji.  (The surveys in question, which are currently awaiting a permit from the US NMFS, will take place later this spring and summer in various areas between China, Japan, and the Philippines.)  While our growing understanding of the impacts of human noise does make it worthwhile to consider whether noise may be implicated in strandings, jumping to ill-considered conclusions serves no one.  In this case, there is also speculation about dynamite fishing in the region; according to Environment Minister Jose “Lito” Atienza, he directly questioned the local Governor, who “confirmed it (was taking place).  He also said he was battling this illegal activity.”  Adding to the mystery is the simultaneous appearance of melon-headed whales in two widely-separated bays (Hawaii and Marianas Islands) in July 2004; these events took place on the same night during a full moon, and there is speculation they were following prey, perhaps squid.  In Hawaii, the next morning US Naval forces used mid-frequency active sonar beyond the mouth of the bay, and the whales appeared agitated, and perhaps were driven into shallower waters, in the Marianas the animals were apparently less disturbed, and “interacting with humans.”  This points to the possibility that noise can become an aggravating or additional factor in some situations, even if not the primary causative factor in bringing the whales into a dangerous situation.  The moon is again bright this week, though certainly the dynamite fishing deserves continued diligent scrutiny.

Press coverage of this incident: Senator blames Langseth, Dynamite fishing considered
US Navy description of earlier full-moon incidents

“Arctic Frontiers” Conference Hears Norwegian Concern Over Seismic

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At last month’s Arctic Frontiers conference, Einar Svendsen, research director at the Norwegian Institute of Marine Research noted that fish stocks have rebounded nicely in Norwegian waters, but that increasing oil and gas exploration activities could pose a danger.  According to the blog In the Field, he strongly advised that no seismic surveys be conducted during the spawning season. See the full post by Quirin Schiermeier 

The Arctic Frontiers conference included presentations on new research findings in the arctic, the possible implications of global warming and regional melting, and oil and gas development strategies.  You can download all presentations and view video of the proceedings at the Arctic Frontiers website.

BC Oil Tanker Port Planned in Rare Acoustically Quiet Coastal Zone

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Plans to build a pipeline to move the fruits of Alberta’s oil fields and oil sands to the deepwater port of Kitimat, in order to ship it to Asia, are spurring widespread concerns among residents and researchers in northern British Columbia. In addition to fears of a tanker accident and rural resistence to the pipeline, University of BC biologist Rob Williams stresses the noise impact of increased tanker traffic. “Caamano Sound may be one of the last chances we have on this coastline to protect an acoustically quiet sanctuary for whales,” says Williams. “We don’t exactly know why this area is so rich, but there are some long, narrow channels that serve as bottlenecks for food, making it easier for whales to feed.” The researcher has been using acoustic monitors to gauge the level of underwater shipping noise, known to have an impact on the ability of toothed mammals, such as orcas and dolphins, to use echolocation for finding food. A detailed feature article in the Vancouver weekly The Georgia Strait provides an in-depth look at the plans and at the hurdles that must be crossed to bring it to fruition. Source:, 2/5/09 [READ ARTICLE]