Can You Hear Me Now?

Don't like Loud Noises!

Don't like Loud Noises!

Animals don’t like loud noises. They are especially threatened by the unusual ones made by people and machines.  

This week, I wished I could protect our cat, Penny, from roofers stomping around overhead. Cats are very watchful for predators from the sky!

Fight or Flight

Early research showed that threats set off fight or flight responses in men. Later work, that included women, expanded the list to five responses:

  • fight,
  • flight,
  • freeze
  • freak, and
  • find a friend.

So, a cat or dog might go into flight, or freeze, or come and find you, a friend. In one day, Penny has been in freeze, freak, and fight mode, the last when I tried to be a comforting friend (ouch!).

Whales and Loud Noises

For whales, loud noises are not just threats. They can endanger whales’ whole acoustic environment, where sound is needed for finding food and communicating with each other.

The confusing part for me is that different whales use sound differently. I don’t know enough to even guess how each type reacts to different threatening sounds, but Dave Johnston, teacher of a free online class on Marine Megafauna, proposed four types of possible harm:

·        Injury - to the ears and echolocation system

·        Deafness - permanent and temporary deafness

·        Auditory masking

·        Disturbance – of normal behaviors

Who’s Calling, Who’s Answering

Some specific examples keep showing up in my browser. 

1. The Navy tests its ordinance (bombs) and high-frequency sonar off the coast of Hawaii and elsewhere. Lyndia Storey has spearheaded efforts to reduce and relocate testing to areas less used by marine life.

2. Toothed whales use echolocation to find their dinner. Share NOAA's cartoon descriptions with kids you know and your inner child.

Blue Whale Image CC

Blue Whale Image CC

3. Resident orcas live in rich family groups that all speak a similar dialect and communicate constantly. Noises that drown out these messages are the orca version of “Can you hear me now?”

4. Blue whales have very low tone sounds. They’re about the same range as large container ship propellers* at sea, which increased greatly between 1965 to and 2004.

5. It is anybody’s guess what loud sounds do to the songs of the humpback whales. They have been recorded but are not fully understood.

Taking Action

Noise pollution in the ocean is complex and we need to understand it better and make changes. You can contribute by learning more or networking.

·        Check out the excellent and free online course Marine Megafauna with Dave Johnston at Duke University. There you can select "Future sessions" in the drop-down Sessions menu along the right side of the page (currently it reads Feb 3, 2014). Click the "Add to Watchlist" button directly below. You will receive an email before the start of the next session.

·        Check out Wikipedia’s review of widely used varieties of sonar and marine mammals

·        Connect with Lyndia Storey

·        Write the Navy about their testing 

·        Comment below with your own ideas

Update on Penny 


We can help our pets deal with loud noises. By day 3 of the roofing project, cat Penny got used to the noise a bit and came to us for reassurance and food. You can get your dog MuttMuffs for the Fourth of July explosions.  We've only begun what's needed for whales.

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Data on ambient propeller noise from plot by M. McDonald.

Dog Photo: