Department of Biology

Aarhus University Seal / Aarhus Universitets segl

Professor Peter Teglberg Madsen

Vessel noise levels drive behavioural responses of humpback whales with implications for whale-watching

Research output: Contribution to journal/Conference contribution in journal/Contribution to newspaperJournal articleResearchpeer-review

DOI

Disturbance from whale-watching can cause significant behavioural changes with fitness consequences for targeted whale populations. However, the sensory stimuli triggering these responses are unknown, preventing effective mitigation. Here, we test the hypothesis that vessel noise level is a driver of disturbance, using humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) as a model species. We conducted controlled exposure experiments (n = 42) on resting mother-calf pairs on a resting ground off Australia, by simulating whale-watch scenarios with a research vessel (range 100 m, speed 1.5 knts) playing back vessel noise at control/low (124/148 dB), medium (160 dB) or high (172 dB) low frequency-weighted source levels (re 1 μPa RMS@1 m). Compared to control/low treatments, during high noise playbacks the mother's proportion of time resting decreased by 30%, respiration rate doubled and swim speed increased by 37%. We therefore conclude that vessel noise is an adequate driver of behavioural disturbance in whales and that regulations to mitigate the impact of whale-watching should include noise emission standards.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere56760
JournaleLife
Volume9
Number of pages17
ISSN2050-084X
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2020

    Research areas

  • anthropogenic noise, behavioural response, cetacean, controlled exposure experiment, ecology, humpback whale, unmanned aerial vehicle

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