Sound off: Human industry is now noisy enough to drown out whale songs. What would happen in the ocean if we went quiet?

Sound off

Human industry is now noisy enough to drown out whale songs. What would happen in the ocean if we went quiet?

by 2700 2,700 words

A female humpback whale accompanied closely by her male calf, Toku Island, Tonga, South Pacific. Underneath her are two escort whales, both males, competing for attention. Photo Tony WuA female humpback whale accompanied closely by her male calf, Toku Island, Tonga, South Pacific. Underneath her are two escort whales, both males, competing for attention. Photo Tony Wu

Peter Brannen is a journalist whose work has appeared in The New York Times, Wired, and The Guardian, among others. In 2011, he was a journalism fellow at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. …http://aeon.co/magazine/science/what-would-happen-in-the-ocean-if-we-went-quiet/

At 5:30am I awoke to the sound of the diesel chug-chugging of a lone lobster boat carving into the glassy Atlantic. An audience of shrieking gulls hushed in the engine’s wake as it rumbled through the narrow strait that separates the United States from Canada. After the boat pushed out into the open ocean, the gulls resumed their gossip, and I began preparing for a day on the water, still groggy from the night before, after joining a group of researchers over beer. I had come to Lubec in Maine with a bizarre question: what was 9/11 like for whales?

I sleepwalked to the pier and helped pack a former Coast Guard patrol boat with boxes of underwater audio-visual equipment, as well as a crossbow built for daring, drive-by whale biopsies. A pod of 40 North Atlantic right whales had been spotted south of Nova Scotia the day before and, with only a few hundred of the animals left in existence, any such gathering meant a potential field research coup. ‘They even got a poop sample!’ one scientist excitedly told me. The boat roared to life and we slipped past postcard-ready lighthouses and crumbling, cedar-shingled herring smokehouses. Lisa Conger, a biologist at the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), manned the wheel of our boat, dodging Canadian islands and fishing weirs. As the Bay of Fundy opened before us, a container ship lumbered by to our stern: a boxy, smoking juggernaut, as unstoppable as the tide. :::

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