Cornell scientist tells of whale songs interrupted

Dr. Christopher Clark. Photo courtesy the American Cetacean Society

On Tuesday, March  6, Dr. Clark gave a two-hour presentation at UAA’s Bookstore titled ‘Whales and Acoustics in the Marine Environment.’

When introduced, Dr. Clark was summed up in a few words; one of the world’s leading experts on marine acoustics. After hearing his passion about the topic of marine acoustics, it was hard to disagree. Clark has dedicated over 30 years of his life to the study of whales.

Whether it is blue whales, humpback whales, right whales, name it and Clark has studied it. Whales emit high frequency noises which can travel and be heard hundreds, even thousands of miles away.

“It is how they communicate, how they keep a sort of acoustic social network,” said Clark.

It takes a single minute for sound to travel 50 miles through water. That sound can reverberate off islands and other masses and travel even further to keep in contact with their pods and other whales nearby. This is as it has been since the very beginning of whales existence on Earth. However, according to Clark, that is beginning to change because of industrial and man-made noises in the ocean.

Cargo ships, underwater air guns, and other various explosions are just a few of the noises that, according to Clark, man is polluting the natural acoustics of the ocean.

“We are bleaching the ocean with noise,” said Clark. “We are tearing the fabric of societies and social networks with this noise.”

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Because of the constant reverberations of man-made noises, whales and other marine life that rely on sound to communicate, can no longer communicate because of the constant interruption.  The songs of the whales are being cut shorter and shorter, causing many of the whale populations to just remain silent for long periods of time.

“Imagine this noise surrounding the space around you almost completely non-stop,” Clark said while he played a clip of an air gun going off that consisted of a constant boom, boom, boom, noise going off every second. A clip can be heard here.

He discussed how the constant noises not only cut off the whale’s songs, but also how it is driving some of the marine life to become confused and even beach themselves.

The slides Clark presented consisted of information, sound clips, and other pieces of information that showed all of the data he has collected over the years to support his position on the subject matter.

When the initial presentation came to a conclusion, audience members were fired up with questions concerning the Knik Arm Bridge, Cook Inlet whale population, and other issues close to Anchorage.

“Unfortunately I am not a marine biology major, only a biology major, but I still find this stuff really cool to learn about,” said student Marcus Bramberg. “We don’t get many people from big Universities like Cornell to come all the way to Alaska to speak.”

The event was one of many sponsored by the Bookstore with Alaska’s Big Village Network.

Oceana is an organization set to protecting the world’s oceans and more information on this issue as well as many others can be found there.