7.14.2010

Keeping An Ear On Gulf Oil Spill


UC San Diego researchers are using underwater acoustic equipment to listen in to the sounds of whales and other endangered marine life in the Gulf of Mexico. The goal is to study the oil spill's effects on the animals.

UC San Diego has already sent one research vessel to study the effects of the Gulf oil spill on marine mammals. Another boat left last week and another trip is planned at the end of July.

Along with tagging mammals and taking tissue samples, UCSD researchers also plan to use underwater listening devices.

Scripps Institution of Oceanography Professor John Hildebrand specializes in monitoring marine mammals using acoustic recorders that are made in his UCSD lab.

"It allows us to get the echo location clicks of dolphins and the recorders go all the way down to frequencies that are lower than hearing, infrasonic, and this allows us to get the moans and songs of Baleen whales," said Hildebrand.

Hildebrand is using the recording devices to help monitor the condition of marine mammals during and after the oil spill.

"We're looking for trends as the spill goes on and as more time passes," said Hildebrand. "Are the animals leaving the area, do we see or hear less presence of the animals."

The listening devices don't provide real time information.

But Hildebrand said the devices will be removed in late August or early September when he expects to hear sounds of sperm whales. He said the Gulf of Mexico is a foraging ground for the sperm whales because of deepwater squid.

"So what we hope to do is look at the data and assess are there consistent numbers of sperm whales or are there declining numbers of sperm whales?" said Hildebrand. "And then try to relate that to the presence of the oil."

Hildebrand said the sperm whales use a specific "click" when foraging. He said the sound speeds up when they find squid.

Hildebrand said if the click rate does not increase, it could be an indication of the oil spill's wider effects on the marine ecosystem.

Source: http://www.kpbs.org/news/2010/jul/06/ucsd-scientists-keeping-ear-gulf-oil-spill/


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