When ships pass, whales eat less, says study

NATURE’S BEAUTY: A Humpback whale swimming on the surface of the Pacific Ocean at the Uramba Bahia Malaga natural park in Colombia. (AFP)
Updated 11 August 2016

When ships pass, whales eat less, says study

PARIS: Noise from ships impedes humpback whales from foraging for food, and could have long-term impacts on the health of these majestic creatures, according to a study released Wednesday.
Shipping lanes overlapping with the coastal migratory paths of whales create a steady source of underwater noise pollution.
Earlier research has shown how this can interfere with the behavior of so-called toothed whales, a category that included dolphins, as well as killer and sperm whales, that emit sonar-like pings to locate prey and communicate.
But very little was known about how the constant, low-frequency drone of ocean vessels might affect baleen whales, the other major category.
These include blue, humpback, right and bowhead whales.
To find out, a team of scientists led by Hannah Blair of Syracuse University in New York attached non-intrusive sensors to 10 humpbacks in the western North Atlantic.
The devices not only picked up and recorded all the sounds heard by the whales, but also tracked their underwater movement.
Humpbacks have a wide array of foraging techniques used to consume a large number of small prey, including one maneuver scientists call the “bottom side-roll.”
To feed on sand lance, bottom-dwelling eel-like fish, “the whale dives and scrapes along the ocean floor,” explained Blair.
A humpback can deep-dive for up to 30 minutes.
“At the same time, it rolls regularly onto its side and opens its mouth, scooping up the fish hidden in the sand,” especially at night, she told AFP.
Every barrel roll is like a meal.
The study found that half of the whales, all of them adult females, failed to execute these important side-rolls in the presence of ship noise on at least one of their deep dives.
Researchers can only speculate as to why.
The humpback may have perceived the ships as a threat. It is also possible, they said, that the prey reacted to the noise too, scattering or digging more deeply into the sand.
Humpbacks have been dealing with chronic noise from ships for decades, and have shown some capacity to adapt.
The new findings, however, “suggest that the whales are unable to completely adjust to this disturbance,” the study concluded.
The paper appears in Biology Letters, a journal published by Britain’s de-facto academy of sciences, the Royal Society.


SpaceX launch moving ahead, weather uncertain

Updated 30 May 2020

SpaceX launch moving ahead, weather uncertain

  • NASA chief Jim Bridenstine: ‘We are moving forward with launch today’

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER: SpaceX’s historic first crewed mission to the International Space Station was set to proceed as scheduled on Saturday, NASA said, although uncertainty remained over weather conditions.
“We are moving forward with launch today,” NASA chief Jim Bridenstine said in a tweet. “Weather challenges remain with a 50 percent chance of cancelation.”
“Proceeding with countdown today,” said SpaceX founder Elon Musk.
Weather forced the postponement on Wednesday of what would have been the first launch of American astronauts from US soil in almost a decade, and the first crewed launch ever by a commercial company.
The Falcon 9 rocket with SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule is scheduled to launch at 3:22 p.m. Eastern Time (1922 GMT) on Saturday.
The next window, which is determined by the relative positions of the launch site to the space station, is Sunday at 3:00 p.m. (1900 GMT), and fair weather is predicted.
NASA astronauts Bob Behnken, 49, and Douglas Hurley, 53, former military test pilots who joined the space agency in 2000, are to blast off for the ISS from historic Launch Pad 39A on a two-stage SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.
The same launch pad was used by Neil Armstrong and his Apollo 11 crewmates on their historic 1969 journey to the Moon, as NASA seeks to revive excitement around human space exploration ahead of a planned return to Earth’s satellite and then Mars.
The mission comes despite shutdowns caused by the coronavirus pandemic, with the crew in quarantine for more than two weeks.
NASA has urged crowds to stay away from Cocoa Beach, the traditional viewing spot — but that did not deter many space fans on Wednesday.
President Donald Trump, who flew in for the previous launch attempt, is expected to attend again.