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  • (orca sounds)

  • - [Narrator] Orcas have a language of their own.

  • They communicate through touch, movement,

  • and most importantly, sound.

  • And it's marine scientist

  • Ellyne Hamran's job to eavesdrop on them.

  • She's an acoustic researcher studying

  • the sounds marine mammals

  • like whales and dolphins use to communicate.

  • She's captured hundreds of hours of orca recordings,

  • like the one you're hearing.

  • - Whales are using sound as their primary sense

  • unlike humans that are using their vision.

  • So, it's very important for whales to be able

  • to communicate to each other, to find mates,

  • to search for prey, also to navigate the area.

  • - [Narrator] This summer, she's listening to the orcas

  • of Norway's Lofoten archipelago,

  • beloved by the creatures for its healthy populations

  • of herring and other fish to feed on.

  • But an invisible problem is increasingly alarming experts,

  • noise pollution from whale-watching cruises,

  • oil exploration, and other human activity.

  • Ellyne has set out to study how it affects the whales

  • and she hopes to use her findings

  • to help make Lofoten a marine protected area,

  • limiting unwelcome noise and blocking oil drilling.

  • She works for Ocean Sounds,

  • a nonprofit that advocates for marine ecosystem conservation

  • and has been tracking orcas here in Lofoten since 2003.

  • On a typical day, Ellyne, her husband Bjorn,

  • their dog Bailey, and a team of researchers

  • drive around the islands

  • in an inflatable boat looking for action.

  • When they spot whales, they slowly approach,

  • then turn off the engine to minimize noise.

  • They use an underwater microphone

  • called a hydrophone to record vocalizations.

  • - During socializing, they're producing

  • a variety of vocalizations.

  • It can be whistles, calls, buzzes, clicks,

  • same with when they're feeding.

  • They're a little bit more quiet when they're traveling.

  • So, we'll be able to go and record them

  • when we have the right moment.

  • - [Crew Member] Breach, breach, breach!

  • - [Narrator] They also photograph the orcas

  • to keep track of the family groups.

  • The scientists assign each of them a number

  • and add them to a catalog.

  • - We will be able to use this method

  • to track them over time.

  • It's a very noninvasive

  • and inexpensive way of doing the research.

  • - [Narrator] Bjorn operates a drone

  • that films whales from above.

  • Over time, they match the orcas' sounds up with behaviors,

  • gradually learning their complex language.

  • Each pod speaks its own dialect,

  • so tracking them is essential

  • for understanding the communication.

  • The large population of whales also attracts thousands

  • of people looking for boat tours every year.

  • But these ships full of whale lovers

  • can actually be quite disturbing to ocean life.

  • - We've had issues of boats zooming through pods,

  • sometimes even between the mother and calf.

  • It's also quite loud on the hydrophone,

  • even loud enough that you want to turn the volume down,

  • but the whales are not able to go in

  • and modify how loud the boats are.

  • And I don't think people are aware of this issue.

  • - [Narrator] When a boat drives too close to orcas,

  • it can overpower their calls.

  • - It could mask the vocalizations

  • so they can't be able to communicate

  • with each other nearby or find a mate.

  • - [Narrator] And it can scare away the fish orcas feed on.

  • - [Ellyne] They spend quite a lot of time

  • rounding up the herring to feed

  • and then a boat could come way too close

  • and now disperse the fish.

  • - [Narrator] The looming threat of oil drilling

  • also poses a problem.

  • In 2019, the Norwegian government reached

  • a deal to block drilling in Lofoten for now.

  • But every seat in the parliament

  • is up for election in September 2021,

  • which could put the area at risk again.

  • And even without permission to drill,

  • companies can still use blasts of compressed air

  • to map where oil lies beneath the ocean floor.

  • These seismic surveys can be louder

  • to marine life than fireworks from three feet away.

  • Researchers aren't sure how these sounds

  • affect ocean mammals' health,

  • but studies have found that a single air gun blast

  • can be heard underwater for months.

  • All this, combined with occasional

  • military exercises in the area,

  • creates an underwater cacophony

  • that interrupts whale communications.

  • - They're vocalizing already at the surface.

  • So, we'll deploy the hydrophone.

  • Just boat noise now, they've stopped calling.

  • - [Woman] Okay.

  • - [Narrator] Because orcas are instinctively collaborative,

  • communication is central to everything they do.

  • Disoriented whales may also swim out

  • of their usual living area.

  • - [Ellyne] With the whales wanting

  • to be away from all the boat noise

  • and needing a bit more space,

  • sometimes they're hugged a bit on the coastline,

  • too close to the rocks.

  • - [Narrator] Ellyne says this may explain

  • why the spring of 2020 saw more whales

  • stranded on the coasts than any previous season.

  • - It could be due to noise pollution and acoustic trauma.

  • If we were able to be here within

  • the first 48 hours of when the whales stranded

  • and to actually look into the head

  • and see if there's any damage within the ear canal areas.

  • - [Narrator] The strandings could also have been caused

  • by a harmful algae bloom

  • or a virus that affected several species.

  • But unless Ellyne and the team can examine

  • a stranded whale shortly after its death,

  • they can't gather much information.

  • - It actually wasn't reported in time

  • to really see why it had died.

  • We unfortunately cannot take a blubber sample

  • since it's decayed too much.

  • Usually at this point we take a tooth

  • or we take a bone sample.

  • And there were no teeth in the jaw,

  • but we do have a sample of one

  • of the vertebrae that we've taken.

  • - [Narrator] Ellyne collected samples

  • from other stranded whales,

  • including a pilot whale, during this research mission.

  • These samples of blubber and bone

  • can tell researchers about an animal's sex,

  • genetics, diet, and more.

  • Ultimately, Ellyne's findings support

  • Ocean Sounds' efforts to educate

  • the public about protecting the mammals.

  • - Our focus isn't only on research,

  • but we're also focused on conservation

  • and outreach and education.

  • - [Narrator] Ocean Sounds has a set of guidelines

  • for whale-watching boats that

  • they're lobbying to turn into Norwegian law.

  • They include requiring boats to slow down,

  • shift into neutral, and then turn off the engine

  • while approaching whales,

  • and maintaining a minimum distance

  • of 50 meters at all times.

  • The goal is to regulate noise levels in the region

  • while still allowing whale-watching and fishing to operate.

  • And making Lofoten a marine protected area

  • would ban oil exploration and drilling in the area.

  • Until that happens,

  • Ocean Sounds is selling recordings

  • of whale communications online

  • as a way to raise awareness and fund their operations.

  • - We're trying to be able

  • to not only study the vocalizations and behavior,

  • but also to bring the whales to the people,

  • giving a voice to the whales.

  • (gentle music)

(orca sounds)

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The Invisible Threat Orcas Face In Norway

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    林宜悉 posted on 2020/11/10
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