Orca Acoustics: Ocean Sounds Lofoten
In July 2020, I joined a team of researchers working for Ocean Sounds, an organisation which investigates the vocalisations made by various species of cetaceans and looks into the impacts of underwater noise pollution on marine mammals. Under the guidance of lead researcher Ellyne Hamran (US), we were working out of the port of Moskenes in the Lofoten archipelago in northern Norway. The main focus of the current project were orcas and more specifically one particular pod (identified as "AC") that appears to frequent the southern shores of the island.
The story has now been published on Business Insider:
Every day - if weather conditions allowed - we would head out on the waves to find, study and film the whales: at the surface, from the air and underwater. Using a strict observation protocol so as not to interfere with their behaviour, our research boat would follow the killer whales to document their behaviour and - under favourable conditions - lower a hydrophone into the water to record the vocalisations. This type of research allows to correlate certain types of behaviour to specific vocalisations (a range of clicks, calls and whistles) made by the orcas.
The studies by Ocean Sounds also clearly demonstrate how noise pollution from boat traffic and other sources interferes with the behaviour of marine mammals in the region, including orcas. This year has seen the occurence of a series of a relatively large number of strandings of cetaceans such as sperm whales and orcas in northern Norway. In the absence of thorough autopsies and fully detailed information these remain unexplained. However, extreme noise pollution resulting from seismic testing in preparation for drilling for oil and gas as well as the use of sonar for naval exercise has been known to cause lethal harm to cetaceans, including orcas and could be related to this year's events.