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Vessel noise levels drive behavioural responses of humpback whales with implications for whale-watching

  1. Kate R Sprogis  Is a corresponding author
  2. Simone Videsen
  3. Peter T Madsen
  1. Aarhus University, Denmark
Research Article
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Cite this article as: eLife 2020;9:e56760 doi: 10.7554/eLife.56760

Abstract

Disturbance from whale-watching can cause significant behavioural changes with fitness consequences for targeted whale populations. However, the sensory stimuli triggering these responses are unknown, preventing effective mitigation. Here, we test the hypothesis that vessel noise level is a driver of disturbance, using humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) as a model species. We conducted controlled exposure experiments (n= 42) on resting mother-calf pairs on a resting ground off Australia, by simulating whale-watch scenarios with a research vessel (range 100 m, speed 1.5 knts) playing back vessel noise at control/low (124/148 dB), medium (160 dB) or high (172 dB) LF-weighted source levels (re 1 μPa RMS@1m). Compared to control/low treatments, during high noise playbacks the mother's proportion of time resting decreased by 30%, respiration rate doubled and swim speed increased by 37%. We therefore conclude that vessel noise is an adequate driver of behavioural disturbance in whales and that regulations to mitigate the impact of whale-watching should include noise emission standards.

Article and author information

Author details

  1. Kate R Sprogis

    Zoophysiology, Aarhus University, Aarhus C, Denmark
    For correspondence
    kate.sprogis@bios.au.dk
    Competing interests
    The authors declare that no competing interests exist.
    ORCID icon "This ORCID iD identifies the author of this article:" 0000-0002-9050-3028
  2. Simone Videsen

    Zoophysiology, Aarhus University, Aarhus C, Denmark
    Competing interests
    The authors declare that no competing interests exist.
    ORCID icon "This ORCID iD identifies the author of this article:" 0000-0002-7563-2470
  3. Peter T Madsen

    Zoophysiology, Department of Bioscience, Aarhus University, Aarhus, Denmark
    Competing interests
    The authors declare that no competing interests exist.
    ORCID icon "This ORCID iD identifies the author of this article:" 0000-0002-5208-5259

Funding

European Union's Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme (Marie Skłodowska-Curie grant agreement No 792880)

  • Kate R Sprogis

The funders had no role in study design, data collection and interpretation, or the decision to submit the work for publication.

Reviewing Editor

  1. Rosalyn Gloag, University of Sidney, Australia

Publication history

  1. Received: March 9, 2020
  2. Accepted: June 2, 2020
  3. Accepted Manuscript published: June 16, 2020 (version 1)
  4. Version of Record published: June 29, 2020 (version 2)

Copyright

© 2020, Sprogis et al.

This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License permitting unrestricted use and redistribution provided that the original author and source are credited.

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