Where I live in New York, we’re constantly holding community meetings where neighbors complain that noise from local bars is stressing them out and keeping them awake. Whales don’t get to protest when their home jet streams get turned into noisy shipping alleys, but it’s otherwise basically the same. Just like late-night drunken clamor stresses out East Villagers, shipping noise stresses out whales.
Researchers found a clear link between whales’ stress levels and shipping noise almost by accident: two whale experiments were going on during the stretch after September 11th when shipping ground to a halt for security reasons. One was collecting fecal samples, which contain hormones indicating whales’ stress level; the other was collecting acoustic recordings in whales’ environments. Only recently did the researchers realize they could mash up the two different experiments. And when they put the data together, there was a clear correlation: Whales’ stress levels dropped as noise levels did.
Independent scientists told the Associate Press that this is the “first solid piece of evidence that says there’s a link between noise level and stress.” It’s as if the whales were saying, “Ah, finally, a bit of peace and quiet,” at 5 a.m. after tossing and turning all night while NYU students cavorted outside their windows.