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Vessel noise disrupt foraging in wild harbour porpoises

A new study by AIAS Fellow Prof. Peter Teglberg Madsen and co-authors shows for the first time that harbour porpoises will flee and stop searching for food when exposed to high levels of shipping noise.

Photo: The animal-borne acoustic tag is mounted on top of the animal with suction discs, and will fall off after approx. 20-40 hours of use. Lis Bach, Aarhus University.

The scientific paper entitled ‘High rates of vessel noise disrupt foraging in wild harbour porpoises' was published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B, and is a result of a research collaboration between researchers from the Department of Bioscience at Aarhus University, University of St. Andrews,  Scotland and the University of Veterinary Medicine Hannover, Germany. The project was funded by BfN,the German Federal Agency for Nature Conservation.

More about the study

Shipping is the dominant marine anthropogenic noise source in the world's oceans, yet we know little about vessel encounter rates, exposure levels and behavioural reactions for cetaceans in the wild, many of which rely on sound for foraging, communication and social interactions. Here, we used animal-borne acoustic tags to measure vessel noise exposure and foraging efforts in seven harbour porpoises in highly trafficked coastal waters. Tagged porpoises encountered vessel noise 17–89% of the time and occasional high-noise levels coincided with vigorous fluking, bottom diving, interrupted foraging and even cessation of echolocation, leading to significantly fewer prey capture attempts at received levels greater than 96 dB re 1 µPa (16 kHz third-octave). If such exposures occur frequently, porpoises, which have high metabolic requirements, may be unable to compensate energetically with negative long-term fitness consequences. That shipping noise disrupts foraging in the high-frequency-hearing porpoise raises concerns that other toothed whale species may also be affected. 

Full article: High rates of vessel noise disrupt foraging in wild harbour porpoises' in Proceedings of the Royal Society B

Read the article ‘Støj fra skibe skræmmer marsvin’ in Danish, including video



Professor Peter Teglberg Madsen, AIAS Fellow
Aarhus Institute of Advanced Studies
Aarhus University
E-mail: peter.madsen@aias.au.dk
Mobile: +45 5177 8771