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Whales and dolphins increasingly threatened by noise pollution, scientists say

December 4, 2008 | 11:29 am

A humpback whale launches like a missile in the Santa Barbara Channel.

Those who don't believe man is a blight on the planet ought to ask the whales.

But shout loudly, because they're a little hard of hearing these days.

So say environmentalists and government representatives gathered for a meeting of the U.N.-backed Convention on the Conservation of Migratory
Species of Wild Animals.

They cite noise pollution caused by increased commercial shipping, seismic surveys and military sonar -- which the U.S. Navy will soon use during training off Southern California, just in time for the gray whale migration -- as major threats to the survival of many species of marine mammals.

All these sounds and painful pings make it increasingly difficult for whales and other mammals to communicate with song. They also lead to mammal strandings.

Mark Simmonds, director of the Britain-based Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society, described it as a "cocktail-party effect" in an Associated Press story. "You have to speak louder and louder until no one can hear each other anymore," he said.

Aside from noise pollution is climate change, scientists said, that is altering ocean chemistry to cause sound to travel farther through water.

And to think there once was a time when all the whales had to worry about were the harpoons of whalers. Their future does not look bright.

-- Pete Thomas

Photo: A humpback whale launches like a missile in the Santa Barbara Channel. Credit: Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times