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Monday, September 17, 2012

What do crickets and rain have to do with healthy oceans?

Karin Bodtker is Living Oceans' Marine Analyst.

There's a new phenomenon. Well, new to me. I'm not always the first to catch onto new things online. Millions and millions of people have downloaded videos from YouTube that bring the natural world into their home or workplace. I'm talking about sounds. Through a YouTube video, you can listen to the sounds of night crickets for 37 minutes straight (48,500 others have):

Or if that's not quite to your taste, try heavy rain for 2 hours (only 30,000 have tried this):

The advertised affect is relaxation and I suppose different sounds work for different people. It looks like many of us need to escape from the noise of our environment and find refuge in these ‘natural’ sounds. Here's a very popular one (with more that 646,000 views!):

Oh, Those Relaxing Ocean Sounds of Waves on Tropical Beaches... Now that made me wonder if temperate beaches have a different sound? I doubt it. Although… have you ever been on a pebbly beach, one steep enough that the pebbles (small rocks really) wash up and down with the waves? The result is the sound of a small rock fall with each wave. It's pretty entrancing! I know just such a beach on the north side of Malcolm Island (north end of Johnstone Strait in B.C.) at Bere Point. The beach is also a whale rubbing beach. This means that orca regularly visit the beach and rub themselves on the pebbles. No one knows why they do this. (I say this confidently but without having done a comprehensive literature search.) I've not witnessed this myself in a handful of trips to Bere Point, but the sound of the place makes me wonder if the whales hear it underwater and are drawn to it. Could they recognize the sound of just the right size of “rubbing” pebbles as the pebbles wash up and down with the waves and tides?

As you are probably aware, marine mammals of all types hear very well under water. You may also be aware that much of Johnstone Strait is considered critical habitat for the Northern Resident Killer Whales of B.C. And one more thing, Johnstone Strait also sees a lot of ship traffic; ships large and small, ferries, cruise ships, tugs, fishing boats and recreational boats. You see where I'm going with this? Ships and boats are noisy. If you live underwater and your regular home range is getting busier and busier with noisy traffic, maybe you'd be looking for a refuge from that noise, some headphones with the sound of your favourite rubbing beach just around the corner.

I raise the issue because we all need to think hard about the acoustic environment that marine creatures live in and how we alter it everyday. Many marine creatures use sound to communicate with their buddies and they need to be able to listen for their prey or predators as well. Noise disturbs all these natural patterns and marine creatures need areas of acoustic peace to retreat to, just like us.

What to do? My colleagues and I at Living Oceans Society can and will raise awareness of the issue at marine planning tables in the region. This is a start. We need more people to see (and hear) that ocean noise is a problem, one that needs mitigation, and this in turn will foster the political will to implement change and the entrepreneurial spirit to produce quieter marine technology.

Ready for more YouTube sounds? Try this one called THE MOST RELAXING SOUNDS, viewed by more that 1.7 million people!

Yup, you guessed it – more ocean waves gently crashing on sandy beaches.

1 comment:

  1. Sounds like a pebbly beach to me in that last one. Or maybe heavy rain in the background? Great, thought provoking blog!