Ships and air guns reduce social interactions in humpback whales at greater ranges than other behavioral impacts
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© 2020 Elsevier Ltd
Understanding the interactions between human activity in the ocean and marine mammals is a fundamental step to developing responsible mitigation measures and informing policy. Here, the response of migrating humpback whales to vessels towing seismic air gun arrays (on or off) was quantified as a reduction in their likelihood of socially interacting (joining together). Groups were significantly less likely to participate in a joining interaction in the presence of a vessel, regardless of whether or not the air guns were active. This reduction was especially pronounced in groups within a social environment that favored joining, that is, when singing whales or other groups were nearby. Seismic survey mitigation practices are designed primarily to prevent damage to whales' hearing from close-by sources. Here, we found potentially detrimental behavioral changes at much greater ranges, and much lower received levels, than those used for current mitigation recommendations.
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