Behavioral Responses of Fin Whales to Military Mid-Frequency Active Sonar

The effect of active sonars on marine mammal behaviour is a topic of considerable interest and scientific investigation. Some whales, including the largest species (blue whales, Balaenoptera musculus), can be impacted by mid-frequency (1–10 kHz) military sonars. Here we apply complementary experimental methods to provide the first experimentally controlled measurements of behavioural responses to military sonar and similar stimuli for a related endangered species, fin whales (Balaenoptera physalus). Analytical methods include: (i) principal component analysis paired with generalized additive mixed models; (ii) hidden Markov models; and (iii) structured expert elicitation using response severity metrics. These approaches provide complementary perspectives on the nature of potential changes within and across individuals. Behavioural changes were detected in five of 15 whales during controlled exposure experiments using mid-frequency active sonar or pseudorandom noise of similar frequency, duration and source and received level. No changes were detected during six control (no noise) sequences. Overall responses were more limited in occurrence, severity and duration than in blue whales and were less dependent upon contextual aspects of exposure and more contingent upon exposure received level. Quantifying the factors influencing marine mammal responses to sonar is critical in assessing and mitigating future impacts.


Southall, B.L., A.N. Allen, J. Calambokidis, C. Casey, S.L. DeRuiter, S. Fregosi, A.S. Friedlaender, J.A. Goldbogen, C.M. Harris, E.L. Hazen, V. Popov, and A.K. Stimpert. 2023. Behavioral Responses of Fin Whales to Military Mid-Frequency Active Sonar. Royal Society Open Science 10: 231775. doi: 10.1098/rsos.231775

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