Do You Hear What I Hear? Researchers Record Orcas Underwater

Sep 6, 2012

The waters of Puget Sound are a pretty noisy place, if you’re an orca. But what does a passing tanker ship or motorboat sound like to a killer whale? How does it affect their behavior? Ashley Ahearn reports researchers are trying to find out.

Brad Hanson is a wildlife biologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. This week he’ll be heading out into Puget Sound to catch up with some of the region’s most illustrious marine residents.

And when he does, he’s going to attach an underwater microphone to them. The goal is to hear what the orcas hear.

Hanson: “It’s really interesting. Being able to visualize this gives us such a better idea of what their behavior is like under water.”

The microphones are attached to the orcas with suction cups. They stay on for about 3 and a half hours at a time then Hanson collects them when they float to the surface.

The devices will record audio and depth measurements as the whales hunt for food. That data can then be correlated with vessel traffic and other sources of noise.

Hanson: “So we’re interested in trying to figure out if the noise levels are interfering with the whale’s ability to communicate effectively during foraging and or actually interferes with their foraging.”

The researchers will follow the resident orcas for the next three weeks, collecting hours of underwater audio.

Copyright 2012 Northwest Public Radio