The Function of Song in Humpback Whales and the Potential Impact of Anthropogenic Noise

EPA Grant Number: FP916400
Title: The Function of Song in Humpback Whales and the Potential Impact of Anthropogenic Noise
Investigators: Cholewiak, Danielle M.
Institution: Cornell University
EPA Project Officer: Lee, Sonja
Project Period: January 1, 2004 through December 31, 2006
Project Amount: $111,344
RFA: STAR Graduate Fellowships (2004) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Academic Fellowships , Fellowship - Zoology , Biology/Life Sciences


The objectives of this research project are to evaluate hypotheses related to the function of song in humpback whales and to use this information to assess the potential impact of acoustic interference by man-made oceanic noise.


An array of six autonomous recording devices will be deployed along a 6-km stretch of coastline at the study site. The array will record continuously for 30-60 days during peak breeding season in 3 consecutive years. Using these data, all singing males will be located and tracked within and around the array area. Recordings will be analyzed for movement patterns and song pattern changes that may indicate male-male acoustic interactions.

Individual females that have been identified previously will be tracked using frequency-modulated radio transmitters. Observers both on shore and in a boat will track female movements within and around the array area. Acoustic and telemetry data will be combined to assess female behavior patterns relative to singer distribution and measure the ranges at which females show behavioral reactions to singing males.

Analyses will compare the received sound levels of anthropogenic noise (particularly shipping vessels and oil rigs) using existing data with the received levels of humpback whale song at the ranges in which females show behavioral reactions to a singer. The degree of acoustic masking in the overlapping frequency bandwidth will be assessed. These results will be used to critically evaluate the impact that increasing anthropogenic noise may have on the breeding system of humpback whales.

Acoustic interference by anthropogenic sound sources may be a grave cause for concern if this mode of communication is critical for successful reproduction. This study will combine data on breeding behavior in an endangered cetacean, the humpback whale, with an analysis of potential acoustic interference by anthropogenic noise.

Supplemental Keywords:

fellowship, humpback whale, mysticete, cetacean, breeding behavior, song, acoustic interference, man-made noise, anthropogenic noise, radio telemetry, autonomous recording device,, RFA, Scientific Discipline, Ecosystem Protection/Environmental Exposure & Risk, RESEARCH, Oceanography, Zoology, Monitoring/Modeling, Monitoring, Environmental Monitoring, Ecological Risk Assessment, anthropogenic stress, aquatic ecosystem, monitoring stations, radiometric technology, detection system, breeding site contamination, whale song recording

Progress and Final Reports:

  • 2004
  • 2005
  • Final