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Whales near Vancouver
Photograph: Shutterstock

Whales are thriving in human-free oceans right now

Ellie Walker-Arnott
Written by
Ellie Walker-Arnott

We might be getting more than a little bit bored of being inside right now, but out there – beyond our front doors – the animal kingdom is having a great time

We’ve seen goats rampaging around a silent seaside town in Wales, lions snoozing on deserted roads in South Africa and reports of bears having a ‘party’ in America’s Yosemite National Park. Now, it’s time for whales to get in on the action. 

Thanks to a significant decrease in the number of boats on the water, there’s been a drop in underwater noise pollution – and that’s good news for the creatures who call the waves home. 

There have recently been reports of orcas venturing into new places closer to cities and towns than they usually do, both in the ocean-facing city of Vancouver and on the north coast of Scotland. This is thought to be down to the water being more peaceful. 

Whales in Vancouver
Photograph: Shutterstock

In Canada, scientists have found a significant drop in noise levels in the ocean, which is normally affected by sea-traffic noise and sound from human activity inland. The current situation has become something of a natural experiment. We already know, from previous studies, that ship noise causes stress in whales and that the noise can alter their calling behaviour.

‘We are facing a moment of truth,’ marine acoustician Michelle Fournet told The Guardian. ‘What we know about whales in south-east Alaska is that when it gets noisy they call less, and when boats go by they call less. I expect what we might see is an opportunity for whales to have more conversation and to have more complex conversation.’

‘We have an opportunity to listen – and that opportunity to listen will not appear again in our lifetime.’

Basically, it’s our turn to shut up and let the whales make some noise instead. 

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