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Science Ticker

Shipping noise can disturb porpoises and disrupt their mealtime

porpoise with tracker attached

TAG TEAM  Researchers tagged seven porpoises with sensors that were attached via suction cups, which detached harmlessly after about a day.

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Harbor porpoises are frequently exposed to sounds from shipping vessels that register at around 100 decibels, about as loud as a lawnmower, scientists report February 14 in Proceedings of the Royal Society B. Sounds this loud can cause porpoises to stop echolocation, which they use to catch food.

While high-frequency submarine sonar has been found to harm whales (SN: 4/23/11, p. 16), low-frequency noise from shipping vessels is responsible for most human-made noise in the ocean, the researchers say. Porpoises have poor hearing in lower frequencies, so it was unclear if they were affected.

In the first study to assess the effects of shipping vessel noise on porpoises, researchers tagged seven harbor porpoises off the coast of Denmark with sensors that tracked the animals’ movement and echolocation usage in response to underwater noise over about 20 hours.  

One ship created a 130 decibel noise — twice as loud as a chainsaw — that caused a porpoise to flee at top speed. These initial results indicate that ship noise could affect how much food porpoises hunt and consume.

Astronomy,, Planetary Science

Dawn spacecraft will keep orbiting the dwarf planet Ceres indefinitely

By Lisa Grossman 3:15pm, October 20, 2017
NASA just gave the Dawn spacecraft a second mission extension to orbit Ceres indefinitely.

Measured distance within the Milky Way gives clues to what our galaxy looks like

By Lisa Grossman 2:45pm, October 12, 2017
Astronomers used an old but challenging technique to directly measure the distance to a star on the opposite side of the galaxy for the first time.
Animals,, Oceans,, Conservation

New deep-sea sponge could play a starring role in monitoring ocean health

By Carolyn Gramling 7:00am, October 10, 2017
A new species of sponge that dwells on metal-rich rocks could help scientists track the environmental impact of deep-sea mining.
Animals,, Paleontology

Ancient whale turns up on wrong side of the world

By Laurel Hamers 12:00pm, October 9, 2017
A Southern Hemisphere whale species was briefly a northern resident.
Chemistry,, Technology

Cool way to peer into molecules’ inner workings wins chemistry Nobel Prize

By Laurel Hamers 8:04am, October 4, 2017
Three scientists will split the prize for their work developing cryo-electron microscopy.
Paleontology,, Animals

A baby ichthyosaur’s last meal revealed

By Helen Thompson 2:00am, October 3, 2017
A new look at an old fossil shows that some species of baby ichthyosaurs may have dined on squid.
Physiology,, Biomedicine

Body clock mechanics wins U.S. trio the Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine

By Tina Hesman Saey 6:41am, October 2, 2017
The cellular mechanisms governing circadian rhythms was a Nobel Prize‒winning discover for three Americans.

Bedbugs may be into dirty laundry

By Helen Thompson 9:00am, September 28, 2017
When humans aren’t around, bedbugs go for the next best thing: smelly human laundry.

Saber-toothed kittens were born armed to pounce

By Carolyn Gramling 2:00pm, September 27, 2017
Even as babies, saber-toothed cats had not only oversized canine teeth but also unusually powerful forelimbs.
Paleontology,, Animals

This giant marsupial was a seasonal migrant

By Laurel Hamers 7:05pm, September 26, 2017
The giant, extinct marsupial Diprotodon optatum migrated seasonally, the first marsupial shown to do so.
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