Narwhals can be disturbed by faraway noises

A new study from Greenland found the whales reacted to noises from as far away as 20 or 30 kilometers.

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A pod of narwhals in Northwest Greenland. (Kristin Laidre / CC BY-ND 4.0)

A new study shows that narwhals are disturbed by noise originating as far as 20 to 30 kilometers away, reports Greenland national broadcaster KNR.

The noise may disturb them so much that they avoid foraging, according to a recent study from Copenhagen University and Greenland’s Nature Institute.

[Noise from ships in Nunavut waters could change whale behavior, research suggests]

Tests were conducted in East Greenland in which scientists spent one week conducting tests using a ship engine and a seismic air cannon, which is used in petroleum exploration. In one case, the scientists observed an influence from noise originating 40 kilometers away.

“The narwhals’ reactions indicated that they get scared and stressed,” marine biologist Outi Tervo of Greenland’s Nature Institute, one of the scientists behind the study, told KNR. “They stop transmitting clicking sounds that they use when the forage, they no longer dive deep, and the swim close to the coast, a thing they would otherwise only do when feeling threatened by killer whales. This behavior means they have no means of finding food as long as the noise goes on.”