How does human noise impact whales?

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We humans have many rules and regulations surrounding noise — because we recognise that noise disruption is annoying, stressful, and ultimately robs us of our health.

minke whale

Minke whales are one of the species Stuart has considered in his work. Image: Anne Smrcina/NOAA.

Spare a thought for whales then, who have to put up with the constant noise caused by shipping and the construction of oil rigs and wind farms in the oceans. There are concerns that the noise pollution we cause bothers and confused the whales so much, it may even disrupt their ability to go on their annual migrations.

In this episode we talk to Stuart Johnston of the University of Melbourne in Australia who uses mathematics to understand the migration of whales and how it might be impacted by human generated noise. The ultimate aim is to figure out what we can do to mitigate the disruption we cause.

We met Stuart at a workshop on collective behaviour, which took place at the Newton Institute for Mathematical Sciences (INI) in Cambridge in August 2023. The workshop was part of a 6-month research programme on the mathematics of movement which is currently taking place at the INI.

This content was produced as part of our collaboration with the Isaac Newton Institute for Mathematical Sciences (INI). The INI is an international research centre in Cambridge which attracts leading mathematicians from all over the world. You can find all the content from the collaboration here.

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