Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Yangtze Finless Porpoise: Highly Endangered Mammal Trying to Cope With Constant Shipping, Dredging and Underwater Construction

Oct. 21, 2013 — The Yangtze finless porpoise, which inhabits the high-traffic waters near the Three Gorges Dam in China, is highly endangered, with only about 1,000 animals alive today. Scientists from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) and their Chinese colleagues are using medical technology to shed new light on this species' critical sense of hearing in a waterway punctuated by constant shipping, dredging, and underwater construction.

"We want to understand how they may be impacted by noise," said Aran Mooney, a biologist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) and a lead author on the study published online this week in the Journal of Experimental Biology.

Marine mammals such as dolphins and porpoises rely on their hearing to navigate, communicate, and find food in the typically deep, dark, and murky waters they inhabit. But what we know about how they hear has been limited to research on just a few species, particularly bottlenose dolphins, because they are relatively common in marine parks and aquaria. This can be a problem when natural resource managers and regulators base aquatic noise pollution policy decisions on data from a limited number of "representative species" when there are over 70 species of toothed whales or odontocetes that live in a variety of aquatic habitats.

This new research shows how variability in the size and shape of toothed whales' heads across species can result in marked differences in how they receive sound and how sensitive they are to a range of frequencies.

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