Whales may be able to tune out human cacophony

July 16, 2012 

Preliminary results of experiments on a captive whale show that its wild counterparts might be able to "plug their ears" when they encounter the deafening noises of human activity, from throbbing engines to Navy sonar. Scientists don't know how the whale desensitizes its hearing, The New York Times reports, but it definitely can do it.

The team focused on a false killer whale named Kina and sought to teach her a conditioned behavior similar to how Pavlov taught dogs to salivate upon hearing a bell.

First, the scientists played a gentle tone repeatedly. Then they followed the gentle pulse with a loud sound. After a few trials, the warning signal alone caused Kina to decrease the sensitivity of her hearing.

"It shows promise as a way to mitigate the effects of loud sounds," said Dr. [Paul E.] Nachtigall, founding director of the Marine Mammal Research Program at the University of Hawaii. "People are generally very excited about it."

Read more at The New York Times: Whales, Somehow, Are Coping With Humans' Din

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