July 27 to September 7, 2009
A research cruise called MED 09 (short for Mediterranean 2009) is part of an ongoing, international, and interdisciplinary effort to better understand whale behavior, particularly the effects of sound in the sea on beaked whales and other marine mammals. Researchers want to understand how whales change their behavior when they hear different sounds, both natural and man-made.
Scientists will work from the NATO research vessel Alliance in deep, canyon-like areas around the Balearic and Alboran Islands, near Italy and Spain. This experiment will advance previous research efforts, including nine research cruises since 1999, as well as related tagging and tracking efforts since 2001 in the Mediterranean, Canary Islands, Bahamas, California, and Hawaii.
MED 09 will be conducted by marine mammal researchers from Italy, Spain, and the United States. They understand marine mammal distribution, diving, and behavior, and specialize in the use of underwater sound to find marine mammals and safely measure their responses to controlled sound experiments.
Why study sound in the ocean?
Marine mammals use sound for many purposes: to find mates, avoid predators, track food, raise their young, and generally find their way around a large, dark ocean. Consequently, sound in their environment that interferes with their ability to hear signals or disrupts their behavior can result in injury or death.
Researchers are particularly interested in learning about the impacts of intense, isolated sounds under certain conditions. There have been several examples of beaked whales stranding in groups during naval sonar exercises. These events, while rare, share similarities in geography and environmental conditions, and the species involved (beaked whales appear to be the most sensitive).
Data collected from this expedition, and compared to other research expeditions, will help researchers understand how common this events may be and what might be done to reduce the likelihood of other future events.
Where will scientists conduct the research?
The cruise will leave from La Spezia, Italy, within the Pelagos Sanctuary, a vast protected marine area between southeastern France, Monaco, northwestern Italy and northern Sardinia, and encompassing Corsica and the Tuscan Archipelago. The first phase of the cruise will take place primarily in international waters near Spain (particularly the Balearic and Alboran Seas). The second phase of the cruise will end in the Tyrrhenian Sea outside of the Pelagos Sanctuary before the ship sails back to La Spezia.
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The goals of MED 09 are to:
- Identify and improve the management of habitats that host sensitive species, such as beaked whales
- Map the range of noises to which the whales are normally exposed to in the Mediterranean Sea
- Test and improve acoustic monitoring tools and techniques for detecting beaked whales
- Develop and refine procedures to safely test the response of whales to sound
- Establish sound exposures to safely test responses of whales to sound
- Provide a scientific basis for estimating risk and minimizing impact of sound-producing activities to military agencies and government regulators
The cruise is sponsored by the U.S. Navy, Office of Naval Research (ONR), and the U.S. Department of Defense Strategic Environmental Research and Development Program (SERDP). Additional support was provided by the Naval Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration.
Last updated: August 20, 2009