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Deep-sea mining noise may interfere with whale song, study finds

The ability of whales to communicate with one another may be hampered by noise from seabed mining, according to a study published on Tuesday, as preparations for the start of deep-sea mining for battery metals pick up speed.


The peer-reviewed study contends that additional research is necessary to determine the risk that deep-sea mining may present to large marine mammals. The study was funded by Umweltstiftung Greenpeace, a foundation arm of the environmental organisation.


Plans to mine the rocks that cover a sizable portion of the ocean floor and are rich in battery metals are being advanced by a number of countries and businesses. The International Seabed Authority (ISA), a U.N. organisation with a base in Jamaica, must first agree on regulations before mining in international waters can start.


The Clarion Clipperton Zone, an area of the ocean in the northern Pacific, is home to an estimated 22 to 30 species of cetaceans, including the imperilled blue whale. The ISA has authorised 17 seabed mining exploration licences in this area.


According to a study published in Frontiers in Marine Science, ‘the sounds produced by mining operations, including from remotely operated vehicles on the sea floor, overlap with the frequencies at which cetaceans communicate.’


According to the study, mining is likely to generate noise at a variety of frequencies that may travel hundreds of kilometres, interfering with marine mammals’ ability to use echolocation to navigate and disturbing the messages they send via whale song.


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