UN: Ships Need to Shut Up So Whales and Dolphins Can Hear

The noises made by the gargantuan boats that move our stuff from one continent to another are ruining marine life. So, this week, new regulations have been issued by the International Maritime Organization, the sea-faring agency of the United Nations, asking shipping companies to turn down the volume.

The sound that ships make creates an "acoustic smog" that can stress out whales and confuse dolphins. In one investigation concerning giant squid that washed up on a Spanish beach, researchers determined that low-frequency marine noise actually vibrated the organs of squid, octopuses and cuttlefish until they were physically damaged, destroying their ability to orientate themselves.

The biggest problems on these ships are the propellers, which not only create noise but create noise that's the same frequency as the communication between sea mammals. So whales, for example, will make louder and louder attempts to call out to each other, which exhausts their bodies and also decreases their ability to hunt and kill prey. New propellers have recently been redesigned on some ships to quiet their churning sounds, but the modified props are not the industry standard yet. And of course, we keep building larger and louder super-ships thanks to our oil addiction.

Although the regulations are only voluntary at this point, UN member nations can choose to make them mandatory if they'd like. But even these proposed guidelines are not far-reaching enough for some groups, who say that naval vessels and sonar should also be included in the ruling as well. [New Scientist]

AP Photo/Cascadia Research, John Calambokidis, File