Formal Comment to Gong et al.: Ecosystem Scale Acoustic Sensing Reveals Humpback Whale Behavior Synchronous with Herring Spawning Processes and Re-Evaluation Finds No Effect of Sonar on Humpback Song Occurrence in the Gulf of Maine in Fall 2006

Denise Risch, Peter J. Corkeron, William T. Ellison, Sofie M. Van Parijs

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In their paper: “Ecosystem scale acoustic sensing reveals humpback whale behavior synchronous with herring spawning processes and re-evaluation finds no effect of sonar on humpback song occurrence in the Gulf of Maine in Fall 2006” Gong et al. [1] used acoustic monitoring to detect synchronous herring spawning and humpback whale presence in the Gulf of Maine, presenting novel and interesting data on predator-prey relationships on a major humpback whale feeding ground in the western North Atlantic. In addition, their finding that singing humpback whales recorded on Georges Bank and in the vicinity to their active Ocean Acoustic Waveguide Remote Sensing (OAWRS) source array did not seem to respond acoustically to OAWRS transmissions during a Fall 2006 experiment is also new. Gong et al. [1] argue that it is different from our observations in the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary (SBNMS), 200 km distant from the OAWRS source array during the same experiment [2].

However, in contrast to the conclusions of Gong et al. [1], we argue that their results do not contradict, nor necessarily conflict with, our findings. Variable behavioral responses to noise have been shown in a range of marine mammals. For example blue whales have been shown both to increase and decrease calling rates in response to different noise sources [3], [4]. Responses to noise are complex in nature and may depend on factors such as behavioral context, prey availability, distance from source, received level (RL), signal structure and novelty, as well as individual differences [5], [6]. We argue that the finding that humpback whales reacted differently towards the OAWRS signal depending on range to the source, RL above background noise and (likely) differences in behavioral state is an interesting result that should be highlighted rather than discounted.
Original languageEnglish
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - 7 Oct 2014

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