The COVID-19 pandemic has allowed humpback whales in Alaska to enjoy some peace, according to a new study. Researchers say that reduction in noise caused by cruise ships is to thank for the positive changes being witnessed in whales’ social lives.
Before the pandemic, humpback whales stuck together and expressed themselves less. According to National Park Service biologist Christine Gabriel, this behavior has changed since the dawn of the pandemic. With fewer cruise ships disturbing their habitats, the whales have been observed to spread out and communicate more expressively. Mothers have also been seen giving their young ones more freedom.
Cruise ships play a key role in Alaska’s tourism industry, but they make life harder for sea animals. The ships generate loud noise that interferes with whales’ communication and hunting. At the peak of the pandemic, cruise ships became major transmission zones, forcing government restrictions. Tourists also started avoiding cruise ships, a situation that benefited whales. According to a BBC report, traffic to Glacier Bay in Alaska decreased by about 40%.
Decreased cruise ship activities also presented the perfect opportunity for biologists to study marine life. Thanks to the lack of human activity, researchers from the University of Alaska and other institutions have been traversing the coast to observe the behavior of whales.
Jason Gedamke of NOAA fisheries’ ocean acoustics program told NPR that more has to be done to protect whales since they rely on sound for communication. “When you have animals that for millions of years have been able to communicate over vast distances in the ocean, and then once we introduce noise and have increased sound levels and they can’t communicate over those distances, clearly there’s going to be some impact there,” Gedamke said.
Although the pandemic has been a nightmare for humans, animals like these whales have enjoyed some benefits. A different study by the University of California, Davis has shown a significant drop in the number of wild animals being hit by cars over the pandemic. Wild animals have also been seen widely roaming areas they would otherwise never venture into due to human interference.
Lead image via Pixabay