OSU researcher uses drones to detect impact of ship channel activity on West Coast whales.

COURTESY: EARTHFIX  - An OSU researcher is leading a study of how noisy ships affect whales off the Oregon Coast. The whales off the West Coast depend on sound to communicate, navigate and find food. So, what happens to their health when we fill their habitat with noisy ship traffic?

Oregon State University researcher Dr. Leigh Torres is leading an ambitious new research project to find out, using drones and a variety of other tools to do health check-ups on the whales.

She and her research team are making regular trips to the ocean off the coast of Newport. The area is prime feeding ground for gray whales and also sees plenty of noisy ships and fishing vessels going in and out of Yaquina Bay.

"These gray whales here live in a really urban environment," she said. "So, they're constantly exposed to a lot of vessel traffic, mainly."

Torres says it's clear from underwater recordings that human noise can drown out whale calls, and research shows whales that live in noisier environments have higher stress levels.

"And we really we want to know if there are long-term consequences to their health and physiology," Torres said. "So, is it stressing them out? And does that have long-term consequences?"

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