Quieting the Global Growl

By Amorina Kingdom.

Underwater noise from ships has gotten louder, reshaping marine ecosystems and the lives of animals that depend on sounds to eat, mate, and navigate. Can ships ever pipe down?

It’s late September, and autumn colors flush the forested slopes of Quebec’s Laurentian Mountains. Sun dapples the two-lane blacktop that winds above Canada’s brilliant blue St. Lawrence River. The St. Lawrence is a marine highway that links Toronto, Cleveland, Chicago, Thunder Bay, and other ports along the Great Lakes to the Atlantic Ocean. It’s a waterway where cargo ships, vehicle carriers, and cruise ships run alongside recreational boats.

I’ve followed the river northeast past the neon riot of Montreal and the historic grandeur of Quebec City to the village of Tadoussac. Here, the river widens, shading into the Gulf and the salty Atlantic beyond, just where the smaller Saguenay River reaches the St. Lawrence’s northern bank. Fjord, river, and sea meet in a restive churn that stirs up a rich food web. In summer, whales from 13 species mingle below. Minke whales, blue and fin whales, humpbacks, and dolphins ply the waters.

At the Pointe-Noire headland, a network of walkways and viewing platforms zigzags through maples, evergreens, and golden birch trees many meters above the water. Tadoussac offers scientists fruitful research sites alongside impressive whale watching, and a wooden placard at the walkway entrance makes it clear that belugas are the local celebrities.

Most belugas live in icy Arctic waters. As the last ice age ended, a handful lingered in the St. Lawrence estuary instead of following the cold water north. Now their descendants are the world’s southernmost, cut off from the rest of their kind. Quebec fishermen once decimated them by hunting them for sport, their white hides fetching CAN $15 each. Today their numbers have rebounded slightly to around 900.

read more at hakaimagazine.com.