Boat noise temporarily deafens squid

Photo credit: Pascal Ingelrest

by Arline L. Bronzaft, Ph.D., Board of Directors, GrowNYC, Co-founder, The Quiet Coalition, and Honorary Chair, Quiet American Skies

Here I am again writing about the dangers of noise to a species, in this case squid, other than human beings. But the noise imposed on the squid, namely boat noise, is brought about by the actions of humans. Apparently, only 15 minutes of noise from a diesel engine can cause some hearing loss in squid. Emily Harwitz writes that the hearing can come back in a few hours, assuming, of course, that the boats are no longer close by to expose the squid to more engine noise.

Harwitz explains how similar the hearing structures of the human and squid are, but she acknowledges that we still need to learn more about the physiology of the squid hearing organs and how they function. Yet, there was enough information about squid hearing to permit researcher Rosalyn Putland to conduct the squid study in her lab. Putland was able to examine the reactions of the squid after exposure to the engine sounds and found it took about two hours to recover. Previous research had found that strong noise exposure damaged the hearing of squid permanently.

The positive outcome of Puland’s research is that squid can recover their hearing after the loud sound is removed. Kate Feller, a sensory ecologist, took the positive finding of recovery to suggest that vessels could limit their time in certain areas of the sea and underwater drilling could be limited as well.

These are fine suggestions, but will they be heeded? Otherwise, squid’s hearing will be damaged. The question is: Do humans care enough to protect them?

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