It's well known that dolphins are among the world's smartest creatures, and humans are among the world's most annoying. The marine mammals, which use a complex pattern of squeaks and whistles to communicate with each other under water, are having trouble hearing themselves think because the nearby humans, with their noisy boats and shipping lanes, are making such a ruckus.
A study published in this week's edition of Biology Letters claims that, due to the increased noise of nearby ships, dolphins off the coast of Maryland were being forced to simplify their "speech" patterns to try and be understood over the sound of engines.
Marine biologist Helen Bailey of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science explained the phenomenon in very human terms:
"It's kind of like trying to answer a question in a noisy bar and after repeated attempts to be heard, you just give the shortest answer possible. Dolphins simplified their calls to counter the masking effects of vessel noise."
Leila Fouda, Bailey's assistant, agreed:
"The simplification of these whistles could reduce the information in these acoustic signals and make it more difficult for dolphins to communicate."
This is not the first study to conclude passing ships were the wildlife equivalent of walking through a stranger's home screaming "Sweet Child O' Mine" at the top of your lungs. A study conducted by Japanese scientists off the coast of the Ogasawara Islands found that humpback whales significantly shortened their songs when boats were passing by. And a 2016 study on orcas concluded that engine noise "hindered their communication abilities."
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Even on the ocean's floor, where Bailey and Fouda planted their microphones, the majority of sound recorded was produced by passing humans.
While noise may not be as pressing a threat as climate change, Bailey believes people who design boats need to take it into account.
"We need to be working to engineer quieter boats."