3 September, 1997
Today the ship seemed to be plagued with problems that ended up benefiting the acoustics research project. I noticed the first one when I opened the door to the head and found that it was flooded with about three inches of water. I know the ship's crew is expected to keep the water out of the boat and this was not part of their normal routine. It turns out that we had ruptured a saltwater line and we would have to hold our position for about four hours while it was repaired. Fiona decided that this would be a good time to have our team fly about twelve miles away from the ship and measure the ambient noise levels beneath the ice.
Peter Scheifele has made measurements of noise levels in a number of locations where beluga whales tend to congregate. He has observed that autopsies of the ears of stranded animals show evidence of acoustical trauma, similar to what is observed in humans who are exposed to high sound intensities. His concern is that the noise pollution in areas where marine mammals seasonally migrate is having a physiological impact.
About midnight, Peter, Gary Stern, a Canadian scientist who studies contaminants in marine mammals, and I were talking about the day's events over a late snack. Gary told us his studies show that the beluga whales are accumulating high levels of contaminants in their fat. He mentioned that the mercury levels high enough to kill a small mammal have been observed in their brain tissue. He is concerned for the natives who regularly eat whale blubber. If they have to limit their diets to avoid the contaminants, they will become deficient in essential nutrients. This is an example of the negative side of being at the top of the food chain. The contaminants that are sequestered in the plankton are biomagnified by a factor of about ten at each level up the food chain. This places the subsistence hunters in the Arctic, who are at the fifth tropic level, at risk.
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