Sailors using heavy metal music to deter orcas from ramming into their boats could find that the strategy backfires.
In response to a number of recent incidents where orca whales in the vicinity of the Iberian Peninsula have been sinking and targeting sailboats sailors are seeking ways to discourage the marine mammal.
A German sailor told The New York Times that his crew turned to a heavy metal playlist, blasted through underwater speakers, to scare off orcas — although, in his experience, the playlist proved to be a complete failure.
Andrew Trites, director of the Marine Mammal Research Unit at the University of British Columbia, told Business Insider that using brash and blaring tunes to avoid orcas could help the whale find the boats.
“Initially, the playing of loud sounds underwater might mask the signature sounds of sailboats — but ultimately the whales would catch on and use it to more easily locate vessels playing it,” Trites said.
Trites also explained that orcas can hear at higher frequencies than humans, meaning that trying to cover up the sounds of sailboats that the orcas have come to recognize is a futile exercise.
Ultimately, the practice is not encouraged.
Trites stated that heavy metal or other music could only be used to deter orcas by playing it so loudly it causes the animals pain and hearing loss. Humans should never do this. )
Additionally, Trites told Business Insider that if sailors adopted this method, the most harmful result would be an addition to noise pollution in the ocean.
“Blasting music underwater, of any type, is the biggest issue. It can negatively affect other marine life.
According to NOAA , noise pollution has already become a serious problem for marine life that relies on sound in order to communicate, find food, escape predators and navigate oceans. Sound travels more quickly and much further in water than it does through air, making it a useful tool for underwater species, scientists have noted.
Human-caused noise pollution comes from a variety of sources, including ships, energy production via wind turbines, underwater mining, and even low-flying planes. Anthropogenic climate change is also affecting underwater soundscapes, research shows.
As of now, scientists are still unsure how to stop the Iberian orca population from ramming into boats, but experts say there are a variety of methods to keep sailors safe during these encounters.
These methods include: avoiding orcas or keeping a distance when spotted, de-powering the boat and dropping sails, maintaining a low profile as they approach the boat, keeping a firm grip on the boat in case they do ram into the vessel, and waiting until the orcas leave the area until sailing again.
“At this point, the jury is still out assessing exactly what is going on, and what can be done (if anything) to stop this adherent targeting of sailboats by this small group of killer whales,” Trites told Insider. “It is not a passing fad — and is going to take a coordinated effort by orca specialists and mariners to experimentally try different deterrence methods to figure out what is going to ultimately work.”