Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Motoring across the steel-gray surface of the Pacific Ocean on a scientific vessel loaded with high-tech equipment — the vast horizon stretching ahead and seabirds soaring above — it is still nearly impossible to picture the diverse and abundant life that hides beneath the waves.
But occasionally, you get a glimpse.
A humpback whale breaches off the bow. Three sea lions mingle in a group before diving in unison. A pod of 100 or more dolphins puts on an acrobatic show, its members leaping above the surface two or three at a time.
What sounds do such marine mammals hear, and how loud is it in their underwater world?
Those are the questions driving scientist Danielle Lipski and her colleagues, who were on a daylong voyage Thursday out of Bodega Bay on a 67-foot ship — Research Vessel Fulmar — to deploy what amounts to a large listening device meant to record the ocean’s sounds.
Marine zoologists are increasingly worried that an ever-louder ocean — traversed by fishing vessels, shipping traffic and military craft — might interfere with the songs and vocalizations that whales and other marine mammals use to communicate about food sources, migratory routes, reproductive availability and other critical functions.