UBC engineers want to save whales from drowning… in noise

UBC Engineering researchers are diving in to address the issue of chronic ship noise, leading to sress, hearing loss and feeding problems for marine mammals. (Photo by Swanson Chan on Unsplash)

This article originally appeared on UBC News.

Chronic ship noise can lead to stress, hearing loss and feeding problems for marine mammals like whales, dolphins and porpoises. UBC Engineering researchers are diving in to help address the issue.

According to project lead Dr. Rajeev Jaiman, an associate professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering, propeller noise accounts for much of the acoustic barrage from ships.

“Propeller noise can hit 170 decibels, the equivalent of a jet engine or a rocket lift-off,” said Dr. Jaiman.

Popping and singing

The reason for the noise is bubbles. The ship’s movement and its propeller’s rotation create steam bubbles that then implode. This creates popping effects and a high-pitched “singing” that can irritate crew and passengers onboard and disrupt marine life within a 100-kilometre radius.

To reduce noise, the researchers are studying solutions like injecting a jet of fluid to help control propeller movement or introducing wavy and serrated edges to break up flow patterns that cause noise.

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