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Humanity And The Disruption Of Animal Communication

As if surviving in the wild isn't tough enough, human interference in animal communication makes things even more difficult

Animals communicate in many different ways, and it's not always vocal - but it is always important to their survival.

Mary Woodruff, a Canisius College Animal Behavior student explains, "It's used for social interaction like mating, or mother-offspring connections. It's used for maintaining territories [...] even to communicate food sources."

As if surviving in the wild isn't tough enough, human interference in animal communication makes things even more difficult, and Woodruff says the interference is not coming only from our more dense population centers.

"We are starting to contribute noise not only in our immediate urbanized areas, but branching out into almost every aspect of our world. So shipping, energy extraction, and transportation I would say are the main contributors of anthropogenic noise."

Noise interference in water can be cause a lot of problems too. Marine mammals like whales and dolphins use sonar to communicate and any disruption can be crippling.

"Noise within water travels four times faster than on land, so not only do we have just the noise impact but it's traveling faster and it's amplified through water so the effects are amplified as well."

And damage to marine life can go well beyond interrupting calls. There's evidence of physical damage too.

"Having that interference is not only masking that communication, but also interfering with how they perceive their environment," says Woodruff, "and it has been shown that some whales that are beached - they'll do autopsies - and they'll see that there's ear damage or brain damage and that's supposed to be caused by anthropogenic noise disturbance at chronic levels."

Constant transportation is an obvious issue for wildlife, but our never ending search for the energy to fuel that transportation is equally disruptive.

"You have oil and gas developments, with the explosions of fracking.Or just the loud machinery, for oceanic oil extraction, you will have seismic air guns that will look for deposits on the ocean floor."

Mother Nature is adaptable - wildlife has shown an ability to make the necessary changes needed to deal with human interference. But Earth still needs us to take responsibility for righting the damage that's been done, and it all starts with awareness.

"Honestly, it can be a little depressing to think about sometimes, because there's so many seemingly bad things happening all at once," concludes Woodruff, "but I think it's important to always remember that we're not helpless, and that there is hope, and there are so many people that care about our wildlife, and if we all work together there is a positive impact and a positive change that can be achieved."