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ARTIFICIAL SONAR UPGRADES TO A NEW, WHALE-FRIENDLY ALTERNATIVE FEATURING SHRIMP NOISES



By: Abigail Weintraub


In an effort to map out underwater life, a scientist sends out man-made sonars . The researcher’s intent is to observe a whale’s behavior, but the sharp, shrill pulses can tragically confuse the poor animal and lead it to being stranded along the beach . Meanwhile, a colony of snapping shrimp equipped with notably large pincers snap away in undersea, producing one of the loudest sounds ever created by an animal around the globe. It wouldn’t commonly occur to someone that, with sonar sounds being startling enough, these shrimp could prevent the unfortunate beaching of whales in the future. It’s true, however: taking advantage of naturally occurring sounds rather than relying on artificial technology can provide a better outcome for marine life.


The snapping shrimp species, otherwise known as pistol shrimp, may just be the solution to whale beachings. Like sonar waves, the piercingly loud snaps emitted from these tiny creatures create echoes that scientists are trying to detect and observe. Using snapping shrimp sounds as a sonar alternative can be an efficient solution because these shrimp tend to snap often: it’s their form of communication. As mentioned by Raytheon scientist Alison Laferriere: "A single shrimp snap is much quieter than a traditional sonar source, but there can be thousands of snaps happening per minute."


Considering the substantial impact that a natural sonar alternative can have, many teams of scientists have been analyzing the sounds that a snapping shrimp produces. These groups of people analyze factors such as where the echoes are coming from, where they go, what is in the way of their path, and how to remove the unnecessary sounds that underwater microphones pick up.


There are a few drawbacks in this experiment, however. This particular shrimp species is only common in the United States, so it may be difficult for another country to pick up the experiment. It is also tricky to calculate the exact origin of each sound wave and where it is coming from. Luckily, advanced software techniques and experienced scientists are on the case. In addition, this new technique saves whales, which is beneficial.


Whales would be confusing their own sonar for the artificial imposters no longer. As the snapping shrimp and their noisy shenanigans are already a part of the whales’ lives, it would make sense for scientists to use naturally occurring sounds for their experiments. Instead of sending out sonar waves from machines, many have begun the process of using what nature gives them. Although marine life was once deteriorating because of humans, the underwater world can be restored by using what nature provides as a guide, and even better, whales will be free to return to their content lives.

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