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J Acoust Soc Am. 2005 Mar;117(3 Pt 1):1486-92.

Indication of a Lombard vocal response in the St. Lawrence River Beluga.

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  • 1Animal Science Department, University of Connecticut, Storrs, Connecticut 06269, USA.


Noise pollution is recognized as a potential danger to marine mammals in general, and to the St. Lawrence beluga in particular. One method of determining the impacts of noise on an animal's communication is to observe a natural and repeatable response of the vocal system to variations in noise level. This is accomplished by observing intensity changes in animal vocalizations in response to environmental noise. One such response observed in humans, songbirds, and some primates is the Lombard vocal response. This response represents a vocal system reaction manifested by changes in vocalization level in direct response to changes in the noise field. In this research, a population of belugas in the St. Lawrence River Estuary was tested to determine whether a Lombard response existed by using hidden Markhov-classified vocalizations as targets for acoustical analyses. Correlation and regression analyses of signals and noise indicated that the phenomenon does exist. Further, results of human subjects experiments [Egan, J. J. (1966), Ph.D. dissertation; Scheifele, P. M. (2003), Ph.D. dissertation], along with previously reported data from other animal species, are similar to those exhibited by the belugas. Overall, findings suggest that typical noise levels in the St. Lawrence River Estuary have a detectable effect on the communication of the beluga.

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