Is loud, industrial noise from underwater drilling affecting these pups? Scientists are on the case.

A team of scientists recently trained seal pups to execute a series of hearing tests — not unlike the ones you used to take in school.

Instead of raising their hand (or flippers, as it were) to indicate which side the noise is on, the seals are taught to tap a target with their nose when they hear a specific sound. If they get it right, they're rewarded with a delicious fish snack (unlike my doctor, who just scolds me for the umpteenth time about the importance of wearing earplugs at band practice.)

That's kind of what this pup is doing right here:


The seal hears the noise, taps the target (right) with its nose, and receives a delicious fish snack for its troubles. Image via Pinniped Cognition and Sensory Systems Laboratory.

They're trying to find a baseline understanding of just how well seals can hear underwater so they can understand how loud noises in the oceans might affect seal populations in the wild.

And what they found is that seals have pretty good hearing, particularly underwater — and especially at lower frequencies.

The seals' sensitivity toward deep bass tones is unsurprising. If you've ever gone swimming while there's loud music playing, or even a speaker system in the pool, you know that underwater acoustics tend to amplify and emphasize the deep, long waveforms of low bass notes.

This could also explain why "Kiss From a Rose" sounds better with a sick subwoofer system.

Get it? Seal? Like the singer? Ugh, never mind. GIF from "The Voice."

But you know what else gets even louder underwater? Industrial drilling.

I'm sure we can all share our own frustrating anecdotes of the constant thrumming from a nearby construction site making it almost impossible to work or sleep or just enjoy your life.

And if you thought that was annoying, well...

Welcome to life in the Arctic Circle.

Here, the low, low frequencies of mechanical oil drilling resonate through the waters and interrupt the lives of seals, whales, walruses, and countless other aquatic animals.

Those sounds aren't just loud and annoying; a lot of Arctic animals depend on their ability to communicate underwater. It's how they talk to each other. It's how they find food and fend off enemy attacks.

Could you imagine dealing with those loud construction sounds every single day no matter where you went? Yeah. It just might start to get to you after a while.


"How come it's so loud when there's no else around?!" Photo via NOAA/Wikimedia Commons.

Prolonged exposure to these sounds can lead to permanent deafness long after the drilling is done.

And it's not just drilling either. There are helicopters and exploding sea ice and fracking and seismic surveying and so on. All those sounds can travel for miles and miles across the ocean floor — that's why whales sing their songs the way they do.

While most of the evidence is currently anecdotal, researchers such as those at the Pinniped Laboratory above are actively gathering data in order to better predict the specific effects of this kind of acoustic violence seals and other marine life experience.

"Hi, yeah, I live upstairs, and I was just wondering — do you mind turning the massive industrial flotillas down? Some of us have to work in the morning." Photo by Andreas Trepte/Wikimedia Commons.

But even without the confirmed findings, it's clear that noise pollution is having a definite effect on underwater environments and the animals that live in them.

For example, have you ever heard the story of the world's loneliest whale? There's a whale named Alice, who made headlines earlier this year because she sings at an abnormally high frequency (for a whale). As a result, the other whales can't communicate with her, and she's spent the last 20 years swimming all alone and waiting for another whale to sing back to her.

That could easily be the future for every aquatic Arctic animal unless we humans step in and take action. (Unless they're eaten by a predator before the sadness sets in because they can't hear anything around them. But that's like even more bleak, so just forget I said anything.)

So you can see, the impacts of Arctic drilling extend far, far beyond the oil industry.

If we're not going to pay attention to climate change, then the least we can do is pay attention to the sensory experience of the animals that are already fighting everyday to survive. So let's tell President Obama to stop the rush to expand offshore drilling, which will cut down on noise pollution and ensure a safer future for animals and humans alike.

It might be too late for me to save my ears from that wretched rock 'n' roll music, but it's not too late for the pinnipeds (underwater carnivorous mammals).

Watch the seals ace their hearing test in the video below:

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Disney has come under fire for problematic portrayals of non-white and non-western cultures in many of its older movies. They aren't the only one, of course, but since their movies are an iconic part of most American kids' childhoods, Disney's messaging holds a lot of power.

Fortunately, that power can be used for good, and Disney can serve as an example to other companies if they learn from their mistakes, account for their misdeeds, and do the right thing going forward. Without getting too many hopes up, it appears that the entertainment giant may have actually done just that with the new Frozen II film.

According to NOW Toronto, the producers of Frozen II have entered into a contract with the Sámi people—the Indigenous people of the Scandinavian regions—to ensure that they portray the culture with respect.

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Though there was not a direct portrayal of the Sámi in the first Frozen movie, the choral chant that opens the film was inspired by an ancient Sámi vocal tradition. In addition, the clothing worn by Kristoff closely resembled what a Sámi reindeer herder would wear. The inclusion of these elements of Sámi culture with no context or acknowledgement sparked conversations about cultural appropriation and erasure on social media.

Frozen II features Indigenous culture much more directly, and even addressed the issue of Indigenous erasure. Filmmakers Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck, along with producer Peter Del Vecho, consulted with experts on how to do that respectfully—the experts, of course, being the Sámi people themselves.

Sámi leaders met with Disney producer Peter Del Vecho in September 2019.Sámediggi Sametinget/Flickr

The Sámi parliaments of Norway, Sweden and Finland, and the non-governmental Saami Council reached out to the filmmakers when they found out their culture would be highlighted in the film. They formed a Sámi expert advisory group, called Verddet, to assist filmmakers in with how to accurately and respectfully portray Sámi culture, history, and society.

In a contract signed by Walt Disney Animation Studios and Sámi leaders, the Sámi stated their position that "their collective and individual culture, including aesthetic elements, music, language, stories, histories, and other traditional cultural expressions are property that belong to the Sámi," and "that to adequately respect the rights that the Sámi have to and in their culture, it is necessary to ensure sensitivity, allow for free, prior, and informed consent, and ensure that adequate benefit sharing is employed."

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Disney agreed to work with the advisory group, to produce a version of Frozen II in one Sámi language, as well as to "pursue cross-learning opportunities" and "arrange for contributions back to the Sámi society."

Anne Lájla Utsi, managing director at the International Sámi Film Institute, was part of the Verddet advisory group. She told NOW, "This is a good example of how a big, international company like Disney acknowledges the fact that we own our own culture and stories. It hasn't happened before."

"Disney's team really wanted to make it right," said Utsi. "They didn't want to make any mistakes or hurt anybody. We felt that they took it seriously. And the film shows that. We in Verddet are truly proud of this collaboration."

Sounds like you've done well this time, Disney. Let's hope such cultural sensitivity and collaboration continues, and that other filmmakers and production companies will follow suit.

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