Leigh Torres holds a drone


By Cassandra Profita, Oregon Public Broadcasting

Whales off the West Coast depend on sound to communicate, navigate and find food. So, what happens to their health when we fill their habitat with noisy ship traffic?

Leigh Torres, a marine mammals specialist with Oregon Sea Grant and Oregon State University's Extension Service, is leading an ambitious new research project to find out, using drones and a variety of other tools to do health check-ups.

She and her team are making regular trips to the ocean off Newport. The area is a prime feeding ground for gray whales and also sees plenty of noisy ships and fishing vessels going in and out of Yaquina Bay.

“These gray whales here live in a really urban environment,” she said. “So, they’re constantly exposed to a lot of vessel traffic.”

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Reprinted with permission from Oregon Public Broadcasting.