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An arrow rebounds after attaching a satellite tag to a Cuvier's beaked whaleErin Falcone / NMFS permit 16111

Scientists have recorded Cuvier's beaked whales changing their behavior in response to sonar use at a Naval base in California. It's the first long-term study of whale response to real-world sonar use.

Why it matters: Scientists have known for decades that military sonar use can cause mass strandings and even deaths in marine mammals. (The Navy has faced several lawsuits over their long-distance sonar use.) Although scientists have measured marine mammal's response to sonar in the past, those studies have only gathered data over a few hours and involved scientists using technology to mimic sonar. The research was published in the journal Royal Society Open Science.

"They dive down, putting vertical space between themselves and a sudden, debilitatingly loud sound," study author Erin Falcone, a marine biologist at the nonprofit Marine Ecology and Telemetry Research, tells Axios.

What they did: The scientists used tags attached to 16 Cuvier's beaked whales to monitor their behavior. The whales lived in an area used for Naval training exercises, so the researchers were able to cross-reference the whale's behavior with Navy-provided data on when, where, and what type of sonar (from boats or helicopters) they were using.

What they found: When the whales heard sonar, they dove deeper and longer, and spent less time foraging for food. Surprisingly, the whales had different responses depending on the source of the sonar. Even though sonar from helicopters is quieter, the whales acted more evasively. Falcone thinks this is because whales are more accustomed to the boat sonar and can hear the boats coming, while the helicopter sonar comes out of nowhere.

The takeaway: It's not just the volume of sonar that can have an impact on whales, it's also the context.

The big picture: The behavioral changes seen in the whales might seem mild compared to mass strandings, but researchers still don't know the longer term health impacts sonar is having on the whales. "If the sonar makes them miss one meal, it's not a big deal. But if it happens repeatedly it could have a cumulative effect," says Falcone. Her team and others are comparing the birth rates for whales that experience regular sonar exposure to those who rarely encounter it to see the effects.

Go deeper

Updated 5 hours ago - World

U.S. airstrike kills senior al-Qaeda leader in Syria, DOD says

A displacement camp near the village of Qah in Syria's northwestern Idlib province. Photo: Ahmad Al-Atrash/AFP via Getty Images

A U.S. airstrike in northwest Syria on Friday killed senior al-Qaeda leader Abdul Hamid al-Matar, U.S. Central Command said in a statement.

Why it matters: Syria serves as a "safe haven" for the extremist group to plan external operations, according to U.S. Army Maj. John Rigsbee.

Updated 10 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Giuliani associate Lev Parnas convicted of campaign finance crimes

Lev Parnas, a former associate of then-President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani. Photo: Stefani Reynolds/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Florida businessman Lev Parnas was convicted Friday on charges of conspiracy to make foreign contributions to political campaigns, according to multiple outlets.

Why it matters: Prosecutors said Parnas, then an associate of former President Donald Trump's personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, funneled over $150,000 from a Russian businessman into U.S. campaigns as part of an effort to land licenses in the U.S.'s legal cannabis industry.

Supreme Court agrees to hear challenges to Texas abortion law

Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images

The Supreme Court on Friday agreed to hear two cases challenging Texas' abortion law, which bans the procedure as soon as six weeks into pregnancy, but left the law in place in the meantime.

Why it matters: The court is moving extraordinarily fast on the Texas cases, compressing into just a few days a process that normally takes months. And that schedule means the court will take up Texas' ban a month before it hears another major abortion case — a challenge to Mississippi's own 2018 ban on abortions after 15 weeks.