Interview with Heike Vester

Biologist, specialized in the communication of marine mammals, founder of Oceansounds
Henningsvær, June 2014

Anyway, when I’m out there I don’t just record the whales, I also record whatever’s out there, so there is a lot of noise in the sea. You don’t see it, you don’t hear it.
When you’re above water it’s beautiful, silent, and then you hang in the hydrophone, and you hear… Right now we hear a lot of the seismic shootings. Last week we had three boats at the same time, one is 500 kilometers away, the other 200 kilometers away. And then the whales are gone…
–You hear the boats…?
–No, seismic. When they’re looking for the oil, they use seismic air guns. Seismic investigation. It travels for 2000 kilometers, and there’s no regulation.

–But but but… 2000 kilometers? 2000?
–Yes, it’s the sea!
–So even with the « no go area » for the drilling in Lofoten…?
–It doesn’t matter. If you ask me, Lofoten is not protected, has never been. I picked up the sound in 2009 and it increases every year and this year three boats at the same time, they started in may and they will go keep going until september, in the meantime when you have the whales here, when they migrate in when they need to feed, they come from Africa, they come up here they haven’t been feeding for two months and they come here and there are a lot of noises and they can’t feed, what do they do?

They are angry, I see many whales that are skinny, you see the ribs, you shouldn’t see the ribs on the whales because they have blubber, when you see the ribs it’s really malnutrition.
–How long have you been in Henningsvær and how do you started to see the changes?
–They are a lot of changes, I could talks for hours with these changes. I came in 2004 and I started Ocean sounds on 2005, and everything have been recorded since I do only research.
–You see all these changes by the sound?
–Mostly because sounds travel further in the sea.

14:30 – 15:26
[she makes us listen to the sounds]

– Every eight seconds, “boom!”
[…] It becomes much worse when it comes closer, but it’s already too late, they’re shooting in the Barents sea, and it’s the main area for the whale to feed. […]

It’s basicaly a sound wall all along the coast of Norway, for the whales, they don’t go through. So imagine, you come, you swim like you have always done, then you come to this area and you hear that sound. You don’t know what it is, it could be an earthquake, it’s such a high frequency, so loud. It’s not a boat, they know boat noise, it’s disturbing but they know it. Where does it come from, what is it? And it does cover communication, the same frequency is masking the communication of some of the whales and I see that they just go. Pilot whales, for the first time this year, they came and then after two days, they just left.
[…] I don’t see them anymore, the big whales don’t come with this noise.

–I don’t think there’s one silent place in the sea no more. Maybe if the international press starts showing, maybe then Norway has to do something, because they try to hide it. I wrote a letter to the oil minister, saying “you have to stop when there are migrations”. But “we are following the rules and regulations”, he sent that to me. They only consider fish for fishery.
They work like that, it’s politics, and ja ja of course, they make a big deal, debate, debate, sould we protect Lofoten?, yes… But it’s not protected, what are you talking about? You can’t protect something that’s already impacted! But they keep going. It’s underwater, no one sees it, no one hears it… If I wouldn’t be there with my hydrophone, no one would know.