In an eerie case of life imitating art, the scientific world is abuzz with news that humpback whales have stopped singing. This hits extremely close to the plot of Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. In this film, the USS Enterprise finds Earth being attacked by an extremely powerful alien race, which is apparently searching for humpback whales that have gone silent in the Earth’s oceans because they’ve gone extinct.
And while the current news isn’t quite this dire, extinction could follow.
A new study shows that humpbacks have gone silent due to human noise that occurs in oceanic shipping lanes, according to Science Daily. The study was published on October 24.
The human activity has created an increase of low-frequency noise in the oceans. Since humpback whales communicate with low-frequency sounds, they are not singing to each other because they can no longer hear one another.
Fewer humpbacks were singing in waters within 1500 feet of shipping lanes. Whales within 3900 feet reduced or stopped their singing altogether. Most of the whales who stopped singing did not start singing again for 30 minutes or more.
Male humpbacks are the only ones who sing, so it’s unknown how females and babies are reacting to the human-generated noise.
Humpback whales are so stunning pic.twitter.com/C8oXDumJFu— niamh (@niamhhquigleyy) October 29, 2018
The study shows that humpbacks choose to stop singing rather than changing the way they sing, which indicates that humans are disrupting their communication patterns.
Humpbacks use their songs to find mates, navigate the water, search for food and in some form, communicate with each other, according to EcoWatch.
The silence could be a serious problem. If humpbacks cannot communicate with each other they will have trouble finding mates, and this will prevent them from breeding.
If the whales “have to wait in order to communicate, then they might not be able to breed and so that has reproductive consequences,” said Spencer Fire, an assistant professor in the Department of Ocean Engineering and Marine Sciences for Florida Tech.
This could lead to extinction for humpbacks, who have been removed from the endangered species list. With news like this, however, environmentalists have to wonder how long this will last.
If life continues to follow fiction, it also indicates that an alien race which previously made contact with Earth before the existence of humans is going to get pretty darn angry pretty quickly. In the movie, Captain Kirk and the crew go back in time to rescue some whales from the 1980s and bring them into the present day.
Which seems like an unlikely solution to this problem.
The Star Trek franchise has made a startling number of correct predictions about the future. Among other things, Star Trek had Bluetooth, voice-activated computers, and smartphones decades before the technology was real, according to Scientific American.