Everyone knows beluga whales love mariachi music. But how do they feel about Katy Perry and Lady Gaga?
According to Dan Mathews, senior vice president for PETA, they're not fans. In a Huffington Post op-ed — and now a formal complaint — Mathews describes how he watched belugas suffer from "earsplitting" music played at the Georgia Aquarium last weekend, where he was attending a party for the Atlanta Pride Festival.
"These marine mammals are so sensitive to pounding noises that the aquarium shipped them away during construction of the dolphin exhibit," Mathews writes. "Yet the thumping techno remix of Katy Perry's 'Firework' was as audible outside as a jackhammer."
Mathews writes that he'd never been inside an aquarium before, and only attended last weekend's party to "have a civil word with the organizers in hopes of opening their hearts and minds to choosing a less oppressive venue next year." Once inside, though, he couldn't help but notice the music volume. He writes in HuffPo that an aquarium volunteer told him "when the music starts, [the belugas] get to fighting." And in his formal complaint, he adds that one beluga was "twisting and angrily snapping at a seal," while two Asian small-clawed otters were "cowering together on a platform."
The Georgia Aquarium is no stranger to scandals — two of its rare whale sharks died in 2007 after behaving erratically, for instance, and critics protested the opening of its dolphin exhibit earlier this year. But when asked about Mathews' column by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, an aquarium spokesman calls it "baseless."
"Based on the current scientific knowledge of the hearing threshold of marine animals, we set a level for ourselves and stay within that level and aggressively monitor it," communications director Scott Higley tells the AJC. "We had an in-house vendor to monitor the sound and they are extremely well-versed in our rigorous guidelines."
Belugas and other cetaceans are highly sensitive to sound, which many species use both for echolocation and communication, and the idea that manmade noises can harm them isn't new. Military and oil-industry sonar has long been blamed for damaging the hearing of wild whales, and some biologists suggest it may contribute to beachings. And although whales often seem to enjoy human music, whale expert Tara Cox tells Atlanta's WXIA-TV that a loud enough volume could hurt their ears.
"[T]he big concern would be hearing loss, but it takes a really loud sound to induce hearing loss in a marine mammal," Cox says. "That's pretty much the most rare effect we see." Higley says thick glass prevents outside sound from reaching the animals, but Mathews still isn't convinced they aren't suffering. In his complaint, he argues that "all but soft, ambient or classical music without percussion" should be prohibited.
Maybe the aquarium could hire this guy for its next party?