Modern active sonar systems can (almost) continuously transmit and receive sound, which can lead to more masking of important sounds for marine mammals than conventional pulsed sonar systems transmitting at a much lower duty cycle. This study investigated the potential of 1–2 kHz active sonar to mask echolocation-based foraging of sperm whales by modeling their echolocation detection process. Continuous masking for an echolocating sperm whale facing a sonar was predicted for sonar sound pressure levels of 160 dB re 1 μPa2, with intermittent masking at levels of 120 dB re 1 μPa2, but model predictions strongly depended on the animal orientation, harmonic content of the sonar, click source level, and target strength of the prey. The masking model predicted lower masking potential of buzz clicks compared to regular clicks, even though the energy source level is much lower. For buzz clicks, the lower source level is compensated for by the reduced two-way propagation loss to nearby prey during buzzes. These results help to predict what types of behavioral changes could indicate masking in the wild. Several key knowledge gaps related to masking potential of sonar in echolocating odontocetes were identified that require further investigation to assess the significance of masking.

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