Lillian Yang 66463068

Effect of Underwater Noise on Marine Life
Introduction Life underwater is vastly different from life on land. Due to the limited availability of light in the oceans, one important difference is that hearing, rather than vision, has become the most vital sense for the survival of many underwater organisms. The increasing exploitation of the ocean, as a method of transportation, a source of oil beneath the ocean bed, a suitable location for building wind farms, and other largely industrial human activities, has led to detrimental levels of noise pollution. These problematic levels of noise pollution have been evinced by the incidents of stranded whales following the deployment of active sonar in Greece (1996), the Bahamas (2000), and the Canary Islands (2002), evoking rightful concern from international organizations, such as the United Nations (UN) and the International Whaling Commission (IWC). In the past decade, research has uncovered further evidence of the negative effects of underwater noise pollution. Studies suggest that activities such as seismic exploration, shipping, tourism, and offshore construction can cause behavioural changes, avoidance, injury, and even death. It must be noted that the scope of these studies are currently still limited to a small proportion of marine species, regions, and durations. As levels of human activity on and in the oceans is increasing steadily, research and the dissemination of knowledge on the topic of underwater noise pollution is of present importance. An Overview of Underwater Sound The ambient noise underwater involves three main components. The first layer of sound is physical – it is caused by wind, waves, rain, the sea floor, and icebergs. The next layer of sound is biological – this is caused by marine life as organisms hunt, hide,

The ocean. whereas the reference level in air is 2x10-5 Pa..500 m/s (compared to 340 m/s in air). which spread long-lasting and far-reaching low frequency sounds throughout the ocean (Mitson. However. and perform other such activities.. and 100. Consequently. such as whales. homogeneous sound field – it is bordered by coastlines. Just as sound is measured in decibels (dB) on land. Thus. This difference is partially due to the unequal reference levels. if a sound in air has the same intensity as another sound that is in water. The last layer of sound is anthropogenic – these man-made sounds in the ocean are created by the constant passing of ships. sound travels farther and more quickly in sea water than in air (Hatch. they will actually differ by 61. it is also measured in decibels underwater. fish. L.communicate. however. 2007). 500-100. valleys. marine organisms. its surface is battered by winds. and its floor is lined with shifting peaks. the reference level underwater is 1x10-6 Pa. L. & Wright. but it is also a result of the difference in density and sound speed in the two mediums. Over top of this. is not one continuous. 2007).5 dB when measured in decibels. temperature.. and salinity. A. and sediments of ranging composition. regardless of frequency (Hatch. travelling at around 1. & Wright. Sound moves much more quickly in sea water than in air. its speed varies with density. R. 2009). As sound moves through the sea water. In the ocean‟s background noise. and snapping shrimp. create sounds in an .02-20 Hz (infrasound) are mostly caused by movements of the ocean floor. frequencies in the range of 0.000+ Hz are caused by the random shuffling of water molecules (DOSITS. A. 20-500 HZ are caused by distant ships.000 Hz are caused by whipping waves. 1995).

immense range of frequencies from around 10-200. would sound like 80 dB re 2x10-5 Pa in air to a human listener. for example. for Humpback Whale fluke and flipper slaps is 188 dB. During the 1950‟s. We can see from the graph that the 159 dB re 1x10-6 Pa Humpback whale song. for Humpback Whale songs is159 dB. consider the following: the average broadband source level (re 1x10-6 Pa at 1 m) for Bottlenose Dolphin whistles is 149 DB. the famous marine explorer. As .” and this remains a misconception amongst laypeople.000-15. Jacques Cousteau.000 Hz. dubbed the ocean as “The Silent World. and that are in the 10-25 Hz range. created the following air SPL versus water SPL graph based on human hearing. Underwater Hearing To get a sense of the loudness of these marine mammal noises. which can travel hundreds of miles. Tiny snapping shrimp create bursts of sound in the range of 2. Massive blue whales emit calls. and for Sperm Whale clicks is 200 dB. the ambient sound level can increase by 25 dB re 1x10-6 Pa at 1 metre due to said activity. In areas of greater marine animal activity.000 Hz. for Blue Whale moans is 172 dB. Oimatsu et al.

It is the propellers that generate the most noise. Unfortunately. which has already caused a10-15 dB increase in the ocean‟s low frequency background noise level. 2008). we only hear the swishing of the waves on the surface as we stand above the water (Hatch. and Wright. A. the soundtrack of the ocean is a low and soothing rumble. landscapes. By thirty metres into the water. 2009). L. 2008). Cetaceans. which can gather information such as size and distance from the quality and timing of the returning signal (DOSITS. For a layperson. but beneath the water‟s surface is an abundance of acoustic activity that supports the navigation.sound does not pass easily through the water-air barrier. object location. prey. such as whales and dolphins. noise pollution from ships has been doubling every decade since 1970. cetaceans transmit sound signals which reflect upon hitting objects and are picked up by the source animal. Sound is thus the most important underwater signal. What Is Causing Marine Noise Pollution? Reports on marine noise pollution have converged on three main causes of harmful noise levels in the ocean.). and international experts agree that the noise levels may be reaching dangerous levels (IFAW. there is no longer enough light to support colour vision. carrying information on partners. but motors and gears contribute to the noise . Using active sonar. and facilitating communication. and communication of various life forms. thus marine mammals have evolved sophisticated hearing systems. due to a greater number of more powerful ships being built and employed. use three times as many neurons for hearing than all other animals and have highly developed temporal lobes which are able to derive large amounts of information from auditory signals (IFAW. The first is commercial shipping.

the noise pollution from geographic surveys travels long distances. SURTASS-LFA (surface towed low frequency active sonar) as it operates at the frequencies 100 . creating loud bursts. 2007). There is also concern about possible interference from the low frequency sonar. Geographic surveys of this nature are highly disruptive because the airguns must fire signals at the ocean floor every 7-20 seconds and a survey can last for days (Hatch & Wright. This is a notable issue because low frequencies tend to cause masking over a . Overall. which includes those frequencies generated by most whales. 2007).000 Hz at high speeds (Hatch & Wright. especially of the Cuvier‟s beaked whales species (see Appendix A).000 Hz.000-8. but possibly reaching 40.pollution as well. the use of these sonars has been spatially and temporally correlated to several beachings. More research has to be done on this topic. As propeller blades spin. both for academic purposes (such as exploring and mapping areas) and commercial purposes (such as searching for oil and gas sources). Although the mechanisms of this disturbance are unclear. bubbles form in areas of lower pressure and then implode. depending on the model. although the military nature of this equipment means that such research will be and has been subjected to confidential restrictions (Hatch & Wright. Then there is the use of airgun arrays in geographic surveys. because of the low frequency nature of the sound. 2007). As with shipping. Mid-frequency sonars can reach 237 dB re 1x10-6 Pa at 1 m and operate at 2. but with broadband energy reaching 15. Airgun arrays produce sound pressure levels of around 260 dB re 1x10-6 Pa at 1 m and mostly within the range of 10-100 Hz.000 Hz. individual ships contribute around 170 dB re 1x10-6 Pa at 1 m of noise at under 200 Hz for large ships. The next problem is the use of mid-frequency sonars.500 Hz.

thus creating long range interference to signals created by the ocean‟s inhabitants. thus limiting the population sample size. beaching deaths. are poorly understood. Studying individuals or a few individuals makes it difficult to assess effects at the population level. permanent threshold shifts. or loss of hearing tissue cannot be linked to human noise pollution with certainty. It is such a large scale that spurious factors are hard to control. There are implicit experimental constraints to working in the ocean. and certainly the smaller marine organisms. it is not scientifically solid. confusion.wide range of frequencies. and damaged hearing) and human noise pollution is rational and convincing. which is really what we are concerned with. the species most commonly found beached after military sonar activities. Questions like: will the pod be able to remain a healthy size? Or is the population significantly changing its communication patterns? Furthermore. The long range interference spreads quickly. there is evidence that marine mammals are fighting to communicate. or stress are the anthropogenic sounds causing? The reality is that there is such a dearth of research in this area that any hearing damage. confusion. giving organisms little chance of escape from any damage. Only recently in 2010 did researchers decipher the auditory pathway in the Cuvier‟s beaked whale. As well. the auditory systems of most marine mammals. such as temporary threshold shifts. Killer whales have complex acoustic communication and may use such to coordinate . or stress the anthropogenic sounds may be creating. That said. as sound travels more quickly underwater than through air. the subjects of interest are often immense in size and difficult to gather. Extent of the Problem So what level of damage. While the correlation between the observed problems (behavioural changes.

such as from whale watching boats. When subject to the low frequency noise disturbances that are rapidly increasing in the ocean. in the presence of human noise pollution. A study on humpback whale songs used stimuli of the 150-230 Hz and 260-320 Hz ranges starting from 155 db re 1x10-6 Pa at 1 m to under 205 dB re 1x10-6 Pa at 1 m. Decreasing the range and efficiency at which marine mammals can communicate is highly detrimental to their ability to communicate or find mates. P. Normally. such as Gray Whales. 2008). Thinking Ahead and Acting . including sea turtles and fish. being less able to keep contact with their pups or find mates (IFAW.. finding that the whales sang for longer after being exposed to louder stimuli. they make abnormally lengthy calling signals (IFAW. Various ocean creatures exhibit avoidance behaviors in the presence of loud underwater sounds. R. the haunting moan of the blue whale can be heard 1000 km away. 2008). However. 2010). 2008). which still rely on vision as their dominant sense may be affected. Some will leave preferred feeding sites as well – such as an act is costly to an animal‟s energy reserves (IFAW. have been shown to leave their breeding sites for years. but add the interference of shipping noise and that impressive range drops to roughly 10 km (Tyack.hunting. right whales shift their call frequencies upwards by 25 Hz to move their calls outside of the noise band. only returning years after the noise stops. especially 1 to 2 hours after the last stimulus. The issue is that some species of whales. 1995). Even seals.. Studies have also shown that fish are less successful in spawning after exposure to airgun noise (Mitson.

2008). and other ocean users to adopt these technologies. international players are recognizing the problem. How noise pollution effects these creatures is a grossly untouched subject. feeding sites. The UN Secretary-General notes it as “one of the 10 „main current and foreseeable impacts on marine biodiversity‟” (IFAW. the military. 2010). preventing the fish larvae to choose the ideal habitat. but disrupting the simpler life forms at the bottom of the food chain tends to have dramatic effects on entire systems. Fortunately. more relatable sea creatures such as dolphins and killer whales.. Levels of ocean noise pollution have reached a point where current action is important. It is reasonable to imagine that increases in SPL may distort the sound signatures of the reefs. There is technology available that allows us to reduce noise pollution by impressive amounts. it is clear that sound is important to marine life and that we should take measures to reduce our interference to this vital sensory signal. and breeding grounds at times of the year when they are being used. Munitions can . E. Laws can be put in place to ensure the protection of migration routes. For ships. better propeller design can reduce noise by 90%. While research is lacking. but it is up to the commercial shippers. P.Research tends to focus on the larger.. Consider that ocean reefs have “sound signatures” (characterized by factors such as density of materials and rugosity) and that fish larvae may use these sound signatures to choose the best location to stay in (Kennedy. insulation and isolation of machinery from the hull can reduce noise by 99%. The information that sound provides is crucial to countless underwater species and so the effects of ocean noise pollution permeates the whole system. and simply driving more slowly can reduce noise pollution (Tyack. 2007). thus diminishing their chance of survival.

These are all practical. .be neutralized prior to disposal into the ocean. manageable solutions that should be recommended with the accompaniment of education on the effects of underwater noise on marine life. Insulation or innovative techniques can be used for pile driving (OSPAR. 2010). rather than the current practice of controlled explosions).

WHOI . .Appendix A Beached Cuvier’s beaked whale being prepared for investigation.

“Effects of tourism on marine mammals in New Zealand. DOSITS (Discovery of Sound in the Sea). Clark C.References Carder A. and Yamaguchi.” International Journal of Comparative Psychology.. Fistrup M...” Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. 1997)... “Underwater Noise of Research Vessels – Review and Recommendations. “Ocean Noise: Turn it down – A report on ocean noise pollution.” Master’s thesis in Marine Resource Development and Protection for the Centre for Marine Biodiversity and Biotechnology. OSPAR Commission – Quality Status Report 2010 – Underwater Noise chapter.” Maritime Safety Academy.. 2000. Constantine R. Oimatsu.” Naval Ocean Systems Center Research Report.. “Auditory and behavioral responses of bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncates) and a beluga whale (Delphinapterus leucas) to impulsive sounds resembling distant signatures of underwater explosions. 1982.” Department of Conservation (New Zealand). Hatch L.. “Effects of Noise of Offshore Oil and Gas Operations on Marine Mammals – An Introductory Assessment. Kuwahara. Kennedy E. K. Yamamoto S.. Hatch L.. “Equal-loudness Contours in Water and Its Depth Dependence..” 2008. Panama. K..” Acoustical Society of America. et al. 1995. “A Brief Review of Anthropogenic Sound in the Oceans. 2008. “Variation in humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) song length in relation to low-frequency sound broadcasts. “Singing reefs: an investigation into the acoustic environment of the Las Perlas archipelago. 2007. IFAW (International Fund for Animal Welfare). “How sound from human activities affects marine mammals. 1999.. 2007. ScienceDaily staff (materials from University of California).” 2010. 2003. S. “Sounds in the Sea”. Wright A. . Tyack P..” International Council for the Exploration of the Sea – Cooperative Research Report. Mitson R. Kuramoto. “Researchers Develop Simulation to Better Understand the Effects of Sound on Marine Life.” Acoustical Society of America.. S.

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