As noise pollution increasingly threatens marine wildlife in the world’s oceans, a new report is providing details about the risks and how to reduce the negative impacts of underwater noise. 

Written by Dalhousie University marine biologist Dr. Lindy Weilgart for the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS), the report focuses on three major sources of noise pollution: shipping, seismic airgun surveys (used in oil and gas exploration), and pile driving (used for offshore wind farms and other marine infrastructure).

Calling it a “landmark” report, a Dalhousie University media release notes that “for the first time,” the research provides practical guidance on reducing the negative impacts of underwater noise on wildlife. It highlights the best available technology and the best environmental practice.

“It has been difficult to specify the exact scenarios where ecosystem and population consequences from underwater noise will occur. Therefore, managing this threat requires a precautionary approach,” the report said.

“Application of quieting technologies that reduce sound at source will likely be the most effective way to reduce the environmental impacts of underwater noise, and quieting methods that have additional benefits, such as reducing greenhouse gas emissions or encouraging technological innovation should be especially encouraged.”

Ocean noise pollution affects ‘at least’ 150 marine species

The report notes impacts from ocean noise pollution have been found in at least 150 marine species. CMS said noise pollution causes “significant disturbance” to marine wildlife, including migratory species like dolphins and whales (and their prey). 

The organization said these impacts negatively impact entire marine ecosystems.

“Animals exposed to elevated or prolonged anthropogenic noise can suffer direct injury and temporary or permanent auditory threshold shifts, compromising their communication and ability to detect threats and find food, sometimes leading to death,” CMS wrote on its website. 

“Anthropogenic noise can displace wild animals from critical habitats, including from their migration routes, and mask important natural sounds, such as the call of a mate.”

The new report was prepared for CMS by OceanCare in Switzerland. In addition to her work at Dalhousie University, Weilgart is also OceanCare’s senior ocean noise expert and policy consultant.

“Government regulations limiting the noise emissions from offshore windfarm construction, mainly due to the noise-sensitive and protected harbour porpoise, certainly help. If regulators insisted on quieter alternatives to airguns, something that seems well within technological capabilities, this would also likely drive innovations,” Weilgart wrote in the report’s conclusion. 

“After all, explosions on land to search for hydrocarbons were replaced with Vibroseis because explosions were no longer acceptable to humans. If we value our life- sustaining oceans, we should provide them with the same care and protection.”

Yvette d’Entremont is a bilingual (English/French) journalist and editor who enjoys covering health, science, research, and education.

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