WHEN THEY CAN'T HEAR THEY CAN'T LIVE
explore undersea sounds

FAQs

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Frequently Asked Questions

What’s the big deal?

  • All marine mammals, most fish species and even many invertebrates depend on sound to survive. Sound is so important in the Ocean because vision is limited in the great darkness of the deep sea where sound travels fast, far, and efficiently. Whale noises have been known to be heard hundreds even thousands of miles from their source.

    Underwater noise pollution is the introduction of biologically disruptive noises into the Ocean as a byproduct of shipping, industrial extraction, marine construction or military activities. The unwanted noise being poured into the Oceans is showing signs of damaging the hearing of marine animals as well as disrupting migratory routes, feeding, and breeding grounds that have been the key to their survival for untold centuries.

    Hearing loss in marine animals is categorized as a temporary threshold shift (TTS) or a permanent threshold shifts (PTS). The crucial role of sound in the lives of marine animals makes even a temporary shift extremely dangerous. Whales have been seen to die within hours, by stranding or deaths at sea, from even a transient and relatively brief exposure to moderate levels of mid-frequency military sonar.

What is underwater noise pollution?

  • Underwater noise pollution is the introduction of biologically disruptive noises into the Ocean as a byproduct of shipping, industrial extraction, marine construction or military activities. All marine mammals, most fish species and even many invertebrates depend on sound to survive.  Sound is so important in the Ocean because vision is limited in the great darkness of the deep sea where sound travels fast, far, and efficiently.  Whale noises have been known to be heard hundreds even thousands of miles from their source.  The unwanted noise being poured into the Oceans is showing signs of damaging the hearing of marine animals as well as disrupting migratory routes, feeding, and breeding grounds that have been the key to their survival for untold centuries.

    Hearing loss in marine animals is categorized as a temporary threshold shift (TTS) or a permanent threshold shifts (PTS).  The crucial role of sound in the lives of marine animals makes even a temporary shift extremely dangerous. Whales have been seen to die within hours, by stranding or deaths at sea, from even a transient and relatively brief exposure to moderate levels of mid-frequency military sonar. (Fernández et al. 2005; NOAA and U.S. Department of the Navy, 2001).

What causes underwater Ocean Noise pollution?

  • Underwater noise pollution is caused by a variety of commercial, industrial and military activities. A large part of the noise assaulting marine mammals in the Arctic is the result of oil exploration and drilling equipment. One of the main culprits is seismic air gun surveys. A seismic air gun is a mechanism that creates an explosive impulse down through the water and into the seafloor to help search for oil deposits. Arrays of 10 to 32 air guns can go on blasting every few seconds, twenty-four hours a day, for weeks at a time. The noise from ship engines and propulsion can also have negative impacts on marine mammals by masking communication and other sounds. Shipping traffic increases each year and with it an increase in the amount of harmful noise pouring into the Ocean. Oil drilling construction equipment such as pile drivers and seafloor processors add to the growing fog of relentless noise beneath the sea.

What effect does underwater Ocean noise have on the marine animals and fish?

  • Most marine animals depend on sound to communicate, to find food, to find a mate and to avoid predators. This fog of new noises is making all of these crucial behaviors more difficult if not impossible. These industrial sounds can “mask” or drown out the sounds animals use to communicate with each other and to avoid danger. Explosive sounds can kill or damage sea animals permanently. Because marine mammals have such complex and sensitive hearing, they are particularly at risk. The shockwaves from seismic activity can cause physical damage to whales’ super-sensitive ears.

Does underwater noise pollution have long lasting effects?

  • Exposure to man-made industrial noise can cause both temporary hearing damage (TTS) and permanent hearing damage (PTS). Permanent hearing loss will make it nearly impossible for that animal to survive but even temporary hearing damage can be deadly.

    There is also increasing evidence that elevated noise levels are masking or obscuring important biological sounds, making it more difficult for animals to navigate, find food, locate mates and avoid predators. This in turn increases stress levels, compromising biological function and immune system response.

Does climate change have a role in underwater noise pollution?

  • The changing climate is altering the very composition of seawater. The increase in acidity (pH) is also changing the way sound transmits in water – increasing the transmission efficiency so sound now moves faster and further in the Ocean than ever before.  The melting ice opening up new shipping lanes, spreading shipping noise even further into previously pristine acoustic environments. The increasing sea traffic and industrial activity will only make the Arctic Ocean more noisy and a more difficult place for marine animals to thrive.

Are there alternatives to air gun surveys or ways to minimize the damage?

  • Yes.  According to Okeanos the Foundation for the Sea, one way to minimize damage would be spreading the source energy out over time or moving sources and receivers closer to the seafloor. Permanent hydrophones could be installed on the seafloor to reduce the need for redundant surveys. And looking toward the future, new imaging technologies including controlled source electromagnetics will be nearly silent and are expected to become available in one to five years. These technologies have absolutely no impact on marine mammals and Elasmobranchs.  Elasmobranches  are cartilaginous fishes, like sharks whose skeleton is made of cartilage rather than bone.

What can we do about this problem?

  • Unlike chemical toxins from oil spills, the immediate effects of noise pollution cease when the manmade noises stop. Unfortunately the damage can be ongoing. For example, hearing loss in a marine animal can often be permanent. So we must act fast before more animals are injured and the ecosystem is disrupted even further.

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