Keeping Quiet Areas Quiet

Written by on October 16, 2015 in Marine Life

A new study suggests that quiet zones in the ocean would “support ecological research” and “give us a better picture of the impact human generated noise is having on marine animals”.

Fin whale. Photo credit: NOAA AFSC.

Marine mammals like this fin whale are particularly sensitive to underwater noise. Photo credit: NOAA AFSC.

Sound is an incredibly important tool in the oceans. Marine mammals, fish, and even some invertebrates, use sound to communicate, find food, and navigate. As the oceans become increasingly louder (due mostly to human activities like shipping, construction, and sonar), these daily tasks that are critical to survival become increasingly difficult.

The idea behind this study was to compare areas of normal shipping with areas of the ocean through which ships cannot travel in order to compare the behavior of animals inside and outside those boundaries. The more scientists know about how animals react to sound, the easier it will be to establish effective management strategies to protect marine life from harmful noise.

“Marine animals, especially whales, depend on a naturally quiet ocean for survival, but humans are polluting major portions of the ocean with noise,” Dr. Christopher Clark from the Bioacoustics Research Program at Cornell University explained in a news release. “We must make every effort to protect quiet ocean regions now, before they grow too noisy from the din of our activities.”

Researchers mapped shipping traffic in British Columbia, Canada in order to model underwater noise from all vessels over the course of a year. They then filtered the noise to match the hearing curves, or audiograms, of 11 species living in the area, giving each species an individual noise map.

The arrays are being used in a fish pen to study how herring (pictured) react to sound.

Marine mammals aren’t the only animals that depend on sound. Photo credit: @boetter via photopin cc

Using these maps, the researchers identified areas with overlap (lots of animals and lots of noise) and areas with no overlap (lots of animals and no noise).

“The areas of overlap are ‘sites of risk’, where you might eventually see long-term impacts from shipping noise,” Associate Professor Christine Erbe, Director of the Centre for Marine Science and Technology at Curtin University, explained in a news release. “The areas without overlap are ‘sites of opportunity’ which should equally be included in marine spatial planning.”

The study authors note that sites of opportunity are not often included, because the field of conservation biology often focuses on the problems alone.

“Marine spatial planning often focuses on the risk sites, where things have already gone wrong and we try to implement measures to fix things and improve the disturbed or deteriorated environment,” Associate Professor Erbe said. “We don’t often take a step back and look at the opportunity sites, however as this study shows, it could prove well worth doing so for the future survival and success of many marine animal habitats.”

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Copyright © 2015 by Marine Science Today, a publication of Marine Science Today LLC.

About the Author

About the Author: Emily Tripp is the Publisher and Editor of MarineScienceToday.com. She holds marine science and biology degrees from the University of Miami's Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science and a Master of Advanced Studies degree in Marine Biodiversity and Conservation from Scripps Institution of Oceanography. When she's not writing about marine science, she's probably running around outside or playing with her dog. .

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