Long Before Human Noise Pollution, Oceans Were Loud as a Rock Concert

Written by on October 25, 2012 in Marine Life
Fin whale.

Fin whale. Photo credit: Lori Mazzuca, AFSCK/NOAA.

Recently, studies have been concerned with noise pollution in the oceans–generated primarily by humans, from ship traffic to sonar testing.  In fact, background noise in the ocean is about ten times louder than it was only 50 years ago.

However, new research shows that before the era of industrial whaling about 200 years ago, whale songs and communication made the ocean even louder than it is today.

Researchers from Ocean Conservation Research in Lagunitas, California, used current whale vocalization data combined with historic population data to determine the noise level.

“In one example, 350,000 fin whales in the North Atlantic may have contributed 126 decibels — about as loud as a rock concert — to the ocean ambient sound level in the early 19th century,” said researcher Michael Stocker.

While the ocean was a loud place, Stocker explains that “we can assume that animals have adapted to biological noise over the eons, which may not be the case with anthropogenic noise.  Anthropogenic noise is often broader band and differently textured than natural noise, so the impacts are likely different as well.  Investigating these differences and their impact on marine life is the topic of intense research.”

The research is being presented at the 164th meeting of the Acoustical Society of America (ASA), held in Kansas City, Missouri from Oct 22-26.

To learn more, check out these links:

Copyright © 2012 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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  1. Ryan says:

    Interesting topic… Hopefully it doesn’t just become a new angle for environmental groups to cling to in order to shut everything down, before knowing if the negative impact theories are even plausible. Seems like there’s a drastic decline in credible science leading to well thought out policy these days.

  2. Tom says:

    Interesting comment, Ryan. Can you expand on your thoughts a little more?