Little Ray & Shark Patch Things Up
April 2018 by V. R. Duin

OCEAN SOUNDS

Right-side up, then upside down,
Little Ray loved to act the clown.
The young stingray showed off for friends,
Who cheered his leaps and flips and bends.
(“Little Ray & Shark Patch Things Up”)

Unnatural ocean sounds present a noise pollution threat for marine life.

Rolling tides and gentle waves are not the only ocean sounds heard in the sea. It is full of naturally occurring sounds that humans may be unable to hear. While unnatural sounds are loud and obvious, fish barks, bubbles, groans, grunts, hoots, moans, thumps and some splashing noises may go unnoticed by humans. These sounds often are drowned out by those produced by human activities.

Sounds made by several sea mammals are familiar to humans; seals, sea lions, walruses, dolphins and whales. Many people have heard dolphins and whales chirp, squeak, click and make whistling sounds through their blow holes. Because they are different, but related mammals, some dolphin sounds may not be possible for porpoises to make. Unlike dolphin and whale sounds, humans cannot hear porpoise sounds. Animal senses are often stronger than those of humans.

Most fish can hear or sense all of the naturally occurring sounds of marine life and of the water in which they reside. Dolphins, porpoises and whales depend upon these ocean sounds to navigate, find food and communicate in a moving and unsettled environment where sight and smell are not always useful, and touch may be dangerous. Unnatural sound presents a noise pollution threat, because it interferes with the useful sounds needed for the survival of many marine animals.

Natural ocean sounds may cause some fish to flee and may draw aggressive species in for an attack. Stingrays will flee from sound vibrations, such as those made by shuffling feet in the sand. Sharks are known to attack flapping sounds, as these may be indicative of weak prey. When whales slap their tales, fish may herd together for safety. This brings together many watchful eyes for the school. It also provides a confusing mass from which some predators cannot distinguish individual prey. With a whale, however, the whole school may get eaten as a group. Natural sounds are compatible with the natural life cycle of the sea.

It is the loud, unnatural ocean sounds that are stressful for marine life. These noise pollution threats include the recreational sounds of loud music, boat engines and depth sounding devices. The increasingly severe, increasingly common, extremely loud and totally unnatural sounds of military sonar blasts, oil drilling booms, ship engines and undersea construction present serious noise pollution threats to marine life. Loud noises cause physical and emotional stress and injury.

Loud noises can affect the physiology and behavior of marine life. Some noises can seriously injure and ultimately kill marine life. For people and for animals, noise has been associated with disruptions of metabolic and immune systems. Loud noise causes stress, interfere with rest and impairs hearing. Chronic exposure to stress can damage blood vessels and the nervous system that regulates body functions. Unnatural sounds in the ocean are burgeoning.

To combat unnatural ocean sounds, NOAA is mapping a strategy for the reduction of these oceanic noise pollution threats to marine life. The NOAA Ocean Noise Strategy Road Map is an ongoing collaborative effort. It was launched with public comment and feedback.

Noise Pollution Threat

  • marine life admin says:

    Julia Purser, UK biologist, has authored or co-authored articles about injury, death and other effects of noise on marine life.

  • ocean sounds admin says:

    Governments are drafting regulations to reduce harmful, unnatural ocean sounds.

    • noise pollution threatadmin says:

      Offshore construction, with driving piles and explosives, worsens the noise pollution threat.