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


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 severe noise pollution threat for human enjoyment as well as for marine life survival.

Rolling tides and gentle waves are not the only ocean sounds heard in the sea. Water bodies are full of naturally occurring sounds that humans may be unable to hear. While unnatural ocean sounds are loud and obvious, naturally occurring sounds may go unnoticed by humans. Natural ocean sounds are predictable. Unnatural sounds, including those created by water forced into the water through spillways and drainage pipes can cause physical and emotional damage that impairs marine life survival. Fish do not have vocal boxes. However, they make use of water, air and their swim bladders to produce sounds. The resulting barks, bubbles, groans, grunts, hisses, hoots, moans, rattling sounds, tail and body thumps and some splashing noises are audible and important to ocean life. Stingrays can make grunting sounds with air and water expulsion. Sharks use their teeth and jaws to make gnashing noises, and they can expel water in a bark-like sound. These sounds may indicate whether the animal is ready to play, fight or mate. Unfortunately, these natural sounds are being drowned out by the unnatural ocean sounds produced by human activities and by the severe noise pollution threats from their machines.

Naturally occurring sounds enable animals to compete for attention, define boundaries or indicate submission. There appears to be a hierarchy of natural sounds that regulate approach or withdrawal in the ocean. These basic vocalizations may have evolved into the advanced communicative organs in humans. 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. Severe noise pollution threats interfere with the purpose of these vocalizations. Although 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. Rays and sharks are considered silent hunters, but they can let out a burp when air is trapped in their stomachs while being reeled in during fishing. Do sharks make sounds? Animal senses are often stronger than those of humans. Severe noise pollution threats from unnatural ocean sounds interfere with the important sense of hearing for marine life survival and human enjoyment.

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 naturally occurring ocean sounds to navigate, find food and communicate. The ocean is a moving and unsettled environment where sight and smell are not always useful, and touch may be dangerous. Controlling bone-rattling sound is not nerd science. Unnatural ocean sounds present a severe noise pollution threat. These noises interfere with the useful sounds needed for marine life survival. Some fish and marine animals are territorial and protective of their space. Slow-moving ocean life may not be able or willing to get out of the way of the machines making these noises. As boat traffic increases, the ocean environment is disrupted for human visitors and animal residents. As a result, more of these animals are killed or seriously injured and stressed, placing them at greater risk to predators and disease.

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. This does not mean that sharks are only drawn to dying or injured prey. Some shark species are very protective of their territory. These territorial protections are weakened by the severe noise pollution threat produced by unnatural ocean sounds. Noise also impacts human safety and enjoyment in these waters. Natural ocean sounds regulate behavior. These sounds may enable prey to flee and may draw aggressive species in for an attack. 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 for humans and animals. Sounds may help an animal bluff a predator into fleeing, rather than staying for the fight. Noise pollution interferes with these natural defenses for marine life survival.

Whales and fish slap their tails against the water surface, plants and other objects. Tail thumping may be used to scare away predators, newcomers or to mark territory. It often is used in cooperative hunting. Team tail thumping drives prey to shallow water where it is easily caught. Natural behavioral guidance is an important part of the marine life cycle. Naturally occurring sounds may result in stress reduction. In addition to a feeding technique, these noises may be used in spawning or mating activities. The sound of a tail thump is not as loud or as common as the vocal sounds made by sea animals. Tail thumping may be used for communications between a mother whale and her calf or to get attention. The enemy leaves and the tail thumper is able to relax, because the offspring remains in safety. A severe noise pollution threat from unnatural ocean sounds has the opposite effect for marine life survival.

Loud, unnatural ocean sounds are stressful for marine life. The recreational sounds of loud music, boat engines and depth sounding devices present a severe noise pollution threat. Geophysical and oceanographic experiments create intense noise. The accompanying impacts can increase water flow and turbulence to physically damaging and potentially fatal levels. Water amplifies sound, causing fish to leave the area. Humans are disrupted by sound. Animals may be more effected. Thundering, unnatural ocean sounds can cause physical and emotional stress and injury to marine life. The increasingly severe, increasingly common, extremely loud and totally unnatural ocean sounds of military sonar blasts, oil drilling booms, industrial ship engines, air guns for seismic surveys, and explosives for undersea construction present serious underwater noise pollution threats to marine life survival. Noise interferes with spawning, sheltering, mating, growth, development, feeding and other necessary marine life cycle activities. It may increase the aggression of some species.

Peaceful enjoyment of the ocean by some humans also is disrupted by unnatural ocean sounds created by other users. These sounds can reach water from land and land from water. Loud noises can affect the physiology and behavior of marine life. Some noises can seriously injure and ultimately kill marine life. Unnatural ocean sounds are unhealthy. On May 1, 2018, Canadian biologist Lindy Wilgart wrote a report for Dalhousie University, entitled The Impact of Ocean Noise Pollution on Fish and Invertebrates. It was compiled from a review of 115 scientific studies. Noise has profound effects on these marine animals. Noise has been associated with disruptions of metabolic and immune systems, developmental delay and physical deformities. Unnaturally loud noise causes stress, interferes with rest and impairs hearing. These damaging acoustic effects can continue worsening after the sound has ceased. Chronic exposure to stress can damage blood vessels and the nervous system that regulates body functions. Unnatural sounds in the ocean are on the increase. Advanced sensing technologies and robotics are opening up new areas of the ocean to development. The accompanying severe noise pollution threats are threatening marine life survival.

To combat unnatural ocean sounds, NOAA mapped a strategy for the reduction of these oceanic noise pollution threats to marine life survival over a 10-year period. While interacting with the ocean, everyone should be aware of and attentive to reducing the effects of recreational and industrial sounds on marine life. Reducing human-caused stressors and threats cannot be limited to scientific and government laboratories. Government requires help from all people. The NOAA Ocean Noise Strategy Road Map is an ongoing collaborative effort. It was launched by giving the public an opportunity for comment and feedback through July 1, 2016. Everyone can and should contribute to these important ocean stabilization efforts. The government initiated this important guideline for people to follow for the reduction of severe noise pollution threats for the safe enjoyment of these waters by visitors and to aid in the survival of permanent and part-time ocean residents.

In September of 2016, NOAA issued Phase 2 of its plan to scientifically guide chronic ocean sound management, planning, regulation and assessment efforts. This agency offers public education programs for the mutual benefit of human awareness and marine life survival. Workshops and Tasks Forces organized for this final phase of the NOAA Ocean Noise Strategy are being coordinated agency-wide. The agency also makes international outreach efforts. Unnatural ocean sounds are an international problem. The International Maritime Organization is involved in these efforts to implement voluntary guidelines to quiet commercial ocean vessels. Biologically important areas will be identified and set aside as protective sanctuaries. These locations will offer environmentalists, scientists and conservationists an opportunity to study marine life, free of unnatural ocean sounds. Governmental efforts to limit sound decibels also extend to land and fresh water environments. For people and for animals, severe noise pollution threats are proving to be unhealthy for all of life in all types of environments.

The government of Canada is launching an Ocean Protection Plan with universities and environmental associations and port authorities to study, manage and reduce the stressors of unnatural ocean sounds. Other countries are aware of the severe noise pollution threat to marine life survival. The UN is involved through its “Open-Ended Informal Consultative Process on Oceans and Law of the Sea”. From June 18-22, 2018, the UN conducted its nineteenth meeting on Anthropogenic Ocean Noise. Panelists conducted meetings and led discussions to expand protections among member countries. Reports were presented by scientists from the United States, Australia, Canada, Argentina, Sri Lanka, Mexico, Scotland, Ireland, England, Malta, the Netherlands, Jamaica, Madagascar and other concerned countries.

Severe Noise Pollution Threats

  • marine life survival Little Ray says:

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

  • unnatural ocean sounds Little Ray says:

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

    • severe noise pollution threatLittle Ray says:

      Offshore construction, with driving piles and explosives, is increasing and expanding the spread of the severe noise pollution threat for ocean life.