Nightclub-Loud Noise Threatens Marine Mammals

Life under the sea is wetter but it’s not exactly getting any better for marine animals and especially for cetaceans, large aquatic mammals like whales and dolphins. Octopuses and squids are also affected. Human activity has raised the noise level of the ocean by 20 decibels over the last 50 years and it’s likely to get ever noisier. While we might imagine the deeps of the ocean to be silent, the reality is that military testing, freighter propellers and seismic oil and gas exploration — which uses air cannons to create tremors in the sea bed — have combined to create an “acoustic fog” that scientists compare to living in a nightclub where you have to shout to be heard.

We’re not only polluting the ocean with plastic bags, syringes and all manner of refuse. We’re creating so much din in the ocean that the very survival of many animals is in question, as cetaceans depend on their hearing to travel long distances to find food and shelter.

Mark Simmonds, the international director of science at the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society (WDCS), says that, for cetaceans, “hearing is as important as vision is for us,” so all the ruckus we’re creating is most likely affecting their communication with each other, as well as their sense of direction. Just basic small boat traffic at low speeds in shallow waters can lessen the reach of sounds by 26 percent for bottle nose dolphins and by 58 percent for pilot whales. 15 beaked whales in the Canaries died in 2002 after a NATO exercise using anti-submarine sonars. A number of whale strandings have also been linked to military sonar use.

In particular, animals whose long-time habitat is in the arctic are finding their way of life threatened as humans venture north drilling for oil and gas:

“Narwals for example have a narrowly defined habitat,” explains Simmonds. “They are very adapted to that cold environment. If it gets too noisy, where will they go?”

The same problem applies to the highly sound-sensitive beluga, or white whale, that migrates to Canada’s northern shores.

These mammals, which are capable of detecting ships 30 kilometers (18.7 miles) away, will struggle to maintain their migration route through the narrow straits circling Baffin Island as shipping in the area risks increasing sharply to accommodate a new large-scale mining project.

Offshore wind farms are environmentally-friendly, but building them means using a hydraulic hammer to drill the sea bed, so a monopod can be affixed to it:

This so-called pile-driving can emit noise levels up to 250 decibels, which is a deadly dose for nearby marine mammals, though experts say it’s easy to diminish the threat by creating a curtain of air bubbles surrounding the drill site.

But on top of pile-driving, ship traffic linked to maintenance, cable-laying and the expansion of port infrastructure are also shrinking sea mammals’ habitats.

Michel Andre, a French researcher at the Laboratory of Applied Bioacoustics at Barcelona University, says that we actually know how to reduce the sounds made by boats. The European Commission is financing an initiative, Ships-Oriented Innovative Solutions to Reduce Noise and Vibrations, or SILENV, to create an “acoustic green label” for ships. The European Union itself has undertaken a directive to reduce noise levels in its waters.

The adverse effects of offshore oil and gas development on the ocean’s marine life providesmore evidence for why we need to protect arctic waters from industrial development. While such efforts can provide new economic opportunities, they also bring new problems in the form of “stresses to local indigenous communities and .. pressure on a fragile ecosystem that is adapting to profound environmental changes,” including noise in places that once never knew of such a thing.

Related Care2 Coverage

44 Stranded Pilot Whales Rescued But Many Die

Rescued Dolphins Tested For Hearing Loss

Beached Dolphins Are Often Deaf



Photo of beluga taken in the Churchill River near Hudson Bay (Canada) by Ansgar Walk via Wikimedia Commons


William C
William C4 months ago


W. C
W. C4 months ago

Thank you for caring.

Fiona T.
Past Member 5 years ago

Please allow them the tranquility

Bernard Cronyn
6 years ago

The root cause is simple to explain; far too many selfishly breeding humans destroying all other life-forms with their over-population disease.

Karen F.
Karen F6 years ago

People can be not only filthy animals but we make a lot of noise while destroying everything around us. The noise can be cut... but I imagine that is expensive... so, doubtful any positive results in the near future. We''ll change if it's profitable for us, though... and then, thank goodness there are some who care.

Carrie Anne Brown

thanks for sharing

Benoit W.
Benoit W6 years ago

I think the problem is not only to heard or not for cetacea in the ocean due to the noise but I 've already heard about brain damage cause by military sonar with the dolphin...

Robyn O.
Robyn O6 years ago

I think the "nightclub" reference was misinterpreted here, but I still agree with the need to cut the noise level of the "civilized world". BTW, I'm a great lover of old movies, especially of the 30s and 40s, and I have seen what the original "nightclubs" were like. The people there were so much more sophisticated than the perennial underdressed children of today, although of the drinking age, who will never grow up. Subtley is not a sign of the last three or four generations. Everything is blatant and crude, raw and harsh, especially the "music" merchandized by greedy "music media" company executives. Visual representations of the times are perhaps even worse. Viewing Michael Jackson made me sick, especially after his crotch-grabbing, mechanical movements, and "songs" supposedly full of meaning but were just obsessed with sex. There were love songs in the "pre-rock era", but obviously rock has destroyed all musical beauty and romantic love. Women are forced to act like Madonna or Gaga to be considered acceptable by men. Even the terminology is more crude than it has ever been: as in "I'd like to DO her!" Now, I know that today's supposed "clubs" are really not what was meant to be discussed here, but I just couldn't let this chance to vent my spleen and it is so much a cry in the wilderness. It is so sad that most people alive today in the US have never, ever heard good music, just loud rhythmic noise (and note what the rhythmic pulse resembles) and repulsive "lyr

Joy Dantine
Joy Dantine6 years ago

It is a no-brainer as to the type of people that attend such activities. If you speak up about the perils of living creatures at one point in your conversation with prospective partner (whether temp or perm), you might get lucky because "usually" real women care for such things.

Dianne D.
Dianne D6 years ago

Humans are so inconsiderate. Close down all businesses that exploit animals. These businesses are not concerned with the welfare of the animals but only for profit.