[MARMAM] OpEd on Ocean Acoustics and Marine Mammals

Brandon Southall brandon.southall at sea-inc.net
Fri Jan 20 13:11:10 PST 2012


Dr. Chris Clark and I would like to bring to your attention a recent 
opinion piece that ran on the CNN website.  Our purpose with this piece 
was to make the points within the popular media about (1) the importance 
of considering chronic/cumulative as well as acute aspects of 
anthropogenic noise impacts on the marine environment, (2) more emphasis 
on quieting technologies, and (3) the need for sustained and strategic 
acoustic monitoring.  You can find the article at 
<http://www.cnn.com/2012/01/19/opinion/clark-southall-marine/> and the 
full text is copied below.

Brandon Southall

  Turn down the volume in the ocean

By *Christopher Clark* and *Brandon Southall*, Special to CNN

For many millions of years, the oceans have been filled with the sounds 
of a geologically and biologically active planet: waves, rain, 
earthquakes and the songs of life from snapping shrimp to great whales. 
Before the age of engine-driven ships, the resounding voices of the 
great whales could be heard across an ocean.

Today, in much of the Northern Hemisphere, commercial shipping clouds 
the marine acoustic environment with fog banks of noise, and the near 
continuous pounding of seismic airguns in search of fossil fuels beneath 
the seafloor thunder throughout the waters. In the ocean's very quietest 
moments, blue whales singing off the Grand Banks of Canada can sometimes 
be heard more than 1,500 miles away off the coast of Puerto Rico. But on 
most days, that distance is a mere 50 to 100 miles.

So why should we care?

Over the past decade, scientists who study noise in the ocean have tried 
to understand how loud, man-made sounds disturb or injure whales and 
other marine mammals, even driving some to strand on beaches and die.

It is time for us to focus on the more pernicious influence of chronic, 
large-scale noise on marine life.

Whales, dolphins and seals use sounds to communicate, navigate, find 
food and detect predators. The rising level of cumulative noise from 
energy exploration, offshore development and commercial shipping is a 
constant disruption on their social networks. For life in today's ocean, 
the basic activities that we depend on for our lives on land are being 
eroded by the increasing amount of human noise beneath the waves.

These stark realities are worrying. But emerging technologies for 
quantifying and visualizing the effects of noise pollution can help 
drive a paradigm shift in how we perceive, monitor, manage and mitigate 
human sounds in the ocean. Ocean noise is a global problem, but the U.S. 
should step up and lead the way.

First, we must extend fledgling efforts to fully comprehend the acoustic 
footprint of our offshore and coastal activities. As a nation, we are 
failing the oceans by lacking a sufficiently effective program for 
listening to them.

The U.S. should develop and maintain dedicated undersea acoustic 
monitoring networks as integral parts of ocean observing systems. This 
would be lead by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration 
(NOAA) and enabled through private and academic partnerships. Such a 
plan has been developed; now it should be implemented.

Second, we should encourage and accelerate the development of 
noise-reduction technologies. Thanks to proactive collaborations among 
industries, scientists, environmentalists and government officials, 
efforts are underway within the U.N.'s International Maritime 
Organization to develop quieting technologies for the most pervasive 
global noise source: large commercial ships. These and related 
technologies for reducing noise in oil exploration and marine 
construction should be standardized.

Finally, federal regulation on ocean noise must be changed. For decades, 
regulators have focused entirely on the short-term effects of one action 
at a time. A more holistic and biologically relevant risk assessment 
system, centered on the concepts of ocean acoustic habitats and 
ecosystems, is sorely needed. Emerging trends in marine spatial planning 
are encouraging signs, as is NOAA's support of two groups that are 
developing geospatial tools for mapping underwater noise and marine 
mammal distributions in U.S. waters.

The loss of acoustic habitats for marine species that rely on sound to 
live and prosper is increasing. Solutions are available. The question is 
whether we humans value and will invest in a healthy ocean ecosystem 
that supports life, and in doing so, sustain our own health and future.

Brandon L. Southall, Ph.D.
President, Senior Scientist, SEA, Inc.
Research Associate, University of California, Santa Cruz
9099 Soquel Drive, Suite 8, Aptos, CA 95003, USA
831.332.8744 (mobile); 831.661.5177 (office); 831.661.5178 (fax)
Brandon.Southall at sea-inc.net; www.sea-inc.net

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