A recent media piece on noise in the Arctic was published online in Arctic Deeply. SEA Senior Scientist and close colleague Chris Clark of Cornell were among those featured in the article about the science and traditional knowledge of sound and mammal behavior in the Arctic. The link is below as well as several excerpt from the piece.
Marine Mammals Unsettled as Arctic Noise Grows
by Cheryl Katz
Industrial noise from ships, offshore development and military activity is exposing Arctic marine mammals to unprecedented amounts of man-made racket. With the retreat of the sea ice, scientists figure the Arctic Ocean will only get louder. Can they muffle the din?
“The sound scenes that we’re imposing on the Arctic Ocean are profoundly huge,” said Christopher Clark, a bioacoustics researcher at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, who has studied bowhead whales in northern Alaska for more than 30 years. The underwater noise levels from airguns, ships and offshore construction can be several times higher than the loudest natural background sounds. “The Arctic situation is critical because man-made noise activities have been relatively infrequent” until fairly recently, Clark said.
Silenced Songs and Thwarted Migration
The effect of noise on marine mammals is determined by a complex interplay of factors. Pitch, frequency, ambient conditions, distance, whether the sound source is moving and other specifics all influence an animal’s response to sound, said Brandon Southall, a bioacoustics researcher at U.C. Santa Cruz and the former director of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s ocean acoustics program.
For example, bowhead whale communication can be disrupted by relatively low noise levels in two distinct ways depending on the total amount of sound they receive over time. A recent study published in the journal PLOS One looked at the reaction of bowheads in the Beaufort Sea to noise from airguns during oil exploration from 2007 to 2010.
But other activities, such as military operations by nations with Arctic borders, appear to be ramping up. And ship traffic will likely increase in places as the sea ice continues to recede.
“I think we’ve learned enough, and there’s been enough responsible development, that it can be done in ways that minimize the effects,” said Southall. For starters, governments could restrict noisy activities during the spring when females with calves are present, and enforce “exclusion zones” that require airguns to stop if species such as bowheads or beluga come close.
“There’s some informed and adaptive ways,” Southall said. “But they need to be supported in a combination of science and traditional knowledge.”