Noise Pollution Threatening Sea Life

As reported by Ryan Finn for Bloomberg.com

Dec. 4 (Bloomberg) — Noise from ships and oil drilling is disrupting whales and other marine mammals that rely on sound to communicate, find food and mate, wildlife groups said.

Most noise pollution comes from propellers on commercial shipping vessels, according to a statement yesterday from the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society, one of several wildlife groups attending a United Nations Environment Program conference on migratory species in Rome.

“Underwater, man-made noise is already triggering a kind of acoustic fog and a cacophony of sound in many parts of the world seas,” Mark Simmonds, science director of the society, said in the statement, which is based on a report by the International Fund for Animal Welfare.

The world’s commercial fleet doubled in size from 1965 to 2003, with about 100,000 merchant vessels of 100 gross tonnage or more now in operation, according to the Animal Welfare report. The distance whales can communicate has decreased by 90 percent because of the noise pollution, the report said.

“With a trend towards ever larger, faster and more powerful ships the commercial fleet of tomorrow is likely to generate even more noise,” according to the report.

Military sonar use and seismic studies for oil and gas exploration have also contributed to the increased noise pollution, the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society said.

The use of military sonar has been linked to mass strandings of whales, dolphins and porpoises in Greece, Madeira, Spain, the coastal U.S., the Virgin Islands, the Canary Islands and the Bahamas, according to the Animal Welfare report.

Rapid Surfacing

Studies of carcasses from strandings show evidence of gas bubble formation in tissue, possibly caused by whales surfacing too rapidly, similar to the condition suffered by divers called “the bends,” the report said.

The U.S. Supreme Court last month lifted restrictions on the Navy’s use of sonar during training exercises near the Southern California coast and ruled that national security needs trumped environmental concerns.

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