NRDC: Noisy Oceans Harming Wildlife

by Clark Tate

Aug. 1, 2013—You know that feeling of frustration when you can’t talk to your buddy at a really loud bar? Imagine that clamor following you around, disrupting everyday conversations, interrupting your phone calls and fundamentally altering daily communication.

Something very similar is happening to marine life today, NPR reports. Shipping traffic, oil and gas exploration, military explosives, intensive sonar systems and other ocean-based activities are very, very loud. More reminiscent of a war zone than bar buzz, such din is bad enough on land, but it ripples through the ocean farther and faster.

Sound is often the primary communication mechanism amongst marine animals, marine mammals in particular. Michael Jasny, the director of the National Resources Defense Council’s Marine Mammal Protection Project, says the racket is basically blinding the animals, since they use sound waves—sonar—to map their surroundings and communicate. "We haven't blinded them completely, but we've diminished their sight," says Jasny. "We've made it much harder for them to live in their world."

Blue whales could once communicate across the entire Atlantic Ocean. Today’s noise levels act as a sort of “smog in the seas,” according to Jansy. “It affects every aspect of their survival and their ability to reproduce.”

The NRDC partnered with other conservation groups as well as oil and gas companies to address a portion of the problem. They reached an agreement that would limit the types of explosives allowed and exclude them all together from whale and dolphin habitat in the Gulf of Mexico.

It may not turn the madness off, but it could bring the volume down a few notches.

Photo by Marc Fueg/Creative Commons

Whale Crossing