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Hawaiian monk seal.
Photo 22: Hawaiian monk seal, Monachus schauinslandi.
(NOAA Photo Library.)

Incidental noise from commercial shipping operations is increasingly being recognized as a potential threat to many marine animals, in particular whales, seals, and fish. There is increasing interest among diverse stakeholders in taking action to minimize or eliminate adverse effects of commercial shipping noise on marine life. Scientific data, while not conclusive, suggest that commercial shipping is causing significant increases in the overall underwater sound environment in many ocean areas, particularly coastal zones. Incidental noise from commercial shipping occurs within the same low frequencies used by some marine animals for communications essential to key life functions such as reproduction and locating prey. Interference with (or "masking" of) such communications could have significant impacts on marine life. As a result of the potential significance of incidental noise to commercial shipping interests and the marine environment, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) has charged its Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC) with investigating and developing papers on these issues. GCIL worked with the National Marine Fisheries Service Offices of Ocean Acoustics Program and Protected Resources, NOAA's Office of International Affairs, as well as other federal agencies in developing the U.S. Noise and Marine Mammals Information Paper (MEPC 57/INF.4). The paper notes the ongoing work of NOAA on this issue and invites participation in NOAA’s ongoing dialogue regarding identification of potential adverse impacts associated with incidental vessel noise and the potential mitigation of those impacts.

Additional reference information:Some of these links are to external sites.

  • Underwater Sound. Peer-reviewed scientific studies on the impacts of ocean noise on marine living resources submitted pursuant to paragraph 107 of General Assembly resolution 61/222.
  • MEPC, 58th session, Agenda item 19, MEPC 58/INF.19, August 1, 2008, Submitted by Australia. This document provides information on the levels of shipping noise in the marine environment, particularly in Australia and Antarctic oceans. It also gives a brief summary of some ship design elements that can assist in minimizing the introduction of noise into the marine environment.
  • MEPC 58th session, Agenda item 19, MEPC 58/19, 25 June 2008, Work Programme of the Committee and Subsidiary Bodies, submitted by the United States. The United States submitted this paper proposing that a new high priority work program item be added to the MEPC’s agenda. This item is to minimize the introduction of incidental noise from commercial shipping operations into the marine environment to reduce potential adverse impacts on marine life. MEPC, on October 10, 2008, agreed with the United States proposal and a correspondence group was convened under the chairmanship of the United States to progress this issue.
  • MEPC, 57th session, Agenda item 20, MEPC 57/INF.4, 17 December 2007, Shipping noise and marine mammals. Submitted by the United States. In March-April 2008, the MEPC considered the U.S. Noise and Marine Mammals Information Paper on the issue of noise generated by international shipping and its potential adverse impact on marine life. The paper provides information on this issue for IMO Member Governments and requests them to bring it to the attention of all interested entities, in particular those from the shipping industry, shipyards, and ship builders.