Underwater Sound

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.

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