Ocean noise poses grave threat to marine mammals: IFAW urges action to protect whales, dolphins and porpoises

Wednesday, December 3, 2008
(Rome, 3 December 2008) – The future of many marine species is greatly at risk from man-made under-sea noise pollution, conservationists warned today, prompting urgent discussions at this week's 9th Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS).

A report released today by the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), Ocean Noise: Turn it down, showed that, in recent decades, ocean noise created by human activities has risen dramatically, posing a major threat to many marine mammals. Noise from commercial shipping, sonar, seismic exploration by the oil and gas industry, off-shore construction and recreational activities, is contributing to a progressively more disorientating environment for the world's cetaceans.

Whales, dolphins, porpoises and other cetaceans rely on under-water sounds for communication, navigation and to locate food. Escalating man-made noise pollution can cause behavioural changes in cetaceans such as abandoning breeding and feeding areas, and in extreme cases lead to stranding and even death.

In recent years, international bodies such as United Nations, IMO (International Maritime Organisation) and the European Union have given greater attention to ocean noise pollution and IFAW believes that CMS can play a vital part in ensuring that robust resolutions to protect these species are urgently implemented. IFAW is calling on CMS Parties and the CMS Secretariat to consider a wide range of measures under discussion at the Convention to tackle underwater noise.

“Protecting marine species from ocean noise is critical to their survival. Ocean noise can travel over vast distances and affect marine species across many national sea boundaries,” said Veronica Frank, IFAW Campaign Officer. “Therefore it is vital that countries work together to build strong agreements to prevent marine species being drowned out by disruptive, man-made noise.”

IFAW's report highlighted that ship noise in the Pacific Ocean has doubled every decade over the past 40 years* and that the global shipping fleet is expected to double in size by 2025. In contrast, the distance over which blue whales can communicate has been cut by a staggering 90 per cent as a result of increased noise levels.

IFAW’s ocean noise report particularly condemns high intensity noise such as seismic surveys and military sonar. These emit sounds above 200 decibels which can injure marine animals. Scientists have also linked high intensity sonar with fatal strandings of whales and dolphins.

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