Ocean noise film Sonic Sea premieres tonight on Discovery

Ocean noise film Sonic Sea premieres tonight on DiscoverySonic Sea, a one-hour documentary produced by Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), and Imaginary Forces premieres tonight at 9:00 pm EDT. It beautifully illustrates the painful impact of increasing ocean noise on marine mammals, as well as the simple steps we can take to remove this danger.

I was honored to be asked to appear in Sonic Sea to share the story of our response to a mass stranding of melon-headed whales in Madagascar in 2008.

I’ve been a stranding responder for my entire professional career. This response in particular solidified my belief in the need for proactive, international approaches to protecting marine mammals, and indeed the entire ocean ecosystem, from the increasing pressures of anthropogenic noise.

Seeing the devastating impact ocean noise can have was a sobering reminder of our need to be responsible stewards of our environment.

Recently in South Africa, I discussed the welfare of marine mammal stranding response with colleagues from around the world. What an enlightening experience. I was thrilled by the commitment of so many incredible professionals, and at the same time astounded.

There are a multitude of threats to marine mammals these days and as we discussed them, I realized the most frustrating part was how much we still don’t know. We have so many questions.

One thing that was very clear is that ocean noise is a serious, acute and solvable problem. Dolphins and whales rely heavily on their sense of hearing to communicate. It helps them find suitable mates and to navigate. It helps them find their prey.

Without the ability to hear, the welfare and conservation of these species is threatened.

At IFAW, our Marine Mammal Rescue and Research (MMRR) team is actively involved in trying to better understand the impact increasing ocean noise may have on these protected populations. We not only respond to massive multiple animal strandings like the one in Madagascar, we also conduct routine research on all the stranded animals we encounter.

By conducting hearing tests on stranded dolphins our MMRR team is creating the baseline data we need to understand what this threat means to wild populations. We use the same non-invasive methods used to evaluate hearing in infants.

By understanding the hearing ranges and sensitivities of these animals, we can more accurately understand the threats posed by anthropogenic noise sources such as air guns, sonar, shipping, and underwater explosions—and learn how we as humans can minimize our negative impacts on the species with whom we share this world.


Please tune in to the Discovery channel on May 19th (see your local guide for times) to see this poignant film (and not just because I am in it).


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Azzedine Downes,IFAW President and CEO
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