Underwater sound from vessel traffic reduces the effective communication range in Atlantic cod and haddock
Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary is located in Massachusetts Bay off the densely populated northeast coast of the United States; subsequently, the marine inhabitants of the area are exposed to elevated levels of anthropogenic underwater sound, particularly due to commercial shipping. The current study investigated the alteration of estimated effective communication spaces at three spawning locations for populations of the commercially and ecologically important fishes, Atlantic cod (Gadus morhua) and haddock (Melanogrammus aeglefinus). Both the ambient sound pressure levels and the estimated effective vocalization radii, estimated through spherical spreading models, fluctuated dramatically during the three-month recording periods. Increases in sound pressure level appeared to be largely driven by large vessel activity, and accordingly exhibited a significant positive correlation with the number of Automatic Identification System tracked vessels at the two of the three sites. The near constant high levels of low frequency sound and consequential reduction in the communication space observed at these recording sites during times of high vocalization activity raises significant concerns that communication between conspecifics may be compromised during critical biological periods. This study takes the first steps in evaluating these animals’ communication spaces and alteration of these spaces due to anthropogenic underwater sound.