The fin whale is a globally endangered species and is listed as threatened in Australia, however no peer-reviewed studies are available to indicate the migratory movements of the species in Australian waters. This study uses passive acoustic monitoring as a tool to identify the migratory movements of fin whales in Australian waters. Sampling was conducted from eight locations around Australia between 2009 and 2017, providing a total of 37 annual migratory records. Taken together, our observations provide evidence of fin whale migration through Australian waters, with earliest arrival of the animals recorded on the Western Australian coast, at Cape Leeuwin in April. The whales travel through Cape Leeuwin, migrating northward along the Western Australian coast to the Perth Canyon (May to October), which likely acts as a way-station for feeding. Some whales continue migrating as far north as Dampier (19°S). On Australia’s east coast, at Tuncurry, fin whale seasonal presence each year occurred later, from June to late September/October. A total of only 8,024 fin whale pulses were recorded on the east coast, compared to 177,328 pulses recorded at the Perth Canyon. We suggest these differences, as well as the spatial separation between coasts, provide preliminary evidence that the fin whales present on the east and west coasts constitute separate sub-populations.
Soundscapes and Acoustics
Sound-sensitive organisms are abundant on coral reefs. Accordingly, experiments suggest that boat noise could elicit adverse effects on coral reef organisms. Yet, there are few data quantifying boat noise prevalence on coral reefs. We use long-term passive acoustic recordings at nine coral reefs and one sandy comparison site in a marine protected area to quantify spatio-temporal variation in boat noise and its effect on the soundscape. Boat noise was most common at reefs with high coral cover and fish density, and temporal patterns reflected patterns of human activity. Boat noise significantly increased low-frequency sound levels at the monitored sites. With boat noise present, the peak frequencies of the natural soundscape shifted from higher frequencies to the lower frequencies frequently used in fish communication. Taken together, the spectral overlap between boat noise and fish communication and the elevated boat detections on reefs with biological densities raises concern for coral reef organisms.
The deployment of tidal energy arrays is gaining momentum to provide marine renewable energy (MRE) to the global market. However, there are concerns over the potential impacts underwater noise emissions from operational devices may have on marine fauna. Auditory masking (the interference of important biological signals by anthropogenic noise) is a highly pervasive impact to marine fauna. We used a relatively new approach to evaluate the effects of noise from operational tidal energy devices on the listening space of marine mammals. Here, listening space reductions (LSR) for harbour porpoises (Phocoena phocoena) and harbour seals (Phoca vitulina) were assessed in winter and summer for two tidal energy devices of different designs. Results demonstrated that LSR was influenced by type of turbine, species, and season. For instance, LSRs for harbour seals were in excess of 80% within 60 m, whilst for harbour porpoises they were in excess of 55% within 10 m of the devices. For both species, LSRs were highest during winter, characterised by low ambient noise conditions. These findings highlight the importance of assessing masking over seasons, as masking effects are highly influenced by ambient noise conditions. Understanding the natural variation within seasons is also particularly relevant for tidal turbine noise assessments as devices are typically situated in highly dynamic environments. Since masking effects occur at the lower level of behavioural impacts in marine mammals, assessing the spatial extent of masking as part of environmental impact assessments is recommended. The listening space formula, which is largely based on measurable environmental factors (device and ambient noise), is transferable to any MRE device, or arrays, for any species (for which an audiogram can be assumed) and therefore provides an effective method to better inform MRE pre- and post-consenting processes.
The growth of global ocean noise recorded over the past decades is increasingly affecting marine species and requires assessment on the part of marine managers. We present a framework for the analysis of species' exposure to noise from shipping. Integrated into a set of geovisualization tools, our approach focuses on exposure hotspot mapping, on the computation of probabilistic levels of exposure, and on the identification of shipping routes that minimize exposure levels for Cetacean species. The framework was applied to estimate noise exposure for the Southern Resident Killer Whale (SRKW) population, and for the exploration of possible ship traffic displacement scenarios in the Salish Sea, British Columbia. Four noise exposure hotspots were identified within the SRKW's core habitat. Exposure over these areas was mainly produced by six vessel classes, namely Ferries, Tugboats, Recreational Vessels, Vehicle Carriers, Containers, and Bulkers. Exposure levels showed variability across hotspots suggesting that a fine-scale spatial dimension should be included in the design of noise pollution mitigation strategies for the Salish Sea. The scenarios suggest that small changes in the current shipping lanes (3.4% increase in traveled distance) can lead to a 56% reduction of the overlap between vessel traffic and sensitive areas for SRKW.
Underwater sound is directional and can convey important information about the surrounding environment or the animal emitting the sound. Therefore, sound is a major sensory channel for fishes and plays a key role in many life‐history strategies. The effect of anthropogenic noise on aquatic life, which may be causing homogenisation or fragmentation of biologically important signals underwater is of growing concern. In this review we discuss the role sound plays in the ecology of fishes, basic anatomical and physiological adaptations for sound reception and production, the effects of anthropogenic noise and how fishes may be coping to changes in their environment, to put the ecology of fish hearing into the context of the modern underwater soundscape.
The effects of underwater noise pollution on marine life are of increasing concern. Research and management have focussed on the strongest underwater sound sources. Aerial sound sources have understandably been ignored as sound transmits poorly across the air-water interface. However, there might be situations when air-borne noise cannot be dismissed. Commercial passenger airplanes were recorded in a coastal underwater soundscape exhibiting broadband received levels of 84–132 dB re 1 μPa rms. Power spectral density levels of airplane noise underwater exceeded ambient levels between 12 Hz and 2 or 10 kHz (depending on site) by up to 36 dB. Underwater noise from airplanes is expected to be audible to a variety of marine fauna, including seals, manatees, and dolphins. With many of the world's airports lying close to the coast, it is cautioned that airplane noise not be ignored, in particular in the case of at-risk species in small, confined habitats.
Many countries have made statutory commitments to ensure that underwater noise pollution is at levels which do not harm marine ecosystems. Nevertheless, coordinated action to manage cumulative noise levels is lacking, despite broad recognition of the risks to ecosystem health. We attribute this impasse to a lack of quantitative management targets—or “noise budgets”—which regulatory decision‐makers can work toward, and propose a framework of risk‐based noise exposure indicators which make such targets possible. These indicators employ novel noise exposure curves to quantify the proportion of a population or habitat exposed, and the associated exposure duration. This methodology facilitates both place‐based and ecosystem‐based approaches, enabling the integration of noise management into marine spatial planning, risk assessment of population‐level consequences, and cumulative effects assessment. Using data from the first international assessment of impulsive noise activity, we apply this approach to herring spawning and harbor porpoise in the North Sea.
We have observed that marine macroalgae produce sound during photosynthesis. The resultant soundscapes correlate with benthic macroalgal cover across shallow Hawaiian coral reefs during the day, despite the presence of other biological noise. Likely ubiquitous but previously overlooked, this source of ambient biological noise in the coastal ocean is driven by local supersaturation of oxygen near the surface of macroalgal filaments, and the resultant formation and release of oxygen-containing bubbles into the water column. During release, relaxation of the bubble to a spherical shape creates a monopole sound source that ‘rings’ at the Minnaert frequency. Many such bubbles create a large, distributed sound source over the sea floor. Reef soundscapes contain vast quantities of biological information, making passive acoustic ecosystem evaluation a tantalizing prospect if the sources are known. Our observations introduce the possibility of a general, volumetrically integrative, noninvasive, rapid and remote technique for evaluating algal abundance and rates of primary productivity in littoral aquatic communities. Increased algal cover is one of the strongest indicators for coral reef ecosystem stress. Visually determining variations in algal abundance is a time-consuming and expensive process. This technique could therefore provide a valuable tool for ecosystem management but also for industrial monitoring of primary production, such as in algae-based biofuel synthesis.
This study assesses vessel-noise exposure levels for Southern Resident Killer Whales (SRKW) in the Salish Sea. Kernel Density Estimation (KDE) was used to delineate SRKW summer core areas. Those areas were combined with the output of a regional cumulative noise model describing sound level variations generated by commercial vessels (1/3-octave-bands from 10 Hz to 63.1 kHz). Cumulative distribution functions were used to evaluate SRKW's noise exposure from 15 vessel categories over three zones located within the KDE. Median cumulative noise values were used to group categories based on the associated exposure levels. Ferries, Tugboats, Vehicle Carriers, Recreational Vessels, Containers, and Bulkers showed high levels of exposure (Leq−50th > 90 dB re 1 μPa) within SRKW core areas. Management actions aiming at reducing SRKW noise exposure during the summer should target the abovementioned categories and take into consideration the spatial distribution of their levels of exposure, their mechanical and their operational characteristics.
Vessel-generated underwater noise can affect humpback whales, harbor seals, and other marine mammals by decreasing the distance over which they can communicate and detect predators and prey. Emerging analytical methods allow marine protected area managers to use biologically relevant metrics to assess vessel noise in the dominant frequency bands used by each species. Glacier Bay National Park (GBNP) in Alaska controls summer visitation with daily quotas for vessels ranging from cruise ships to yachts and skiffs. Using empirical data (weather, AIS vessel tracks, marine mammal survey data, and published behavioral parameters) we simulated the movements and acoustic environment of whales and seals on 3 days with differing amounts of vessel traffic and natural ambient noise. We modeled communication space (CS) to compare the area over which a vocalizing humpback whale or harbor seal could communicate with conspecifics in the current ambient noise environment (at 10-min intervals) relative to how far it could communicate under naturally quiet conditions, known as the reference ambient noise condition (RA). RA was approximated from the quietest 5th percentile noise statistics based on a year (2011) of continuous audio data from a hydrophone in GBNP, in the frequency bands of whale and seal sounds of interest: humpback “whup” calls (50–700 Hz, 143 dB re 1 μPa source level, SL); humpback song (224–708 Hz, 175 dB SL), and harbor seal roars (4–500 Hz, 144 dB SL). Results indicate that typical summer vessel traffic in GBNP causes substantial CS losses to singing whales (reduced by 13–28%), calling whales (18–51%), and roaring seals (32–61%), especially during daylight hours and even in the absence of cruise ships. Synchronizing the arrival and departure timing of cruise ships did not affect CS for singing whales, but restored 5–12% of lost CS for roaring seals and calling whales, respectively. Metrics and visualizations like these create a common currency to describe and explore methods to assess and mitigate anthropogenic noise. Important next steps toward facilitating effective conservation of the underwater sound environments will involve putting modeling tools in the hands of marine protected area managers for ongoing use.