The Protocol on Environmental Protection of the Antarctic Treaty stipulates that the protection of the Antarctic environment and associated ecosystems be fundamentally considered in the planning and conducting of all activities in the Antarctic Treaty area. One of the key pollutants created by human activities in the Antarctic is noise, which is primarily caused by ship traffic (from tourism, fisheries, and research), but also by geophysical research (e.g., seismic surveys) and by research station support activities (including construction). Arguably, amongst the species most vulnerable to noise are marine mammals since they specialize in using sound for communication, navigation and foraging, and therefore have evolved the highest auditory sensitivity among marine organisms. Reported effects of noise on marine mammals in lower-latitude oceans include stress, behavioral changes such as avoidance, auditory masking, hearing threshold shifts, and—in extreme cases—death. Eight mysticete species, 10 odontocete species, and six pinniped species occur south of 60°S (i.e., in the Southern or Antarctic Ocean). For many of these, the Southern Ocean is a key area for foraging and reproduction. Yet, little is known about how these species are affected by noise. We review the current prevalence of anthropogenic noise and the distribution of marine mammals in the Southern Ocean, and the current research gaps that prevent us from accurately assessing noise impacts on Antarctic marine mammals. A questionnaire given to 29 international experts on marine mammals revealed a variety of research needs. Those that received the highest rankings were (1) improved data on abundance and distribution of Antarctic marine mammals, (2) hearing data for Antarctic marine mammals, in particular a mysticete audiogram, and (3) an assessment of the effectiveness of various noise mitigation options. The management need with the highest score was a refinement of noise exposure criteria. Environmental evaluations are a requirement before conducting activities in the Antarctic. Because of a lack of scientific data on impacts, requirements and noise thresholds often vary between countries that conduct these evaluations, leading to different standards across countries. Addressing the identified research needs will help to implement informed and reasonable thresholds for noise production in the Antarctic and help to protect the Antarctic environment.
Soundscapes and Acoustics
The number of marine watercraft is on the rise—from private boats in coastal areas to commercial ships crossing oceans. A concomitant increase in underwater noise has been reported in several regions around the globe. Given the important role sound plays in the life functions of marine mammals, research on the potential effects of vessel noise has grown—in particular since the year 2000. We provide an overview of this literature, showing that studies have been patchy in terms of their coverage of species, habitats, vessel types, and types of impact investigated. The documented effects include behavioral and acoustic responses, auditory masking, and stress. We identify knowledge gaps: There appears a bias to more easily accessible species (i.e., bottlenose dolphins and humpback whales), whereas there is a paucity of literature addressing vessel noise impacts on river dolphins, even though some of these species experience chronic noise from boats. Similarly, little is known about the potential effects of ship noise on pelagic and deep-diving marine mammals, even though ship noise is focused in a downward direction, reaching great depth at little acoustic loss and potentially coupling into sound propagation channels in which sound may transmit over long ranges. We explain the fundamental concepts involved in the generation and propagation of vessel noise and point out common problems with both physics and biology: Recordings of ship noise might be affected by unidentified artifacts, and noise exposure can be both under- and over-estimated by tens of decibel if the local sound propagation conditions are not considered. The lack of anthropogenic (e.g., different vessel types), environmental (e.g., different sea states or presence/absence of prey), and biological (e.g., different demographics) controls is a common problem, as is a lack of understanding what constitutes the ‘normal’ range of behaviors. Last but not least, the biological significance of observed responses is mostly unknown. Moving forward, standards on study design, data analysis, and reporting are badly needed so that results are comparable (across space and time) and so that data can be synthesized to address the grand unknowns: the role of context and the consequences of chronic exposures.
In the present paper, we study the hydrodynamic noise generated by a ship propeller in open sea conditions. We use Large Eddy Simulation for the hydrodynamic field whereas the acoustic field is reconstructed by applying the advective form of the Ffowcs-Williams and Hawkings equation. A dynamic Lagrangian model is adopted for the closure of the subgrid-scale stresses and a wall-layer model allows to skip the resolution of the viscous sub-layer. The acoustic equation is formulated in the integral form and solved through direct integration of the volume terms. The propeller herein considered is a benchmark case, whose fluid dynamic data are available in the literature. A grid of about 3 ×106 cells is able to reproduce accurately both integral quantities like thrust and torque over the propeller, and turbulence propagating downstream in the wake.
Different noise generation mechanisms are investigated separately. The linear terms give rise to a narrow-band noise spectrum, with a mean peak at the blade frequency and other peaks at frequencies multiple of the rotational one. The non-linear quadrupole term reveals a broad band noise spectrum; the shaft vortex provides the largest contribution to the non-linear part of the noise propagated in the far field.
Passive acoustics is a tool to monitor behavior, distributions, and biomass of marine invertebrates, fish, and mammals. Typically, fixed passive acoustic monitoring platforms are deployed, using a priori knowledge of the location of the target vocal species. Here, we demonstrate the ability to conduct coastal surveys of fish choruses, spatially mapping their distributions with an autonomous surface vehicle. For this study, we used an autonomous Liquid Robotics Wave Glider SV3 equipped with a Remora-ST underwater acoustic recorder and hydrophone. The exploratory 15-day deployment transited through three marine reserves, resulting in approx. 200 h of passive acoustic recordings, and revealed five distinct fish choruses from La Jolla to Capistrano Beach, CA (approx. 80 km separation), each with unique acoustic signatures. Choruses occurred in the evening hours, typically in the 40 to 1000 Hz band. There was a lack of both temporal and frequency partitioning amongst the choruses, but some choruses exhibited distinct spatial niches by latitude and water temperature. These results suggest that the mobility of the Wave Glider allows for persistent surveys and studies that otherwise may be too challenging or costly for stationary or ship-based sensors; a critical consideration for documenting biological activity over large spatiotemporal scales, or sampling of nearshore marine reserves.
Passive acoustic sensors provide a cost-effective tool for monitoring marine environments. Documenting acoustic conditions among habitats can provide insights into temporal changes in ecosystem composition and anthropogenic impacts. Agencies tasked with safeguarding marine protected areas, such as the U.S. National Park Service and U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries, are increasingly interested in using long-term monitoring of underwater sounds as a means of tracking species diversity and ecosystem health. In this study, low-frequency passive acoustic recordings were collected fall 2014 – spring 2018, using standardized instrumentation, from four marine protected areas across geographically disparate regions of the U.S. Economic Exclusive Zone: Northwest Atlantic, Northeast Pacific, South Pacific, and Caribbean. Recordings were analyzed for differences in seasonal conditions and to identify acoustic metrics useful for resource assessment across all sites. In addition to comparing ambient sound levels, a species common to all four sites, the humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae), was used to compare biological sound detection. Ambient sound levels varied across the sites and were driven by differences in animal vocalization rates, anthropogenic activity, and weather. The highest sound levels [dBRMS (50 Hz–1.5 kHz)re 1 μPa] were recorded in the Northwest Atlantic in Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary (Stellwagen) during the boreal winter–spring resulting from bioacoustic activity, vessel traffic, and high wind speeds. The lowest sound levels [dBRMS (50 Hz–1.5 kHz) re 1 μPa] were recorded in the Northeast Pacific adjacent to a vessel-restricted area of Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve (Glacier Bay) during the boreal summer. Humpback whales were detected seasonally in the southern latitude sites, and throughout the deployment periods in the northern latitude sites. Temporal trends in band and spectrum sound levels in Glacier Bay and the National Park of American Samoa were primarily driven by biological sound sources, while trends in Stellwagen and the Buck Island Reef National Monument were primarily driven by anthropogenic sources. These results highlight the variability of ambient sound conditions in marine protected areas in U.S. waters, and the utility of long-term soundscape monitoring for condition assessment in support of resource management.
Mesopelagic sound scattering layers (SSL) are ubiquitous in all oceans. Pelagic organisms within the SSL play important roles as prey for higher trophic levels and in climate regulation through the biological carbon pump. Yet, the biomass and species composition of SSL in the Arctic Ocean remain poorly documented, particularly in winter. A multifrequency echosounder detected a SSL north of Svalbard, from 79.8 to 81.4°N, in January 2016, August 2016, and January 2017. Midwater trawl sampling confirmed that the SSL comprised zooplankton and pelagic fish of boreal and Arctic origins. Arctic cod dominated the fish assemblage in August and juvenile beaked redfish in January. The macrozooplankton community mainly comprised the medusa Cyanea capillata, the amphipod Themisto libellula, and the euphausiids Meganyctiphanes norvegica in August and Thysanoessa inermis in January. The SSL was located in the Atlantic Water mass, between 200–700 m in August and between 50–500 m in January. In January, the SSL was shallower and weaker above the deeper basin, where less Atlantic Water penetrated. The energy content available in the form of lipids within the SSL was significantly higher in summer than winter. The biomass within the SSL was >12-fold higher in summer, and the diversity of fish was slightly higher than in winter (12 vs. 9 species). We suggest that these differences are mainly related to life history and ontogenetic changes resulting in a descent toward the seafloor, outside the mesopelagic layer, in winter. In addition, some fish species of boreal origin, such as the spotted barracudina, did not seem to survive the polar night when advected from the Atlantic into the Arctic. Others, mainly juvenile beaked redfish, were abundant in both summer and winter, implying that the species can survive the polar night and possibly extend its range into the high Arctic. Fatty-acid trophic markers revealed that Arctic cod mainly fed on calanoid copepods while juvenile beaked redfish targeted krill (Thysanoessa spp.). The relatively high biomass of Arctic cod in August and of redfish in January thus suggests a shift within the SSL, from a Calanus-based food web in summer to a krill-based food web during winter.
Acoustics play a central role in humankind’s interactions with the ocean and the life within. Passive listening to ocean “soundscapes” informs us about the physical and bio-acoustic environment from earthquakes to communication between fish. Active acoustic probing of the environment informs us about ocean topography, currents and temperature, and abundance and type of marine life vital to fisheries and biodiversity related interests. The two together in a multi-purpose network can lead to discovery and improve understanding of ocean ecosystem health and biodiversity, climate variability and change, and marine hazards and maritime safety. Passive acoustic monitoring (PAM) of sound generated and utilized by marine life as well as other natural (wind, rain, ice, seismics) and anthropogenic (shipping, surveys) sources, has dramatically increased worldwide to enhance understanding of ecological processes. Characterizing ocean soundscapes (the levels and frequency of sound over time and space, and the sources contributing to the sound field), temporal trends in ocean sound at different frequencies, distribution and abundance of marine species that vocalize, and distribution and amount of human activities that generate sound in the sea, all require passive acoustic systems. Acoustic receivers are now routinely acquiring data on a global scale, e.g., Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization International Monitoring System hydroacoustic arrays, various regional integrated ocean observing systems, and some profiling floats. Judiciously placed low-frequency acoustic sources transmitting to globally distributed PAM and other systems provide: (1) high temporal resolution measurements of large-scale ocean temperature/heat content variability, taking advantage of the inherent integrating nature of acoustic travel-time data using tomography; and (2) acoustic positioning (“underwater GPS”) and communication services enabling basin-scale undersea navigation and management of floats, gliders, and AUVs. This will be especially valuable in polar regions with ice cover. Routine deployment of sources during repeat global-scale hydrographic ship surveys would provide high spatial coverage snapshots of ocean temperatures. To fully exploit the PAM systems, precise timing and positioning need to be broadly implemented. Ocean sound is now a mature Global Ocean Observing System (GOOS) “essential ocean variable,” which is one crucial step toward providing a fully integrated global multi-purpose ocean acoustic observing system.
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.
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.