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The Salish Sea and Our Oceans are Getting LOUDer

The Salish Sea is getting LOUDer each year. More and more people, boats, jets, and ships pass through and over Georgia Strait, Puget Sound, and the Strait of Juan de Fuca as travel, recreation, training, and commerce continually increase across the region. Researchers in the field of Bioacoustics have documented the negative affects the increasing noise has on fish, marine mammals, birds, and people. For example, orcas have more difficulty communicating, hunting, and rearing their young in LOUD waters.

Kieran Cox and her colleagues at the University of Victoria in British Columbia conducted a meta-study of the marine bioacoustics literature and determined that “findings suggest that the majority of fish species are sensitive to changes in the aquatic soundscape, and depending on the noise source, species responses may have extreme and negative fitness consequences.” Work by Marla Holt’s research team (2008) indicates that orca whales are also also negatively impacted by boat and ship noise, a recurrent finding throughout the Bioacoustics literature on cetaceans. However, much research remains to be done on the subject. Shipping alone has caused background noise to increase “by as much as 12 decibels” according to researchers at the Scripps Institute of Oceanography.

In response, policy makers in British Columbia and Washington State are recognizing the need to reduce noise pollution in the Salish Sea. For example, the Coastal Ocean Research Institute (CORI) in Vancouver, Canada, has proposed the establishment of “acoustic sanctuaries” within which motorboats would be asked to operate more quietly and maintain greater distances from the orca. A special commission charged with proposing policy for the recovery of Southern Resident Orcas has recommended a moratorium on whale watching and the harassment of whales by motor boats. Read the full report here.

Jets and airplanes present an additional source of noise pollution in the Pacific Northwest. For example, in recent years the United States Navy has radically increased the number of “touch and go” training flights over the Salish Sea. The Navy’s EA-18G “Growler” jets exceed 130 decibels in areas frequented by people and wildlife, a level that can cause hearing loss and disrupt animal communication. The Citizens of Ebey’s Reserve and other health and conservation organizations in the Salish Sea region have asked the Navy to reduce jet noise in the region for sake of both people and wildlife.

Below are a few books, articles, and websites where you can learn more about noise and how it impacts human beings and wildlife. Cox et al. (2018) and Shannon et al. (2016) are particularly useful in that they bring together extensive literature from the field of Bioacoustics. The bibliography is followed by a website that presents useful information concerning noise pollution in marine environments and what people and organizations are doing about it around the Salish Sea and beyond.

Books and Articles

Cox, Kieran, Lawrence P. Brennan, Travis G. Gerwing, Sarah E. Dudas, and Francis Juanes. "Sound the alarm: A meta‐analysis on the effect of aquatic noise on fish behavior and physiology." Global change biology (2018).

Hempton, Gordon, and John Grossmann. One square inch of silence: one man's search for natural silence in a noisy world. Simon and Schuster (2009).

Hildebrand, John A. "Anthropogenic and natural sources of ambient noise in the ocean." Marine Ecology Progress Series 395 (2009): 5-20.

Holt, Marla M., Dawn P. Noren, Val Veirs, Candice K. Emmons, and Scott Veirs. "Speaking up: Killer whales (Orcinus orca) increase their call amplitude in response to vessel noise." The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America 125, no. 1 (2009): EL27-EL32.

Schiffman, Richard. "How Ocean Noise Pollution Wreaks Havoc on Marine Life." Yale Environment 360 (2016).

Shannon, Graeme, Megan F. McKenna, Lisa M. Angeloni, Kevin R. Crooks, Kurt M. Fristrup, Emma Brown, Katy A. Warner et al. "A synthesis of two decades of research documenting the effects of noise on wildlife." Biological Reviews 91, no. 4 (2016): 982-1005.


Georgia Strait Alliance’s “Drowning in Noise” page: https://georgiastrait.org/2017/06/drowning-in-noise/

“How Vessel Noise Affects Killer Whales” in the Journal of the San Juans: http://www.sanjuanjournal.com/news/how-vessel-noise-affects-killer-whales/

National Resources Defense Council’s “Ocean Noise” page: https://www.nrdc.org/issues/ocean-noise

The University of Rhode Island’s “Discovery of Sound in the Sea” page: https://dosits.org/

United Nations archive of “Peer-reviewed scientific studies on the impacts of ocean noise on marine living resources”: http://www.un.org/depts/los/general_assembly/noise/noise.htm

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