NOAA Releases Ocean Noise Guide

Recently, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries Division released its final acoustic guidance to better predict how man-made underwater sounds affect marine mammal hearing. They will use the guidance in their assessments and authorizations of offshore activities that produce underwater noise. This was followed a month later by the final version of its plan for managing ocean noise and its effects on marine life which will guide the agency in more effectively and comprehensively managing ocean noise effects on marine life during the next decade.

Sound is critical to marine mammals’ survival because it is a primary means of communication, orientation, and navigation for finding food, avoiding predators, and selecting mates, NOAA said. Ocean noise can be caused by natural or human resources.

The activities with the greatest potential to affect marine mammals by noise include: seismic airguns,high energy sonars (military), explosive detonations, shipping noise and certain constructions activities. Increasing evidence suggests that exposure to intense underwater sound in some settings may cause certain marine mammals to strand and ultimately die said NOAA.

“Sustainability and resiliency of marine resources are important to NOAA,” said Eileen Sobeck, assistant NOAA administrator for fisheries. “We knew we had to have a vision for understanding and addressing how growing levels of ocean noise are affecting marine animals and their habitats in complex ways, and the roadmap provides that.”

One of NOAA’s recommendations has already been implemented with the recent launch of an underwater network of acoustic monitoring sensors.

“NOAA’s ocean noise strategy outlines several approaches that we can take with other federal and non-federal partners to reduce how noise affects the species and places we manage,” said W. Russell Callender, assistant NOAA administrator for its National Ocean Service. “It also showcases the importance that places like national marine sanctuaries have as sentinel sites in building our understanding of ocean noise impacts.”

NOAA’s authority to address ocean noise effects on marine resources fall primarily under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, Endangered Species Act, National Marine Sanctuaries Act, and the Magnuson-Stevens Fisheries Act. These Acts allow NOAA to recommend or require mitigation to reduce or eliminate activities’ predicted noise impacts to species and the places they rely on, the agency said.

Photo courtesy of NOAA

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