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Marine Life Is Tired Of Its Noisy Neighbours: Us!

4 min read

Marine Life Is Tired Of Its Noisy Neighbours: Us!

Modern life is noisy. Our cities are a never ending whir of air conditioning, traffic, sirens and phones, all depriving us of precious silence during our day-to-day routines. Even in the countryside you are hard pressed to find a moment that isn’t tainted by a roaring tractor, chainsaw or aeroplane.


“Our cities are a never ending whir of air conditioning, traffic, sirens and phones, all depriving us of precious silence during our day-to-day routines.”


How much nicer it must be to live at sea, beneath the ocean surface – sounds from the outside world kept at bay – leaving you to fathoms of peace and quiet. Alas, this is not the experience of most of the ocean’s living creatures, many of which rely on quiet waters to exist. Marine life has subsequently had enough of its noisy neighbours: us! But why are quiet oceans so critical to the wellbeing of many fish, whales, and dolphins? Take out your buds, put your phone on silent, and listen up!

Reefs Have A Natural Soundtrack That’s Better Than Yours

Ocean ecosystems are often as reliant on sound as they are on fresh nutrients or clean water. Studies carried out on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef have shown that where certain species of fish are exposed to noise created by motorboat engines, they are prone to producing less offspring than those fish whose habitats are kept noise-free. 

Many fish will even use sounds emitted by a coral reef to evaluate how healthy it is, judging whether to use it as a place to nest and inhabit. This phenomenon has led to some scientists mimicking the sounds made by healthy reefs, in an effort to have fish populations return to previously abandoned reefs. To hear what a healthy reef sounds like, click on the incredible video below, which is a recording of an Indonesia reef that was restored to health after being damaged by blast fishing (using explosives to catch fish):

Ships Rudely Interrupt Whale & Dolphin Conversations

Everyone knows the soothing calls and noises that whales and dolphins make. Just look at the vast number of playlists that exist, dedicated to such ethereal noises of the deep, which help people sleep or unwind. 

Whales rely more than most on sound to navigate, hunt and communicate. So when their underwater sound waves are distorted or drowned out, it can have devastating effects on their wellbeing. Such damaging noise pollution is too often caused by human activity including shipping, military manoeuvres and deep sea mining. Although it could be completely unconnected, it might also explain why orcas have been attacking boats off the Spanish coast, in attempts to get a break from incessant engine noise. 


“The COVID pandemic was a godsend for many whales, clearing packed shipping lanes and returning the ocean to its rightful keepers, allowing them to communicate unhindered.”


For this reason, the COVID pandemic was a godsend for many whales, clearing packed shipping lanes and returning the ocean to its rightful keepers, allowing them to communicate unhindered. Prior to the pandemic, scientists in Alaska had noticed that as shipping noise levels increased whales were forced to huddle close together to communicate and that even then they would have to repeat themselves to be understood over the din of passing ships. 

As more is understood about how whales communicate, shipping companies can alter their routes accordingly and greener propulsion technology can be invested in, so that fewer negative impacts are felt by such sound-sensitive creatures.

Military Sonar Causes Whale Beachings

While high powered motors certainly create a lot of harmful noise pollution, the greatest sonic threat to marine life often comes from military activity. The most obvious example of this is arms testing, with the negative effects of detonating bombs in the ocean hardly needing to be explained. However, almost as harmful are the sonar communication and navigation systems employed by everything from aircraft carriers to nuclear submarines.

Such systems emit rolling sound waves that can reach as high as 235 decibels, which is almost twice the strength of the noise produced by a rock band in full flow. Such incredible walls of sound can turn a whale temporarily deaf, force it hundreds of miles off course or, in the worst cases, have it beach itself. Any navy responsible for such tragic events should be held to account, something which has already happened a lot in US coastal waters.

So Many Reasons To Keep It Down For The Neighbours

What is abundantly clear is that any pollution that enters our oceans, be it waste clothing, chemicals, or noise, will have consequences for marine life. Now more than ever, it is vital that we respect our marine neighbours by keeping the noise down.