Anthropogenic underwater sound has the potential to cause adverse effects on cetaceans and cetacean populations. To better assess these potential impacts, NMFS recently finalized technical guidance for assessing acoustic effects of anthropogenic sound on marine mammal hearing. More information is available online at http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/acoustics/guidelines.htm.
In addition, through its various consultation and authorization responsibilities, NOAA works with other federal agencies, including the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management and the U.S. Navy, and with various industries to establish plans to monitor and mitigate the impacts of noise on cetaceans and their habitats. NOAA also has partnered with the U.S. Coast Guard to work within the International Maritime Organization (IMO) to address the issue of commercial shipping noise and its contribution to the ambient acoustic environment (i.e., voluntary guidelines for vessel quieting MEPC.1/Circ.833, approved by IMO 7 April 2014). NOAA Fisheries Ocean Acoustics Program funds research to improve understanding of the potential impact of sound on marine mammals and other species and habitats. Finally, for the past two years, NOAA has chaired the Interagency Task Force on Ocean Noise and Marine Life, which, operating under the National Ocean Council’s Subcommittee on Ocean Science and Technology, is supporting work with federal partners to address scientific issues relating to marine anthropogenic sound.
In 2010, NOAA committed to improving the tools used by the agency to manage underwater noise impacts more comprehensively, including to better address cumulative impacts to cetaceans. This commitment led to two phases. Phase 1, or “CetSound” developed two mapping tools, CetMap and SoundMap, which aimed to improve our ability to visualize cetacean density and distribution, and man-made underwater noise, respectively, and culminated in a large stakeholder symposium to discuss management applications of these tools. Phase 2 began in 2013 and engaged offices across NOAA in developing an agency-wide Ocean Noise Strategy, which seeks to ensure that NOAA is more comprehensively addressing noise impacts to aquatic species and their habitat over the next 10 years.
Successful implementation of the Strategy would achieve four overarching goals:
- Science: NOAA and federal partners are filling shared critical knowledge gaps and building understanding of noise impacts over ecologically-relevant scales.
- Management: NOAA’s actions are integrated across the agency and minimizing the acute, chronic and cumulative effects of noise on marine species and their habitat.
- Decision Support Tools: NOAA is developing publically available tools for assessment, planning and mitigation of noise-making activities over ecologically-relevant scales.
- Outreach: NOAA is educating the public on noise impacts, engaging with stakeholders & coordinating with related efforts internationally.
To support the Strategy, NOAA drafted a Roadmap document, intended to serve as a high-level guide. It summarizes the status of the science to support the Ocean Noise Strategy's goals, details relevant NOAA management and science capacities, and recommends cross-agency actions that could be taken to achieve more comprehensive management of noise impacts. Fundamentally, the Roadmap serves as an organizing tool to rally the multiple NOAA offices that address ocean noise impacts around a more integrated and comprehensive approach. A series of key goals and recommendations are presented that would enhance NOAA’s ability to manage both species and the places they inhabit in the context of a changing acoustic environment. The Strategy’s Roadmap was finalized in September 2016. NOAA is now continuing to work towards achieving the Ocean Noise Strategy's goals, including through established Strategy projects, such as maintenance of a coordinated network of acoustic monitoring sensors throughout the U.S. EEZ and establishment of a federal long-term passive acoustic data archive, and through implementation planning to support expanded activity, as recommended by the Roadmap. More information on the Ocean Noise Strategy can be found online at http://cetsound.noaa.gov/ons.
The U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) has been sponsoring research on ocean sounds since the early 1980s when it explored the effects of industrial sounds on large whale species in the Pacific Ocean. The agency has funded controlled exposure experiments on behavioral responses of sperm whales to air gun sounds in the Gulf of Mexico and humpback whales in Australia. Current research focuses on sound field mapping; ambient noise measurements; methods to detect, classify and locate marine life near sound sources; improvements in mitigation; quieting technologies; and effects of sound on prey species. Along with other federal and academic partners, BOEM has begun to examine the even more complex issue of cumulative effects from chronic exposure to anthropogenic sounds.
In 2014, BOEM sponsored a workshop on Quieting Technologies for Reducing Noise During Seismic Surveying and Pile Driving. The workshop brought together experts from Europe and North America to examine current and emerging technologies that have the potential for reducing noise generated during ocean activities and examined technologies that have potential for quieting noise from geological and geophysical exploration, pile driving, and support vessel operations.
Anthropogenic underwater sound has the potential to cause adverse effects on cetaceans and cetacean populations