What is Noise Pollution and How Does it Affect Marine Life?

noise pollution


You wouldn’t think that noise can be counted as a pollutant, but surprisingly it is. We live on a loud and busy planet, on land and at sea. There are many different types of noise pollution and can cause health problems for people and wildlife. Marine life is among the most affected by noise pollution and yet this goes wildly unnoticed by humans. In this article, we will discuss what noise pollution is and how it affects marine life.

Noise pollution definition

According to EnvironmentalPollutionCenters.Org, noise pollution is defined as “regular exposure to elevated sound levels that may lead to adverse effects in humans or other living organisms”. 

When we are exposed to unwanted or disturbing sounds, such as a loud construction site, street traffic sounds, or constant loud music, we are experiencing noise pollution.

Noise pollution has been considered an “invisible danger” to the health of humans and wildlife. We are constantly exposed to noise pollution in cities and in our daily lives that we hardly notice it. However, it is having a negative effect on our health nonetheless. Noise pollution can lead to hypertension, hearing loss, stress, and more. 

Sound is measured in decibels (dB). Sounds less than 70 dB - such as background music, distant conversation, air condition units, or a vacuum cleaner - are not harmful to living organisms, no matter how consistent the exposure is. Listening to anything over 85 dB for over 8 hours is considered hazardous.

For example, going to a rock concert (110-120 dB) for over 8 hours is dangerous for your health and can cause various health concerns. However, mowing your lawn (90 dB) for a short amount of time is less risky.

Noise pollution in our oceans

Our oceans, wide and vast as they are, are no longer quiet. Noise pollution is an invisible and deadly threat to marine life. 

Massive industrial ships, oil drills, military sonar devices, and seismic tests have turned the once peaceful marine environment into a loud and chaotic place. There is virtually no place in the oceans where human noise is undetectable. 

For example, naval sonar devices are among the loudest noise polluters in the ocean. Sonar works by sending large pulses of sound through ocean waters for tens to hundreds of miles to disclose large objects in their path. The sound waves are sent deep into the oceans depths, bounce off objects, and return an echo to the ship, which helps to determine the location, much like echolocation. 

Sonar sounds can be as loud as 235 dB and travel hundreds of miles. This deafening low-frequency sound can be as loud as a twin-engine fighter jet at takeoff. This has devastating effects on marine life that rely on sound to communicate and navigate the seas. 

Whales are known for their keen sense of hearing and use of echolocation to travel. Research has shown that sonar has caused mass whale beachings and altered the feeding behavior of the endangered species blue whales. Sonar also affects their ability to use echolocation to navigate and displaces whales from their preferred habitat and affects their hearing, breeding, feeding, communication, and navigation. It can also directly injure whales by causing hearing loss, hemorrhages, or other kinds of tissue damage, oftentimes killing them or drawing them too rapidly to the surface or directly onto beaches.

Industrial shipping not only causes noise pollution, but also directly kills whales and dolphins on impact. Seismic surveys and ships looking for deep-sea oil or gas deposits also uses devices that send blasts of sound into the depths of the ocean. 

Fortunately, there are researchers and organizations who are determined to save marine life from the devastating effects of noise pollution. 

Awareness of noise pollution and how it affects marine life is the first step that we must collectively take in order to begin finding solutions to this devastating problem.