An Oceans Abcdarium created by the University of Applied Sciences in Mainz, Germany

Disturbing Sounds

Lore Müller

Marine soundscapes created before the industrial revolution were primarily characterized by two types of sounds: biophony, such as the sounds of sea animals, of biotopes like coral reefs and kelp forests; and geophony, the sounds of melting ice, weather conditions, hydrothermal vents, and occasional earthquakes. Anthrophony, the human contribution to this ambient sound, was insignificant. Modern human activity has changed this dramatically. Seismic surveys use high-energy, low-frequency sounds in the search for resources below the seafloor. High-frequency sounds are used in echosounders and sonars to map the seabed or detect submarines and other targets. Noises from vessels, low-flying airplanes, drilling platforms, and offshore wind farms add up to an anthropogenic cacophony. This interferes with marine animals’ orientation and communication. Studies found significant effects on behavior, presence, health, physiology, mortality, and demographic. While some attempt to drown out the noise (in what is known as the Lombard effect), others try to escape. Too often, this ends up creating mass quantities of stranded creatures.The animation visualizes and explores the interference of anthropogenic noises with whale song.

Sources: Tyack, Peter L. and Edward H. Miller, “Vocal Anatomy, Acoustic Communication and Echolocation”, Marine Mammal Biology: An Evolutionary Approach, (2002): 142-184.

Duarte, Carlos et al. “The soundscape of the Anthropocene Ocean”, Science, vol. 371, (2021).

Scheifele, P.M. et al., “Indication of a Lombard vocal response in the St. Lawrence River Beluga”,Acoustical Society of America Journal, Vol. 117, Issue 3, pp. 1486-1492, 2005.