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How Human Noise Affects Ocean Habitats

Oceanographer Kate Stafford helps us to understand the impact that human noise is having on the undersea ocean habitats

Think About It

  1. Stafford says that the Artic is sometimes described as a “desert.” How is the Artic like a desert? Give four examples.
  2. Distinguish what would make chemical cues and light transmit poorly and therefore create the need for marine mammals to use sound to be able to see.
A bottlenose dolphin
  1. Stafford says that the Artic underwater soundscape in spring is a cacophony of sound. Predict what types of sounds she might have heard.
  2. Assess the impact of “decreases in seasonal sea ice from six weeks to four months.” Evaluate the long-term effects of this decrease on sea life.
  3. Explain what the significance of the age and width of the ice changing might be.
  4. Express how decreasing sea ice might be “changing prey availability for marine birds and animals.” What implications could this have for the future?
A satellite image of the Great Arctic Cyclone of 2012.
A sattelite image of the Great Arctic Cyclone of 2012. Although the storm did not cause the record melting of sea ise that occured that year, turbulence from the storm is believed to have contributed to melting of sea ice. Courtesy NASA
  1. Predict what additional impact the number and increasing intensity of storms in the Artic might have on the oceanscape.
A bowhead whale breaches the ocean surface
  1. Stafford says that ocean animals have essentially gone from the “quiet countryside” to “the big city in the middle of rush hour and they can’t escape it.” Defend man’s invasion into the Artic areas that contribute to the changing sea and soundscapes.
  2. Explore the reasons why shippping companies might be opposed to slowing down their vessels. Determine the reasons why they might prefer that their ships move quickly and the potential impact of a decrease in travel speed.
  3. Imagine being a bowhead living in the Artic. How would you describe your house now as compared to 20 years ago? What would you change if you could?

Read About It

Watch It

Check out TED’s “What’s happening to the ocean” playlist to learn about how pollution is changing the ocean’s chemistry, the effects of overfishing, and more.

Surf It

Graphic displaying the different types of machinery that contribute to ocean noise pollution
This graphic featured on Marine Insight explores the many ways noise pollution from ships effects marine life.

Sources of ocean noise pollution include everything from:

  • Noise from survey vessels
  • Low-frequency sonar “sounds” used extensively in submarine detection
  • Seismic air gun noise from oil and gas exploration
  • Commercial shipping traffic
  • Coastal jet ski traffic

Studies have shown that while these “sounds” may have no impact on humans, they can be detrimental to marine life.

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