Sound of the ocean not so relaxing

Nov 27, 2013
Sound of the ocean not so relaxing
With a projected increase in shipping around the Moray Firth, scientists are keen to better understand the effect increased human activity is having on local marine life like bottlenose dolphins. Credit: Barbara Cheney, University of Aberdeen

( —The impact of underwater noise on a bottlenose dolphin population in Scotland's Moray Firth will be closely monitored, thanks to a new system developed by scientists at our University and the University of Aberdeen.

With a projected increase in the number of offshore windfarms on the northeast coast of Scotland, and the increase in shipping this will bring, scientists are keen to better understand the effect increased human activity will have on local marine life.

In a recent paper, published this week in Marine Pollution Bulletin, researchers outline a new technique to track and monitor current levels, in order to assess future noise increases. By using underwater recording equipment, and technology to track shipping movements, scientists will be able to place in context any changes in dolphin behaviour with shifts in underwater noise levels.

Acoustic measurements in the Northeast Pacific suggest that underwater noise levels have been increasing globally over the past five decades, mainly as a result of increased shipping. Such low-frequency sound can travel great distances in the ocean – potentially thousands of kilometres – and biologists are concerned about the impact this has on the populations of dolphins, whales and a range of other marine life.

Despite this, researchers have so far been hampered by a lack of reliable baseline data by which to assess the impact of man-made underwater noise on . This lack of baseline data about noise sparked lead author Nathan Merchant, who completed the work while studying in our Department of Physics, to undertake the study.

This video is not supported by your browser at this time.

Nathan, currently working in the Parks Laboratory at Syracuse University, said: "This paper characterises natural and anthropogenic contributors to underwater noise at two sites in the Moray Firth Special Area of Conservation, an important marine mammal habitat that may be exposed to increased shipping activity from proposed offshore energy developments.

"Globally, noise from shipping is widespread and increasing as trade becomes ever more globalised. Over the last decades, the number of large vessels and their size and power has risen dramatically. All these ships traversing the oceans and radiating low-frequency noise adds up to a diffuse increase in the background noise level. In places where ships cross habitats or migration routes for marine animals, the cumulative effect of many noisy ships can interfere with important activities such as foraging, which may affect the long-term health of individuals and ultimately populations."

The techniques presented in the paper allow researchers to track ship movements and to relate them to levels of underwater noise recorded. By monitoring ships using both ship-tracking data and time-lapse cameras, the scientists were able to cross reference movements with peaks in underwater sound levels.

It is now hoped this approach – a ship noise assessment toolkit – will lead to the long-term studying of in and around the Moray Firth and that the techniques developed here can be applied in other coastal marine environments for similar purposes.

Explore further: Marine life gets drowned out as oceans get noisier

More information: To access the latest research paper 'Monitoring ship noise to assess the impact of coastal developments on marine mammals' see

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Marine life gets drowned out as oceans get noisier

Jul 31, 2013

A PhD student from the Department of Physics who recently returned from a trip to lay microphones on the ocean floor off the west coast of Canada is warning of the dangers to marine life from increased ocean ...

Boat noise stops fish finding home

Jun 28, 2013

( —Boat noise disrupts orientation behaviour in larval coral reef fish, according to new research from the Universities of Bristol, Exeter and Liège. Reef fish are normally attracted by reef sound ...

Underwater noise harming fish

Aug 26, 2007

Man-made underwater noise threatens the health and reproductive capacity of many fish and marine mammals, an Italian researcher says.

Recommended for you

Plants with dormant seeds give rise to more species

Apr 18, 2014

Seeds that sprout as soon as they're planted may be good news for a garden. But wild plants need to be more careful. In the wild, a plant whose seeds sprouted at the first warm spell or rainy day would risk disaster. More ...

Scientists tether lionfish to Cayman reefs

Apr 18, 2014

Research done by U.S. scientists in the Cayman Islands suggests that native predators can be trained to gobble up invasive lionfish that colonize regional reefs and voraciously prey on juvenile marine creatures.

User comments : 0

More news stories

Biologists help solve fungi mysteries

( —A new genetic analysis revealing the previously unknown biodiversity and distribution of thousands of fungi in North America might also reveal a previously underappreciated contributor to climate ...

Researchers successfully clone adult human stem cells

( —An international team of researchers, led by Robert Lanza, of Advanced Cell Technology, has announced that they have performed the first successful cloning of adult human skin cells into stem ...

NASA's space station Robonaut finally getting legs

Robonaut, the first out-of-this-world humanoid, is finally getting its space legs. For three years, Robonaut has had to manage from the waist up. This new pair of legs means the experimental robot—now stuck ...

Ex-Apple chief plans mobile phone for India

Former Apple chief executive John Sculley, whose marketing skills helped bring the personal computer to desktops worldwide, says he plans to launch a mobile phone in India to exploit its still largely untapped ...

Filipino tests negative for Middle East virus

A Filipino nurse who tested positive for the Middle East virus has been found free of infection in a subsequent examination after he returned home, Philippine health officials said Saturday.

Egypt archaeologists find ancient writer's tomb

Egypt's minister of antiquities says a team of Spanish archaeologists has discovered two tombs in the southern part of the country, one of them belonging to a writer and containing a trove of artifacts including reed pens ...

Airbnb rental site raises $450 mn

Online lodging listings website Airbnb inked a $450 million funding deal with investors led by TPG, a source close to the matter said Friday.