International Scientific Conference Examines the Effects of Noise on Aquatic Life

COLLEGE PARK, Md. – A conference in Cork, Ireland co-organized by University of Maryland Biology Professor Arthur Popper (College of Chemical and Life Sciences) and Professor Tony Hawkins, former Director of Fisheries Research for Scotland and now an independent scientist, will look at the impact all kinds of noise has on life underwater.

More than 250 scientists, engineers, government advisers and other environmental groups from around the world will gather August 15 for the second international Effects of Noise on Aquatic Life Conference.  

Aquatic life

Popper, who is a leading expert in the field of aquatic bioacoustics says the goal of the conference is to “draw together new knowledge on the importance of underwater sound to animals and to consider the effects of sounds upon them; whether those sounds occur naturally, are made by the animals themselves, or result from human activities.” 

Popper says that life underwater is anything but silent. “In fact,” he says, ” it is quite noisy – both because of sounds produced by nature and sounds produced by humans.” There is growing concern that noises from ships, underwater explosions, seismic exploration, offshore construction and a wide-range of sonar devices is having a major impact on marine mammals, fish and other aquatic animals.  

Previous research has already shown that very intense sounds can cause tissue damage or impair hearing. At lower levels, Popper says human-generated sounds can cause disorientation or impact the ability of the animal to navigate. Animals might not be able to find one another or hear sounds made by others at a distance. And he says it can disrupt behavior, affect migrations, interfere with mating, interrupt foraging and feeding or just cause discomfort. 

Beyond human-produced noise pollution, nature contributes to the problem as well. Everything from rain to earthquakes, noises animals make themselves and even lighting strikes can all have an impact on the ability of animals to live and hear underwater.  

Researchers are also just now starting to focus on the impact new technologies – like wind farms built at sea – are having on animals. “As yet we do not understand fully the effects of these increasingly high noise levels upon aquatic life,” says the Maryland Biology professor.  

*Source: University of Maryland

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