Coastwide
Center for Biological Diversity

Oceans Are Getting Louder, Posing Potential Threats to Marine Life

Christopher Clark, a senior researcher in the bioacoustics program at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, who has studied whale communication for 40 years, described the noise as a “living hell” for undersea life, which is exquisitely tuned to sound.

Increasing ship traffic, sonar and seismic air gun blasts now planned for offshore drilling may be disrupting migration, reproduction and even the chatter of the seas’ creatures.

Slow-moving, hulking ships crisscross miles of ocean in a lawn mower pattern, wielding an array of 12 to 48 air guns blasting pressurized air repeatedly into the depths of the ocean.

The sound waves hit the sea floor, penetrating miles into it, and bounce back to the surface, where they are picked up by hydrophones. The acoustic patterns form a three-dimensional map of where oil and gas most likely lie.

The seismic air guns probably produce the loudest noise that humans use regularly underwater, and it is about to become far louder in the Atlantic. As part of the Trump administration’s plans to allow offshore drilling for gas and oil exploration, five companies have been given permits to carry out seismic mapping with the air guns all along the Eastern Seaboard, from Central Florida to the Northeast, for the first time in three decades. The surveys haven’t started yet in the Atlantic, but now that the ban on offshore drilling has been lifted, companies can be granted access to explore regions along the Gulf of Mexico and the Pacific.

And air guns are now the most common method companies use to map the ocean floor.

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