Noise and wildlife

New research shows health benefits of exposure to birdsong

Photo credit: sue licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

by David M. Sykes, Vice Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Researchers affiliated with CalPoly University and the Max Planck Institute designed a “phantom sound” method to systematically explore the effects of
exposure to birdsong on the well being of hikers in a natural landscape. Guess what: just the sound of birds singing makes a significant difference!

The method used for this study echoes Jesse Barber’s brilliantly-conceived and widely-acclaimed “phantom road” research at the University of Idaho that showed the effects of highway noise on birds’ migratory and feeding habits.

Both of these research projects brilliantly demonstrate the importance of careful experimental design in doing noise-effects research. Congratulations to the participants in both projects! They will both advance the need for regaining control of the long-neglected issue of noise exposure.

David Sykes chairs several professional organizations in acoustical science: QCI Healthcare Acoustics Project, ANSI Committee S12-WG44, the Rothschild Foundation Task Force on Acoustics, and the FGI Acoustics Committee. He is lead author of “Sound & Vibration 2.0” (Springer, 2012), a contributor to the NAE’s “Technology for a Quieter America” and the GSA’s “Sound Matters,” and co-founded the Laboratory for Advanced Research in Acoustics at Rensselaer Polytech. A graduate of UC-Berkeley with advanced degrees from Cornell, he is a frequent organizer of professional conferences in the U.S., Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

How human-made noise affects animals

Photo credit: Matthis Volquardsen from Pexels

by Arline L. Bronzaft, Ph.D., Board of Directors, GrowNYC, and Co-founder, The Quiet Coalition

As I have written in previous posts, human-made noises have not only adversely affected the health and well being of people, but these noises also affect the well being of many species with whom we share this planet. Human-made noise forces the increased volume of urban bird calls, resulting in stress to some species, and deep-sea mining interests may have disrupted the lives of sea creatures for many years to come.

In her article for Psychology Today, Mary Bates informs us that noise pollution may hamper the communication of animals, “from insects to frogs to birds,” and this may have “potential consequences for mate attraction, territory defense and parent-offspring communication.” In support, she cites a new paper that reported the findings of a large number of studies that examined the impact of “anthropogenic noise,” or noise pollution, on animal communication. These studies found that animals had to make adjustments as a result of noise intrusions, and such adjustments could intrude on their existence. For example, when females had to call louder to attract males, these louder calls also attracted more predators, endangering the very lives of these animals.

The authors of the paper, Hansjoerg Kunc, Queen’s University Belfast, and his colleague Rouven Schmidt, conclude that it is essential for us to track noise pollution because the knowledge gained in such tracking will “ultimately determine the health of both ecosystems and organisms, including humans.” By including humans in this warning, they are cautioning us to protect our natural soundscapes not only to protect other species but ourselves as well.

Dr. Arline Bronzaft is a researcher, writer, and consultant on the adverse effects of noise on mental and physical health. She is co-author of “Why Noise Matters,” author of “Listen to the Raindrops” (children’s book illustrated by Steven Parton), and has written extensively about noise in books, encyclopedias, academic journals, and the popular press.  In addition, she is a Professor Emerita of the City University of New York and Board member of GrowNYC.

The Freakonomics podcast hones in on noise

Photo of Stephen Dubner by Audrey S. Bernstein, licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

David M. Sykes, Vice Chair, The Quiet Coaliton

This new segment of the popular podcast “Freakonomics” hosted by Stephen Dubner was released on November 11. It features The Quiet Coalition’s own Dr. Arline Bronzaft as well as other researchers, including economist Dr. Josh Dean at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business, behavioral ecologist Peter Tyack at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, Pawel and Margaret Jastreboff, emeritus medical researchers at Emory University, and Dr. Mack Hagood at Miami University in Ohio.

Dubner, co-author of the best-selling book “Freakonomics,” always focuses on fascinating anomalies, i.e., the unexpected impacts of human activities. In this episode he focuses on noise as what economists call an “externality”—a noxious byproduct that pollutes the environment for others but for which no one is held responsible.

Dubner interviews Dr. Bronzaft about her justly-famous work on the effects of train noise on kids’ performance in a New York City school. He interviews Dr. Tyack about his work with whales, whose lives—indeed their very survival—is impacted by the environmental externality of human-produced noise from underwater oil exploration, sonar, and ships’ engines.

Dubner then focuses on Dr. Dean’s work at the University of Chicago on the impacts of noise on human productivity, a little explored subject owing to the lack of official government interest in noise research in the U.S.

Take a listen.  This podcast is a fascinating hour-long program that does a wonderful job of exploring current research on noise!

David Sykes chairs several professional organizations in acoustical science: QCI Healthcare Acoustics Project, ANSI Committee S12-WG44, the Rothschild Foundation Task Force on Acoustics, and the FGI Acoustics Committee. He is lead author of “Sound & Vibration 2.0” (Springer, 2012), a contributor to the NAE’s “Technology for a Quieter America” and the GSA’s “Sound Matters,” and co-founded the Laboratory for Advanced Research in Acoustics at Rensselaer Polytech. A graduate of UC-Berkeley with advanced degrees from Cornell, he is a frequent organizer of professional conferences in the U.S., Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

The importance of quiet in times of stress

Photo credit: Reynaldo #brigworkz Brigantty from Pexels

by Arline L. Bronzaft, Ph.D., Board of Directors, GrowNYC, and Co-founder, The Quiet Coalition

In previous posts, I have cited studies on how human-made sounds and noises in our oceans adversely impacted the health and welfare of whales and other ocean species and how a quieter ocean put less stress on its inhabitants. Sabrina Imbler, writing for the New York Times, describes the natural sounds of the ocean’s inhabitants so that we can have a better “understanding of healthy remote ecosystems.” The instruments now used by acousticians allow them to register the sounds that “lurk thousands of feet below the surface.” The acousticians, as Dr. Tzu-Hao Lin discusses in this article, are not only interested in the sounds of sea creatures but also the “ambient hum of the deep sea.”

The recordings of the soundscapes obtained by the researchers will provide information about smaller “deep sea noisemakers” that up to now we have known little about. Dr. Lin wants to make these recordings available online so that more researchers can involve themselves in the research which has drawn so much of his attention. However, Dr. Lin expresses concern that deep-sea mining interests might disrupt larval settlement of certain sea creatures and disrupt the lives of these creatures for many years to come.

Besides the knowledge provided by Dr. Lin and his associates about the ecosystems of these interesting sea creatures, this research also makes us more aware of the fact that humans share the land and the sea with many other species and that all of the species are entitled to healthy ecosystems.

Like the sea creatures in Dr. Lin’s studies, humans are very much affected by their surroundings as well and this is underscored in a second article in the New York Times by Tara Parker-Pope. The 2020 election, as well as the COVID pandemic, have brought much stress into the lives of millions of Americans and Parker-Pope writes about the advice given by neurologists, psychologists, and mediation experts to lessen our anxiety. It came as no surprise to me that she recommended the importance of quiet in soothing our anxiety and enhancing our mental health.

Parker-Pope suggests walking on “quiet, tree-lined paths” and connecting with nature. Silencity readers know how much attention has been paid to soundwalks and their impact on our well-being. I, a Manhattan resident, am fortunate enough to live near a river and a park and can attest that my morning walks along the river and the green park have most certainly provided the comfort I yearn for during this difficult time. Yet, I still long for a smooth electoral process as we move forward and a successful development of a coronavirus vaccine to lessen my stress.

Dr. Arline Bronzaft is a researcher, writer, and consultant on the adverse effects of noise on mental and physical health. She is co-author of “Why Noise Matters,” author of “Listen to the Raindrops” (children’s book illustrated by Steven Parton), and has written extensively about noise in books, encyclopedias, academic journals, and the popular press.  In addition, she is a Professor Emerita of the City University of New York and Board member of GrowNYC.

Dogs’ hearing can be damaged by noise, but what about cats?

Photo credit: Tranmautritam from Pexels

By David M. Sykes, Vice Chair, The Quiet Coalition

I wrote recently about dogs suffering from noise exposure, so somebody asked me: “What about cats?” Good question. Keep in mind that much of the research on hearing and hearing loss is carried out in animals—like lab mice—because their hearing is similar enough to humans to provide useful models for research. Indeed, much of the research on tinnitus is carried out on lab mice.

Long and short, cats suffer from noise exposure too, just as dogs and mice do! Fact is, cats, like dogs, have much more acute hearing sensitivities than humans do. So it’s reasonable to assume that your pet, whether a dog or a cat–or a lab rat–is susceptible to the same loud, disturbing noises as you!

Take your pets’ hearing seriously! There are treatment methods available, both behavioral and pharmaceutical, so talk to your vet!

But it’s far easier–and less expensive–to make your pet’s environment quieter, and that’s better for people in your home, too.

David Sykes chairs several professional organizations in acoustical science: QCI Healthcare Acoustics Project, ANSI Committee S12-WG44, the Rothschild Foundation Task Force on Acoustics, and the FGI Acoustics Committee. He is lead author of “Sound & Vibration 2.0” (Springer, 2012), a contributor to the NAE’s “Technology for a Quieter America” and the GSA’s “Sound Matters,” and co-founded the Laboratory for Advanced Research in Acoustics at Rensselaer Polytech. A graduate of UC-Berkeley with advanced degrees from Cornell, he is a frequent organizer of professional conferences in the U.S., Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

Pets suffer from noise exposure, too

Photo credit: Charles from Pexels

by David M. Sykes, Vice Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This piece from the UK is a reminder that pets suffer from noise exposure, too. Susan C. Kahler, writing for the American Veterinary Medical Association, reported that ecent research from Harris Polls showed that a whopping 44% of dog owners they surveyed said their pets suffer from noise exposure.

Kahler interviewed veterinary researcher Sharon L. Campbell, DVM, MS, DACVIM, who says that “[c]anine noise aversion—also known as noise anxiety or phobia—affects 67% of dogs in the United States.” Dr. Campbell lists triggers like fireworks, thunder, construction, sirens, street noise, sporting events, lawnmowers and landscape maintenance equipment, snowplows and garbage trucks as the most frequent outdoor noises that cause problems for pets. But she also lists the following indoor noises that can also trigger noise anxiety: doorbells, vacuum cleaners, construction, electronics (cell phones, microwaves), sporting events on TV, celebrations (family, friends), and smoke detectors.

What about treatment? Dr Campbell discusses three approaches: environmental management, behavioral modification, and pharmacologic agents—all of which can be very helpful. But the best first step is to get your pet’s anxiety or phobia diagnosed by a caring professional and then consider which treatment option to try. Dr. Campbell doesn’t talk about hearing damage or whether pets can suffer from tinnitus or hyperacusis, but that too is something to consider.

David Sykes chairs several professional organizations in acoustical science: QCI Healthcare Acoustics Project, ANSI Committee S12-WG44, the Rothschild Foundation Task Force on Acoustics, and the FGI Acoustics Committee. He is lead author of “Sound & Vibration 2.0” (Springer, 2012), a contributor to the NAE’s “Technology for a Quieter America” and the GSA’s “Sound Matters,” and co-founded the Laboratory for Advanced Research in Acoustics at Rensselaer Polytech. A graduate of UC-Berkeley with advanced degrees from Cornell, he is a frequent organizer of professional conferences in the U.S., Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

Birds changed their tune during the Covid lockdown

Photo credit: Paul Knittel from Pexels

by Arline L. Bronzaft, Ph.D., Board of Directors, GrowNYC, and Co-founder, The Quiet Coalition

In several blogs I have written recently, I commented that the pandemic’s effect on the soundscape did not just impact humans but other species as well, e.g. birds, whales. A recent article on a study of birds in San Francisco found that birds started singing differently during the silence of the COVID-19 Lockdown, noting that male white-crowned sparrows in San Francisco have begun to sing more softly and with an improved vocal range. The article says this change in singing may make them “sexier to females.”

The article cites a paper that has studied how animals, including whales and birds, have changed their behaviors during the pandemic shutdown. Before the pandemic, cities characterized by loud noises, especially from traffic, forced birds to sing louder to be heard by other birds. The authors reached this finding by comparing birdsong data collected previous years at the same sites they collected data during April and May 2020. Their data allowed them to conclude that birds “can adapt to changing environments.”

Erik Stokstad, writing for Science, states that birdsong “recaptured its former glory,” referring to the white-crowned sparrows of San Francisco. He adds that when birds sing louder in noisy environments the stress created “can speed aging and disrupt their metabolisms.” With the noise also preventing birds from hearing their own chicks, there is the possibility that bird diversity is less in many cities. Furthermore, by demonstrating that some birds can adjust their songs to their environment, it might be that birds who could not adjust, and as a result left noisier cities, might return to places that are now quieter. But the quieter time of the pandemic has passed as cities have been returning to noisier times. Thus, the birds that have quieted down will very likely have to increase the volume of their songs. Also, may I add, that it is unlikely the birds who left will return.

Stokstad interviewed Elizabeth Danberry and her behavioral ecologists who have studied white-crowned sparrows in and around San Francisco for more than twenty years. Their research has clearly demonstrated the impact of noise pollution on the health and well-being of these sparrows. Similarly, long standing research has also clearly found that noise is hazardous to human hearing, health, and well-being. So I ask, how much more research do we need linking noise to adverse effects on humans and other species before we begin to lower decibel level in our environment?

Dr. Arline Bronzaft is a researcher, writer, and consultant on the adverse effects of noise on mental and physical health. She is co-author of “Why Noise Matters,” author of “Listen to the Raindrops” (children’s book illustrated by Steven Parton), and has written extensively about noise in books, encyclopedias, academic journals, and the popular press.  In addition, she is a Professor Emerita of the City University of New York and Board member of GrowNYC.

Marine noise may harm lobsters

Photo credit: Roger Brown from Pexels

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Research has shown that noise is unhealthy for humans, birds and small mammals, fishes and marine mammals, and now for lobsters.

Yahoo! News reports on an Australian study showing that lobsters living near a busy shipping lane had damage to their statocyst, an organ equivalent to the parts of the human inner ear controlling balance. The damage was similar to that caused by high intensity seismic air guns used in underwater exploration for gas and oil. Surprisingly, the lobsters didn’t appear to have any changes in their behavior nor was their righting reflex damaged–they were able to turn back to right side up after being turned upside down.

I suspect it’s harder to assess changes in lobster behavior than in mammals or humans, though, and there has to be some impact of the statocyst damage that research will eventually reveal.

The basic principle is that living organisms need energy exposure to survive, but too much energy exposure causes harm. This is true for plants, which need sun for photosynthesis but which are damaged by greater sun exposure caused by climate change; for humans, who need sun exposure to convert vitamin D to its active form, but can get sunburned and eventually deep wrinkles, pigmentation, and skin cancer from too much sun exposure; and for all animals, who use sound for finding food, avoiding prey, communicating, and entertainment, but are damaged by excess noise exposure.

For humans, remember: if it sounds loud, it is too loud, and auditory damage will inevitably occur.

Avoid loud noise exposure or wear earplugs if you can’t.

Dr. Daniel Fink is a leading noise activist based in the Los Angeles area. He is the founding chair of The Quiet Coalition, an organization of science, health, and legal professionals concerned about the impacts of noise on health, environment, learning, productivity, and quality of life in America. Dr Fink also is the interim chair of Quiet Communities’ Health Advisory Council, and he served on the board of the American Tinnitus Association from 2015-2018.

Sometimes we need to put up with noise

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Sometimes people have to put up with noise. This fun piece from the Atlas Obscura folks describes a noisy rooster on the French vacation island of Ile d’Oléron. Summer visitors filed a noise complaint with the local authorities, who ruled in the rooster’s favor.

Corrine Dessau, the rooster’s owner, commented that “[t]here’s always been noise in the countryside: frogs, tractors, and, yes, roosters. When you’re in the countryside, you accept the noises of the countryside. And when you’re in the city, you accept the noises of the city. If you don’t like the noise where you are, don’t stay there.”

I would disagree about urban noise. Much if not most of urban noise can be quieted.

But in the countryside, a rooster’s wake up call is part of the charm, and visitors should get used to it.

Dr. Daniel Fink is a leading noise activist based in the Los Angeles area. He is the founding chair of The Quiet Coalition, an organization of science, health, and legal professionals concerned about the impacts of noise on health, environment, learning, productivity, and quality of life in America. Dr Fink also is the interim chair of Quiet Communities’ Health Advisory Council, and he served on the board of the American Tinnitus Association from 2015-2018.

Beluga whales sing better in a quiet ocean

Photo credit: Diliff licensed under CC BY-SA 2.5

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

I first saw beluga whales in the aquarium in Vancouver, Canada, and then last year in the wild in Canadian arctic waters. They are marvelous creatures, with a bulbous head that helps them vocalize and hear the vocalizations of other belugas.

A National Geographic television show discusses research showing that belugas sing better in quieter oceans.

For belugas, noise from ship motors is like ambient noise in a too-noisy restaurant. It makes conversation difficult.

Quiet is better for both animals and people.

Dr. Daniel Fink is a leading noise activist based in the Los Angeles area. He is the founding chair of The Quiet Coalition, an organization of science, health, and legal professionals concerned about the impacts of noise on health, environment, learning, productivity, and quality of life in America. Dr Fink also is the interim chair of Quiet Communities’ Health Advisory Council, and he served on the board of the American Tinnitus Association from 2015-2018.