Noise and wildlife

What do ducks hear, and why we should care

Photo credit: Magda Ehlers from Pexels

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

My focus is on human hearing and especially on finding a quiet restaurant in which to enjoy the meal and the conversation with my wife, but as a noise activist I learned about the adverse impacts of noise on animals, including birds and small mammals and fish and marine mammals.

This report in The New York Times looks at what ducks hear.

Why should we care? Because we should care about all living things on the face of the earth and in its waters.

And they all evolved in quiet.

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.

Caterpillars hate noise too


Photo credit: Virginia Arboretum licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

Erica Tennenhouse, Scientific American, writes about new research that shows traffic noise makes caterpillars’ hearts beat faster. Eventually, the article notes, the caterpillars become desensitized to the noise, but that comes at a price. Andy Davis, conservation physiologist at the University of Georgia, tells Tennenhouse that:

[The] desensitization could be problematic when the caterpillars become adults, Davis says. A rapid stress response is vital for monarch butterflies on their two-month journey to spend winters in Mexico, as they narrowly escape predators and fight wind currents. “What I think is happening [on roadsides] is their stress reactions get overwhelmed when they’re larvae and [could be] impaired when they travel to Mexico,” Davis says.

Every living thing is getting stressed out by our noise.


Let’s not forget that we share this planet


Nancy Lawson, writing for The Humane Society of America, says “let’s go make some quiet” and help out wildlife. Lawson introduces us to Christine Hass, an ecologist at a wildlife sanctuary, who was recovering from painful eye surgery. Closing her eyes suddenly made her aware of the birdsong she had mostly ignored and she became drawn to soundscape ecology, “a growing area of scientific inquiry that examines interactions of wild voices and other sounds throughout ecosystems.”

These ecosystems are under attack, sadly, as Lawson, citing Florence Williams, author of The Nature Fix, notes that “[a]bout every 30 years, our collective cacophony doubles, outpacing population growth.” Lawson says “[m]itigating noise is critical to conservation efforts, yet it often takes a back seat to other issues, largely because we’ve forgotten how to listen.”

And, perhaps, because it’s harder for us to measure the effect of human noise on wildlife because we can not visualize it. Says Les Blomberg, founder of the nonprofit Noise Pollution Clearinghouse, “[i]f we could see noise, it would be McDonald’s wrappers thrown out of the car all the way down the highway.”

Lawson ends her piece with suggestions that we can follow to be kinder to the living things that share our space, like replacing gas-powered lawn equipment with electric models, contacting groups like for advice on how to talk about noise in your community, and, importantly, by tuning in to your personal soundscape.

7 reasons to say no to fireworks

Lloyd Alter, the design editor for, posted his annual rant about the dangers of fireworks.  In short, fireworks are a dangerous and stupid way to celebrate anything, and in exchange for the short-term pleasure of seeing things blow up in the air, here are the long-term consequences of using them:

They spew percholorates, particulates, heavy metals, CO₂ and ozone into the atmosphere, cause over 10,000 injuries a year, are cruel to animals, and can lead to hearing loss.

It’s not fun being a killjoy, but really, are fireworks necessary?

The sounds of the unicorn of the sea

Alan Burdick, The New Yorker, writes about how researchers were able to tag six narwhals and capture the sounds they made over the course of the week, creating “an intimate sonic document of the life of the narwhal.” The researchers identified three types of sounds the narwhals make. The “first two, clicking and buzzing, are used to navigate and to hone in on prey,” and the third sound, calling, the researchers believe is used to communicate to one another. 

You can listen to them here.


Noise pollution is endangering marine life


Photo credit: Eulinky licensed under CC BY 2.0

and stressing out aquatic animals, writes Jean-Pierre Chigne, Tech Times. Chigne reports on research from the University of Saskatchewan focused on noise pollution’s effect on marine life which concludes “that noise pollution can limit an animal’s ability to process chemical information released after an attack on shoal mates.” Chigne notes that “[f]ish make noises such as chirps, pops, knocks, and grunts using their teeth, swim bladders, or fins,” and noise can interfere with a “fish’s ability to hear the sounds that other fish make.” Noise, he concludes, can “distract and confuse fish, which can potentially cause them death.”

It’s a depressing read, but important.  Do click the first link to read the entire article.

Hear livestreaming audio from 4,000 feet below the ocean

Photo credit: Matt McGee licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

courtesy of researchers from the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute via an ultra-sensitive microphone, a hydrophone, that was installed about 20 miles off the California coast in 2015. The “audio is amplified so you can hear it with normal speakers, but some creatures — like the baleen whale — require high-quality headphones or a subwoofer to hear the low frequency vocalizations.” Depending on when you tune in, you may hear nothing or you could hear “whales, dolphins, sea lions, boats, rain, wind, earthquakes, and other sounds.”

Intrigued? Click here to listen in: