Noise and wildlife

Whales talking on new frequency due to ocean noise

Photo credit: NOAA Photo Library (public domain)

Avery Thompson, Popular Mechanics, reports that “[n]ew research suggests that blue whales are changing their communication band due to noise from human ships.” Thompson writes that noise from ocean liners and large container ships can travel for miles below the waves, disturbing animals like whales and dolphins. Researchers from from Oregon State University are finding that blue whales are learning to adapt to the noise by changing the frequency with which they communicate, and they “believe that the whales are doing this deliberately to avoid interference from human sounds.” Of course, the scientists aren’t completely sure, but as shipping companies move to using quieter electric ships, they will be able to see if the whales go back to their former frequencies.

And it’s not just whales and dolphins that are reacting to ocean noise. Researchers at Newcastle University have discovered that “European sea bass experienced higher stress levels when exposed to the types of piling and drilling sounds made during the construction of offshore structures.”

It’s long past time that humans start considering the harmful effects our noisy existences are having on each other and every other living thing on this planet.

 

Human noise pollution wreaks havoc on U.S. wildlife

Photo credit: USFWS Mountain-Prairie licensed under CC BY 2.0

Rachel Buxton, a postdoctoral research fellow at Colorado State University, writes about the impact expanding transportation networks are having on remote places. Buxton notes that “noise from sources such as vehicle engines is spreading into remote places,” and cautions that “[h]uman-caused noise has consequences for wildlife, entire ecosystems and people.” Buxton and her team conducted a study using “millions of hours of acoustic recordings and sophisticated models to measure human-caused noise in protected areas,” focusing on “human sources of noise in natural environments, such as sounds from aircraft, highways or industrial sources.” The study found that “noise pollution doubled sound energy in many U.S. protected areas, and that noise was encroaching into the furthest reaches of remote areas.”

What are the consequences of these findings? Buxton writes that “[h]uman-caused noise in protected areas interferes with visitors’ experience and alters ecological communities,” adding that “noise may scare away carnivores, resulting in inflated numbers of prey species such as deer.” In addition, although plants can’t hear, they too are affected by noise because “noise changes the distribution of birds, which are important pollinators and seed dispersers.”

The news isn’t all bad, however, as Buxton was “encouraged to find that wilderness areas – places that are preserved in their natural state, without roads or other development – were the quietest protected areas, with near-natural sound levels.”  Unfortunately, the team also found that 12% of “wilderness areas experienced noise that doubled sound energy.”

But all is not lost, as thoughtful management of our protected areas can help to reduce the impact of human-caused noise. Buxton concludes her piece by identifying the strategies that can be implemented to do this, including “establishing quiet zones where visitors are encouraged to quietly enjoy protected area surroundings, and confining noise corridors by aligning airplane flight patterns over roads.”

Humans are changing the underwater soundscapes

 

Photo credit: AWeith licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

of the world’s oceans. Catherine Rice, Nature World News, reports on how climate change is affecting the world’s oceans. Rice introduces us Kate Stafford, an oceanographer who studies the underwater soundscapes and migratory patterns and geographic variation of marine mammals. Using the Arctic Ocean as an example, Stafford discusses “how climate change is changing the sonic landscape of oceans” and how “human impact on climate could have unknown consequences for marine life which rely on listening to sounds in the ocean for survival.”

Long and short, as sea ice melts it “screeches and cracks and pops and groans, as it collides and rubs when temperature or currents or winds change.” So more melting means more noise. And as the sea ice melts, humans are encouraged “to use bigger ships more frequently” in parts of the Arctic Ocean that previously were not very navigable, which introduces even more loud noise into the soundscape. “Due to warmer waters and less sea ice, Stafford and [other] scientists are seeing other species of whales and mammals moving further north,” which could set up an ugly competition for food.

Rice concludes that “there are still many unanswered questions about the impact of human-induced climate change on the soundscape of the world’s oceans, but it is clear that they are getting noisier.”

Link via @QuietMark.

Fido hates fireworks

Many dogs are afraid of fireworks, as the noise causes them to hide or howl with fear and anxiety. Trish Hernandez, The Taos News, tells you how you can protect your dog from this trauma. Her article offers a number of helpful solutions to help your pooch make it through the upcoming fireworks season (which can run all summer long in places like New York City).

First and foremost, Hernandez strongly suggests that you not leave your dog home alone, noting that “[d]ogs with phobic reactions to fireworks can easily panic and injure themselves in the process….[and] [m]any panicked dogs find ways to escape from their yards and can be further injured or killed while running loose.” That said, your home is the best place for your dog, and staying with him or her will help to keep them distracted (and a few extra treats won’t hurt). Hernandez also gives advice for people with multiple dogs, noting that “if one dog already exhibits a fearful or phobic response to the sound of fireworks, [you should] separate the dogs so that non-fearful dog does not “catch” the fear.”

It’s not just pets who suffer from firework noise, humans can too. An editorial in The Adirondack Daily Enterprise notes that “[t]he booms and bangs of fireworks can be particularly harsh for veterans suffering from post traumatic stress disorder,” adding that “[t]he sound of gunshot-like noises can trigger flashbacks, intrusive thoughts and even suicide.”

While taking steps to ease the trauma for humans and dogs is the obvious course, maybe we need to think about logical long-term solutions, like avoiding the trauma in the first place. For example, we could advocate for a ban on loud fireworks like the thoughtful residents of Collecchio, a town in the province of Parma, Italy. The local government there “introduced new legislation forcing citizens to use silent fireworks as a way of respecting the animals” by reducing the stress caused by noise from conventional fireworks.

That is, instead of each of us trying to protect humans and animals from the trauma of loud fireworks, we could protect everyone by requiring the use quiet fireworks. Quiet fireworks have existed for decades, and they are just as vivid and colorful as their conventional cousins. But unlike conventional fireworks, they don’t traumatize animals or people or cause hearing damage.

Until that time comes, here are directions on how to make a DIY “Thundershirt” that will help your dog deal with anxiety.

 

Is man-made noise making desert insects disappear?

Photo credit: Ferran Pestaña licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Veronique Greenwood, The Atlantic, writes about the gas compressors in the San Juan Basin of New Mexico and the effect they are having on desert insects. The San Juan Basin is “the nation’s second-largest natural gas field, [where] for miles in every direction, gas compressors are running more or less constantly, filling the desert with their eerie, broadband roar.” When compressors are near people, Greenwood reports, efforts are made to dampen the sound, but not so when the only thing that can hear them are the creatures that live in the desert.

What do the compressors sound like? Greenwood says that they “create a curiously oppressive noise, with both high and low frequencies at very high volume, running 24 hours a day, seven days a week, nearly 52 weeks a year.” Sounds hellish. And apparently desert insects agree, as ecologists have discovered that many insect groups are disturbed by the compressors “and by high decibel levels of noise in general.” How disturbed? Although some insects groups showed no change, “[t]here were 24-percent fewer grasshoppers in compressor plots, 52-percent fewer froghoppers, and a whopping 95-percent fewer cave, camel, and spider crickets.”

The long-term effects aren’t exactly known–one researcher noted that the study was “is just the very tip of the iceberg”–but as insects avoid the sound of man-made noise, their altered behavior will likely affect the bats and birds that eat them.

Click the link above to read the entire piece.

 

 

The disappearing soundscape

Photo credit: David Berry licensed under CC BY 2.0

Livia Albeck-Ripka, Vice, writes about Bernie Krause, soundscape ecologist, and his lilfe’s work in “This is what extinction sounds like.” Albeck-Ripka tells use about how Krause came to spend a lifetime recording the sounds of our natural world:

He might have guessed where his career was heading, having scored Apocalypse Now and been an early adopter of the plastic sound of 80s synth. Back then, Krause thought of the natural world as mere ambience. Earlier, he had been a violinist, a guitarist, and part of the folk band the Weavers. But in 1968, commissioned by Warner Bros. to make an album that included some samples from nature, he ventured just north of San Francisco into the Muir Woods one October afternoon and had an epiphany.

“The moment I switched on the recorder and heard the incredible impact of the outdoor space,” Krause told me recently, “I made the decision then and there to find a way to do that for the remainder of my life.”

But now, Albeck-Ropka writes, “he has become an expert in the sound of extinction.”

Although our planet is under a lot of stress, it’s not entirely grim–there are signs that the natural world finds a way to continue on. Click the link above to read the entire article.

Link via @QuietMark.

Motorboat noise makes fish bad parents

leading to the death of their babies. Marine experts at the University of Exeter have discovered that “[t]he sound of motorboat engines disturbed coral reef fish so acutely it changed the behaviour of parents, and stopped male fish properly guarding their young, feeding and interacting with their offspring.” And the effects weren’t insignificant, as the researchers “found that the death-rates of baby fish exposed to boat engine noise increased significantly, with six of the 19 boat-noise nests suffering complete mortality.”

Armed with their results, the researchers assert that the “noise from boats is a ‘global pollutant,'” and believe that it “should be factored in when trying to protect fish stocks and manage fisheries.” Dr. Steve Simpson, an expert on the impact of noise on marine life at the university, adds:

This study raises important implications for managing the noise of the 100,000s of motorboats used around the world in coral reef environments. We are now considering acoustic quiet zones and corridors, and exploring how engine and propeller development can reduce the impact of this globally prevalent pollutant.

The researchers believe that their “research into the effect of man-made noise on coral fish could have wider implications for the survival of other marine species, and even birds and mammals.”

National Parks: Why quiet matters

By David Sykes, Vice Chair, The Quiet Coalition

On May 4, Science and Phys.org™ published news reports about a recent, significant, multi-year study about the pervasiveness of noise pollution in 492 national parks and natural areas across the U.S.

In “Noise Pollution is invading even the most protected natural areas,” Science writer Ula Chrobak notes that:

The great outdoors is becoming a lot less peaceful. Noise pollution from humans has doubled sound levels in more than half of all protected areas in the United States—from local nature reserves to national parks—and it has made some places 10 times louder, according to a new study. And the cacophony isn’t just bad for animals using natural sounds to hunt and forage—it could also be detrimental to human health.

Under the study, researchers from the National Park Service and Colorado State University “recorded noise at 492 sites across the country with varying levels of protection, [and] used the recordings to predict noise throughout protected areas in the rest of the country.” They also estimated naturally occurring ambient noise and compared the noise levels with and without humanmade noise. The results were damning: noise pollution doubled sound levels in 63% of protected areas and caused a 10-fold increase in 21% of protected areas.

And the impacts of that noise pollution affect all living things withing these areas.  Phys.org reports interviews Rachel Buxton, the study’s lead author and post-doctoral researcher, who states that “[t]he noise levels we found can be harmful to visitor experiences in these areas, and can be harmful to human health, and to wildlife.” The noise pollution findings means that “noise reduced the area that natural sounds can be heard by 50 to 90 percent,” which “also means that what could be heard at 100 feet away could only be heard from 10 to 50 feet.”

So what is the impact on humans and wildlife?  Phys.org explains:

This reduced capacity to hear natural sound reduces the restorative properties of spending time in nature, such as mood enhancement and stress reduction, interfering with the enjoyment typically experienced by park visitors. Noise pollution also negatively impacts wildlife by distracting or scaring animals, and can result in changes in species composition.

High levels of noise pollution were also found in critical habitat for endangered species, namely in endangered plant and insect habitats. “Although plants can’t hear, many animals that disperse seeds or pollinate flowers can hear, and are known to be affected by noise, resulting in indirect impacts on plants,” said Buxton.

The study results have been widely reported, showing that there is real interest in protecting our national parks and natural areas.  Researchers know that “many people don’t really think of noise pollution as pollution,” but they hope that this study will encourage more people to “consider sound as a component of the natural environment.”

The National Park Service’s huge portfolio of parks and natural areas provides a huge canvas for researchers concerned about the impacts of “noise pollution.” You may be surprised to learn that the National Park Service has a research division called “Natural Sounds and Night Skies Division” that has been looking for several years at the effects of noise not only on visitor experiences, but also on plants and animals. Their work is fascinating and resulted in a 2014 report from the National Academy of Engineering called “Preserving National Park Soundscapes.

David Sykes chairs/co-chairs four national professional groups in acoustical science: The Acoustics Research Council, ANSI S12 WG44, The Rothschild Foundation Task Force on Acoustics, and the FGI Acoustics Working Group. He is also a board member of the American Tinnitus Association, co-founder of the Laboratory for Advanced Research in Acoustics (LARA) at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, lead author of “Sound & Vibration 2.0 (2012, Springer-Verlag), and a contributor to “Technology for a Quieter America” (2011, National Academy of Engineering). A graduate of the University of California/Berkeley with graduate degrees from Cornell University, he is a frequent organizer of and speaker at professional conferences in the U.S., Europe, Asia, and the Middle East.

The danger of noisy oceans

Photo credit: Samuel Blanc licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

We have posted before about how ocean noise is causing damage to various species of whales, so it should be no surprise to hear that human noise has thoroughly invaded our oceans. The Islands’ Sounder spoke to Christopher Clark, a bioacoustic engineer who he studies biology and acoustics, who discusses how “ambient noise from ships” interfered with his research on whales. Clark said that “[w]hat was eerie was that he could hear [ships’] rumble, but the ships were so far away they might as well have been invisible.” “North Atlantic right whales, like the Southern resident Orcas, are endangered,” adds Clark, who “suspects noise is a contributing factor for both species.” “You can’t listen to the ocean for any length of time without encountering human noise,” he laments.

The damage is not limited to whales, as ocean noise is damaging other species. Matt Soergel,The Florida Times-Union, reporting on research on dolphins in the St. Johns River, writes that researchers were surprised to find that “there’s no place [in the area they studied] immune to man-made sound,” and they are not sure why.  As for the effect on dolphins, the researchers aren’t quite sure, but “dolphins, especially in the murky tannin waters of the St. Johns, rely on sound to communicate and to hunt,” and the St. Johns’ dolphins have shown a decline in health.

And seals are suffering too, as researchers from the University of St. Andrews have discovered that “[s]eals may experience hearing loss from underwater vessel noise.” Although the researchers have said that there was “no evidence that seals were exposed to noise levels high enough to cause permanent hearing damage,” lead author Dr. Esther Jones added that “[u]rbanisation of the marine environment is inevitably going to continue, so chronic ocean noise should be incorporated explicitly into marine spatial planning and management plans for existing marine protected areas.”

Noise is not just a nuisance, it’s a public health issue for all species on this planet.

 

 

 

Mallgoers would rather deal with pigeon poop than noise

Photo credit: Fritz Park licensed under CC BY 2.0

Mary Beth Quirk, the Consumerist, reports that “shoppers at one New York mall would rather risk getting hit by bird droppings than listen to the sounds coming out of the complex’s speakers.”  Apparently officials at the Rego Center Mall in Queens, New York City, installed a sound system “that blast[ed] noisy bird calls every 30 seconds or so,” to deal with an infestation of pigeons that were nesting and defecating near one of the mall entrances. But the law of unintended consequences prevailed, as the noise got on many shoppers’ last nerve.  One shopper, who claimed that he had “been pooped on previously at the mall,” said that he preferred “the risk of falling feces to the noise coming out of the mall speakers.”