Noise and wildlife

Researchers find whales enjoying pandemic quiet

Photo credit: Silvana Palacios from Pexels

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

While some humans are complaining about the enforced, stay-at-home quiet we’re living through now, biologists are embracing this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to research the impacts on other mammals, in particular, marine mammals.

I think it’s wonderful that scientists are using this window in time to compare how other species are doing while we’re locked indoors. Turns out, the researchers say, many animals are doing just fine!

This article in the New York Times provides glimpses into the “re-wilding” of cities around the globe as other species emerge to take over the world we’ve temporarily abandoned. And other videos actually prompt a sense of hope that the planet can heal itself if we’ll just give it a chance.

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.

Animals thrive in the silence of the pandemic

Photo credit: Aleksandr Neplokhov from Pexels

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

While I hold a Ph.D. in psychology and have taught and done research in the field of psychology, I have to confess that my major in college was zoology. This might explain my interest in species other than humans as well as my concern for their survival on this planet, especially when human beings have treated the earth so shabbily. Thus, while my research and writings focus on how sound and noise impact on people, I am still drawn to studies on the sounds of animals, especially those of Bernie Krause who is well-known for his work in bioacoustics.

Abby Wendle in “Human Life is Literally Quieter Due to Coronavirus Lockdown,” asks how the natural world is reacting “in the absence of all the noise we usually make.” She turns to Bernie Krause, who has recorded sounds in the natural world for the past fifty years, for an answer. He responds by telling her about the time he was recording thousands of frogs gathering in the Spring at a lake in California only to have their gathering interrupted by overhead jets. When the frogs tried to regather, they became vulnerable to owls and a coyote who “came in and picked off a couple of frogs.” Mr. Krause goes on to say how our helicopters, tractors and traffic creating lots of noise harm birds as well as frogs.

Yes, man-made noises endanger the lives of other species in our environment as well as being hazardous to our hearing and overall mental and physical health. So now with greater quiet in our world, due to what I would consider a horrific pandemic, frogs, birds, and numerous other species are being harmed less. Ms. Wendle says that with this newfound stillness “the earth, is, like, literally humming underneath our feet.” She concludes that with humans now interacting with their world differently, e.g. listening to insects buzzing in flowers, it might be possible that when this pandemic “passes,” they will remember the effects of their noises on the well-being of other species. Possibly, we humans will then be more respectful of other animals to which this land also belongs.

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.

An introduction to acoustic ecology

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

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This article in Physics Today is a wonderful introduction to acoustic ecology, “a field that examines how animals, including humans, use information obtained from the environment in different aspects of their lives.”

Animals, including humans, evolved in a naturally quiet environment, and noise is harmful to them. The author of the article, Megan McKenna, an acoustic biologist at the Natural Sounds and Night Skies Division of the National Park Service in Colorado, writes “[a] common definition of noise is unwanted sounds that interfere with a signal of interest.”

That’s a good definition, but noise is actually harmful to animals, with that harm best studied in people. Like secondhand smoke, noise is both a nuisance and a health hazard, and there are nine evidence-based noise levels that affect human health and function.

I prefer the new definition of noise presented at the American Public Health Association meeting in November 2019 and at the Acoustical Society of America meeting in December 2019: noise is unwanted and/or harmful sound.

But whichever definition you use, we can all agree that preserving the natural acoustic environment is critical for animals and humans.

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.

Noise pollution impacts many species

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This article in Smithsonian Magazine discusses a meta-analysis in Biology Letters documenting the adverse effects of noise pollution on animals, ranging in size from small insects to giant marine mammals.

We have recently redefined noise as unwanted and/or harmful sound. Nature is quiet, not noisy. I documented the evidence-based noise levels affecting human health and function, starting with sleep disruption at sound pressure levels as low as 30-35 A-weighted decibels*, in an recent article in Acoustics Today. I don’t think the data exist to write a similar article about specific noise levels affecting non-human animal health and function, but the definition of noise as unwanted and/or harmful sound was meant to include animals, too.

Noise pollution is ubiquitous. A quieter world will be better for most living things, including all animals and plants that depend on animals for functions like pollination and seed dissemination.

*A-weighting adjusts sound measurements to reflect the frequencies heard in human speech.

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.

UK supermarkets leading the way on noisy fireworks

Photo credit: Teknorat licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Three UK supermarket chains are vowing to only sell low-noise fireworks after Sainsbury, one of the UK’s biggest chains, has banned sales of fireworks outright. This follows a petition to Parliament seeking to ban fireworks entirely as “a nuisance to the public.” According to The Mirror, over 300,000 signed the petition, which states that the noise from fireworks scares children, animals, and “people with a phobia.”

The Brits do love their dogs, so no surprise many cite their pup’s aversion to firework noise as a reason for the ban. In fact, The Mirror notes that “the Scottish Government earlier this year found that 94% of 16,000 respondents wanted to see tighter controls on the sale of fireworks.”

Hear, hear. But why stop at tighter controls, when they should be replaced entirely. As we’ve posted before, fireworks are a complete environmental hazard. Enough!

The loudest bird in the world

Photo credit: Daderot, changes by Kersti have dedicated this photo to the public domain

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This article in The New York Times discusses a species of bellbird that is the loudest bird in the world. How loud? The white bellbird makes noise at 125 decibels.

Hear for youself (reduce the volume or remove your headphones):

I’m glad it lives only in the Amazon, and not near me.

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.

Want to adopt a pup but don’t want your neighbors to hate you?

Photo credit: Helena Lopes from Pexels

Yahoo Lifestyle reports on the 20 breeds of dogs you should consider if you want to adopt a dog, but can’t deal with the noise.

We couldn’t help but notice that one of the suggested breeds is Pekinese, and we recalled–not with fondness–a former neighbor’s Pekinese that surely was the exception. So take the list with a grain of salt, but know that there are options for sound sensitive–and considerate–dog owners.

Exciting research on the biological effects of noise on birds

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

Recently we wrote about real “angry birds”—-research on birds showing that exposure to noise makes them hostile. That called to my mind some very exciting research by Jesse Barber, PhD, at Boise State University that was highlighted at a Public Outreach Workshop in Denver, Colorado, several years ago and has the enthusiastic support of scientists at the National Park Service.

Dr. Barber’s innovative research design got a lot of attention. He has written extensively about the effects of traffic noise on birds and how noise is an invisible source of habitat degradation

Dr. Barber is one of the emerging heroes in research on the biological effects of noise. He recently gave a TEDx talk that provides an overview of his perspective. Watch for more exciting work from his lab in Idaho.

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.

Real angry birds

Photo credit: Thet Tun Aung from Pexels

Country File magazine reports on recent research by Manchester Metropolitan University with Manchester Airport that found birds living near airports “are exposed to extreme noise levels from jet engines” which interferes with communication during breeding season. Interestingly, not only is communication affected, but the researchers found that common chiffchaffs living near loud aircraft were five times more likely to attack a speaker playing bird song than chiffchaffs who lived further away from airports. That is, the noise made the birds more aggressive.

We were not entirely surprised that noise would cause aggression in animals, as some studies show that noise causes or exacerbates aggression among humans.

Just another reason to lower the volume, everywhere.