"Some people talk to animals. Not many listen though. That's the problem."

-A.A. Milne

Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary Passive Acoustic Research

The coastal waters off the Northeast coast of the US are used extensively by people in many different ways, including cargo ships traveling to the port of Boston (Massachusetts), New York and Portland (Maine), recreational boating, whale-watching, fishing, and a number of other commercial activities. These waters are also home to over twenty species of marine mammals, so we often overlap with one another. Many of our oceanic activities generate high levels of underwater noise, which can interfere with the ability of other animals to communicate with one another. This phenomenon is known as "communication masking", and is particularly a concern in urbanized coastal environments.

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     A depiction of the predicted received levels (71-224 Hz, dB re 1μPa, scale far right) produced by calling right whales (small moving circles), large commercial ships (large moving circles) and wind-dependent background noise within the study area (boundaries of the SBNMS outlined in black) calculated every 10-min over a 9-hr period. This movie shows how right whales are masked by the passage of ships as they move into and out of the port of Boston.

BRP logoMarine Acoustics Inc logoNOPP logoSBNMS logo

  Since 2006, the NEFSC passive acoustic research program has worked closely with scientists at the National Ocean Service's Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary (SBNMS) The objectives of our work are to map the ocean noise throughout the SBNMS ecosystem, identify both the anthropogenic and biological sources of noise, and evaluate the impacts of human-produced underwater sound on marine mammals and fish that use the Sanctuary. This approach has and will continue to produce a new set of acoustic tools designed to be transferable to other ecological regions.

MARUs at Stellwagen MARUs at SBNMS

  From 2006 to 2011, arrays of bottom-mounted Marine Autonomous Recording Units (MARUs) were deployed to continuously record low-frequency sound in the Sanctuary. Recordings from these units were analyzed for the presence of vocally-active baleen whales and fish species. MARU data were also combined with data from the US Coast Guard's Automatic Identification System (AIS) to calculate noise budget contributions from AIS-tracked vessels in the area. Ship and whale data are integrated to investigate the potential effects of vessel noise on the acoustic communication of marine mammals. Together with the National Park Service, these data are currently being used to develop tools for understanding long term changes in the 'soundscape' of the sanctuary.

  This unique partnership between NOAA offices has produced a wealth of information and publications on the marine acoustic environment and is at the forefront of the development of NOAA's Ocean Noise Strategy, research on Atlantic cod and a NOAA wide effort to record long term ambient noise conditions now and into the future.

Partners: NOAA Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary, Cornell University, National Park Service

Primary Funders: NOAA Ocean Acoustics Program

For more information, see also http://stellwagen.noaa.gov/science/passive_acoustics.html


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(File Modified Sep. 06 2016)