I don’t know about you, but it can be a real pain in the butt having neighbors with yappy little dogs. Sometimes at 3 or 4 AM, some drifter will walk through the area, and little yappy dogs down the street go into an absolute fit. When that happens, it can ruin your sleep, which can ruin the whole next day’s productivity.
My point in sharing this? It’s that having some peace and quiet is important. It can affect your health, your wellness, your finances, and your relationships. I know the Chihuahua farm up the road isn’t going to ever shut the little rat demon dogs up, so I started using an air conditioning unit in fan mode to drown them out and get good sleep.
It turns out, humans aren’t the only living things with this problem. Land animals aren’t the only ones affected by it either. Sadly, though, when it comes to animals living in Earth’s oceans, humans are the yappy Chihuahuas that won’t let anybody get sleep, and we need to do better at letting our oceanic neighbors have a good night’s rest.
A #ScienceReview last year showed how the rapidly changing soundscape of modern oceans impacts marine life globally—and how mitigating these impacts is key to achieving a healthier ocean. https://t.co/OEXB1nCp7q #ScienceMagArchives pic.twitter.com/jMhjS5aaIW
— Science Magazine (@ScienceMagazine) June 13, 2022
To be fair to ourselves, the oceans were never a perfectly quiet place. Earthquakes, crashing waves, coral reefs, kelp forests whipping around, animals swimming, and things like dolphin echolocation clicks have been there for millions of years. Scientists using hydrophones have even heard sounds in the ocean so insanely loud that microphones places thousands of miles apart all heard them. One famous one, the “bloop” was a mystery for a long time, but scientists eventually figured out that it was caused by cracking Antarctic glaciers.
However, over the years, the amount of noise we’re making as a species in the open seas has gone way up. First, we made no more noise than any other coastal animals with swimming and hunting (fishing). Later, we started sailing, which made some noise, but probably wasn’t too problematic for animals trying to be undisturbed. These days, we’re making all kinds of noise. Pile-driving, giant ships with noisy building-sized combustion engines, submarines, and the effects of global warming are all adding up to a very different (and a not very peaceful) noise environment.
“Sound travels faster and farther in water than in air. Over evolutionary time, many marine organisms have come to rely on sound production, transmission, and reception for key aspects of their lives. These important behaviors are threatened by an increasing cacophony in the marine environment as human-produced sounds have become louder and more prevalent.” the study’s authors said.
We can do better. Technological improvements, like quieter propellers and small autonomous underwater vehicles instead of giant nuclear submarines, could help by themselves. Turbines and other oceanic structures could be set up to float instead of being pile-driven into the ocean floor. Addressing climate change, cutting back on large ship traffic, and many other things could help give oceanic critters some rest from the noise.
Want more information? I’d recommend reading the whole study here. They go into much greater depth on the problem and possible solutions than I do.
Featured image: An illustration of offshore wind turbines in the ocean. Excitement abounds for a US-based offshore wind industry that could employ a variety of offshore wind designs to capture plentiful wind resources on the coasts of the country. Illustration by Joshua Buaer, NREL
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