Monday 19th Mar, 2018

Gauging the impact of shipping noise on whales

Photo: Dave Paton/Department of Environment and Energy
Photo: Dave Paton/Department of Environment and Energy

RESEARCH on shipping noise and its impact upon whales and other marine animals has been bankrolled under the Commonwealth Government’s National Environmental Science Program (NESP).

Research Fellow at Murdoch University’s Cetacean Research Unit Dr Joshua Smith is to join Dr David Peel from the CSIRO and Dr Christine Erbe from Curtin University to measure shipping noise around Australia and help to assess its impact.

This work is being done for the NESP Marine Biodiversity Hub, an Australian government-funded research consortium.

Dr Smith said the effects of shipping noise on marine animals was globally-recognised.

“Many marine animals, such as whales, rely on sound to feed and breed, and human-made noise in the oceans can interfere with their effectiveness to do this,” he said.

“The volume of shipping across the globe has doubled in the past 12 years and there is increasing concern that this noise can impact the life cycles and behaviour of marine animals.”

As part of a two-year study Dr Smith and his colleagues are to do a nationwide assessment of shipping noise within the entire Australian Exclusive Economic Zone.

Recordings of individual ships are to be done at ports in Sydney, Fremantle and Gladstone to gain accurate sound measurements of the different types of large ships, including box ships, tankers and cruise vessels.

Dr Smith said this would be the first comprehensive nation-wide assessment of shipping noise in Australia in and around World Heritage areas and Marine Parks.

He said such research would allow for an assessment of the impact of such noise on marine fauna.

“In 2014, the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) adopted guidelines to reduce underwater noise from commercial ships, which recognised that underwater-radiated noise from shipping can have both short and long-term impacts on marine life,” Dr Smith said.

“Our study is in response to these guidelines and will inform discussions about options for effectively managing potential risks associated with shipping noise, including developing a set of national marine noise management standards for Australian shipping zones.”

The project is to start with fieldwork in July on the Great Barrier Reef, a breeding ground for humpback whales and a significant shipping route

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