The great whales and other marine species that share our ocean planet swim in a sea of troubles. Threats to these magnificent creatures and their underwater habitats seem to proliferate daily. Industrial chemicals, heavy metals and fertilisers, inappropriate coastal development, a rising tide of solid waste, entanglement in outmoded fishing gear, collisions with high- speed vessels, resurgent commercial whaling in the 21st Century and now the massive threat of climate change all threaten their survival. On top of these comes a new, emerging threat, as insidious as it is invisible: ocean noise pollution.
Today humankind is unleashing an acoustic onslaught on the seas. The collective cacophony of millions of noisy ships and boats, the shattering blasts of airguns used in seismic surveys, the deafening din from unrestricted use of high intensity naval sonar and other man-made sounds have begun to silence the natural songs of the sea.
For creatures that depend on their sense of sound to survive this is a severe threat. Unbridled noise pollution is drowning out the calls of whales and other marine mammals with life-threatening consequences for finding food, mating, nurturing young, navigating and communicating across their vast watery realm. Ocean noise pollution is already driving some marine mammals from their breeding and feeding grounds. And while we have much more left to learn, leading marine scientists warn that in addition to losing their hearing from the worst of our largely uncontrolled ocean noise pollution, some marine mammals are already being killed by it.
In a sense, thoughtful policy makers considering this complex issue face the same challenge as the marine mammals IFAW is working to protect: how to separate important sounds and signals from the ambient background noise. This new IFAW report and the practical, science-based policy recommendations it contains provide a clarion call for humanity to turn down the volume. While there is uncertainty about the scale of the harm ocean noise pollution is already causing, it is time for the international community - for governments, international bodies, industry and individuals - to work together to take precautionary action now. Without such collective action the relentless increase in ocean noise pollution may soon threaten marine mammals at population levels. What a terrible irony it would be if the ultimate effects of this `invisible pollution’ became obvious only once it was too late.