Since the last thorough review of the effects of anthropogenic noise on cetaceans in 1995, a substantial number of research reports has been published and our ability to document response(s), or the lack thereof, has improved. While rigorous measurement of responses remains important, there is an increased need to interpret observed actions in the context of population-level consequences and acceptable exposure levels. There has been little change in the sources of noise, with the notable addition of noise from wind farms and novel acoustic deterrent and harassment devices (ADDs/AHDs). Overall, the noise sources of primary concern are ships, seismic exploration, sonars of all types and some AHDs.
Responses to noise fall into three main categories: behavioural, acoustic and physiological. We reviewed reports of the first two exhaustively, reviewing all peer-reviewed literature since 1995 with exceptions only for emerging subjects. Furthermore, we fully review only those studies for which received sound characteristics (amplitude and frequency) are reported, because interpreting what elicits responses or lack of responses is impossible without this exposure information. Behavioural responses include changes in surfacing, diving and heading patterns. Acoustic responses include changes in type or timing of vocalizations relative to the noise source. For physiological responses we address the issues of auditory threshold shifts and ‘stress’, albeit in a more limited capacity; a thorough review of physiological consequences is beyond the scope of this paper.
Overall, we found significant progress in the documentation of responses of cetaceans to various noise sources. However, we are concerned about the lack of investigation into the potential effects of prevalent noise sources such as commercial sonars, depth finders and fisheries acoustics gear. Furthermore, we were surprised at the number of experiments that failed to report any information about the sound exposure experienced by their experimental subjects. Conducting experiments with cetaceans is challenging and opportunities are limited, so use of the latter should be maximized and include rigorous measurements and or modelling of exposure.