“Live” mapping of Cetaceans and Ocean Noise

Following up on last week’s newsletter on Marine Mammals and Mapping, there is some fabulous utility in mapping noise and marine mammals as illustrated in a benchmark program in the Stellwagen Banks National Marine Sanctuary (NMS).

Chris Clark and his Cornell Lab have been developing a noise monitoring program over the years in a “marine sanctuary” that happens to be directly under the shipping lanes to and from Boston Harbor, an area that also happens to be a popular habitat for the endangered North Atlantic Right Whale.

Stellwagen Shipping Lane MapOne of the early products of this work was the clear understanding that moving the shipping lanes would significantly decrease the probability of “ship strikes” killing the whales (see map).

Ongoing work includes continuous monitoring of live hydrophones to help ship captains avoid whales, and an array of seafloor mounted “pop-up” hydrophone recorders that provide higher-resolution records of the biological and anthropogenic soundscape in the sanctuary.

NOAA animation of Right WhalesDynamic maps such as these can provide us with a deep understanding of the acoustical and spatial consequences of our interactions with marine habitats. But the Stellwagen Banks NMS is heavily instrumented and continuously tended by live people – a condition that would be difficult to expand out into all of the areas where our interactions might have impacts on marine life.

Although what the work can provide us with are verified “virtual” models of noise propagation that can then be overlaid onto other areas to give us reasonable approximations of that area’s noise propagation characteristics. This in turn will help regulators evaluate exposure potentials and help stakeholders mitigate for exposure impacts.

Hopefully tools like this will take some of the reviewing burden off of conservation groups when some proposed action releases a Draft Environmental Impact Statement for public comment.