Rob Williams

Marine conservation scientist
Pearse Island, Box 193
State, Zip
Alert Bay, British Columbia VON 1A0
Award Year


Understanding the Effects of Marine Noise on Whales

Many marine species communicate using sound, which transmits well through water. However, maritime activities such as shipping, seismic surveys, military sonar, and pile driving have caused ocean noise levels to double every decade for the past 40 years in some regions. Despite this long history, noise is only now becoming incorporated into research and mitigation efforts by marine ecologists and conservation scientists. Mounting evidence from around the world indicates that noise affects the vital life functions of invertebrates, fish, and marine mammals. To build on this evidence, Rob Williams, Ph.D., is using his fellowship to better understand this impact, offer evidence-based advice on allowable ocean noise limits, and establish quieter marine protected areas.

Marine mammals have exquisite physiological mechanisms to make and receive sounds, from echolocation clicks to mating songs, and Williams will test the responses of selected marine mammal and fish species to a wide range of small boat and ship noise. He will work with acousticians and marine spatial planners to identify areas that are likely to be a high priority for protection because they are important habitats for marine mammals and have little or no human-caused sound. This research will provide ecological context for ongoing efforts to produce a global ocean noise map.© The Pew Charitable Trusts

Williams is a Canadian marine conservation scientist. He earned his doctorate from the University of St. Andrews in Scotland and holds degrees from the University of British Columbia and Mount Allison University in Canada. He was recently awarded the Marie Curie Fellowship to continue his work on marine mammal conservation and management, with a special emphasis on the consequences of ocean noise and allowable harm limits to fin, humpback, and killer whales.  Williams serves on the editorial boards of Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, Animal Conservation, and Journal of Zoology and is a senior editor at the Zoological Society of London’s journal, Remote Sensing in Ecology and Conservation. He has been a member of the International Whaling Commission’s Scientific Committee since 2001 and co-founded the Oceans Initiative and Oceans Research & Conservation Association with his wife and fellow scientist, Erin Ashe.