New Study Identifies 'Acoustic Sanctuaries' as Key to Whale and Dolphin Conservation

Sound of silence

The oceans are increasingly rife with noise from ship traffic. For whales and dolphins, which use acoustics to see and sense their surroundings, this clamor can be so loud, it is like an ever-present fog that never lifts.

Marine mammals have extremely sensitive physiological mechanisms to make and receive sounds. And some species, particularly whales, depend on natural quiet for survival. Ocean noise from shipping and other marine traffic causes stress and disrupts their navigation as well as their ability to eat and detect predators.

Dolphin© The Pew Charitable Trusts

A new study led by Pew marine fellow Rob Williams identified quiet places that are prime candidates for protection in order to reduce the noise threat and provide safe havens for dolphins.

A new study, published by Marine Pollution Bulletin and led by Pew marine fellow Rob Williams, explains the dangers of noise along the coast of British Columbia and says humans have an opportunity to conserve quiet habitat for the endangered and noise-sensitive whales and dolphins that live in the region.

Williams, who is the co-founder of Oceans Initiative and is associated with the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, says the problem of ocean noise is increasing as ship traffic grows in the waters off British Columbia. Williams and a team of researchers mapped the areas of the coast most frequented by Minke and orca whales, white-sided dolphins, and elephant seals, among others, and identified zones with the most intense acoustic pollution.

“Imagine not being able to find any peace and quiet, day or night,” said Williams. “And what if your life depended on it? That’s what it’s like for a whale trying to read important cues from the ocean, without being able to hear through noise pollution.”

The researchers also identified acoustic sanctuaries: quiet places that are prime candidates for protection in order to reduce the noise threat and provide safe havens for whales and dolphins. The scientists point out that it’s it's easier to prevent areas from becoming noisy than to quiet them after shipping patterns become entrenched.

Williams is one of five distinguished scientists and conservationists from Canada, Australia, Russia, and the United Kingdom who were named 2015 recipients of the Pew fellowship in marine conservation. To read more about Williams and his work, visit this page.

Spotlight on Mental Health

Composite image of modern city network communication concept

Learn the Basics of Broadband from Our Limited Series

Sign up for our four-week email course on Broadband Basics

Quick View

How does broadband internet reach our homes, phones, and tablets? What kind of infrastructure connects us all together? What are the major barriers to broadband access for American communities?

Pills illustration
Pills illustration

What Is Antibiotic Resistance—and How Can We Fight It?

Sign up for our four-week email series The Race Against Resistance.

Quick View

Antibiotic-resistant bacteria, also known as “superbugs,” are a major threat to modern medicine. But how does resistance work, and what can we do to slow the spread? Read personal stories, expert accounts, and more for the answers to those questions in our four-week email series: Slowing Superbugs.

Explore Pew’s new and improved
Fiscal 50 interactive

Your state's stats are more accessible than ever with our new and improved Fiscal 50 interactive:

  • Maps, trends, and customizable charts
  • 50-state rankings
  • Analysis of what it all means
  • Shareable graphics and downloadable data
  • Proven fiscal policy strategies

Explore

Welcome to the new Fiscal 50

Key changes include:

  • State pages that help you keep track of trends in your home state and provide national and regional context.
  • Interactive indicator pages with highly customizable and shareable data visualizations.
  • A Budget Threads feature that offers Pew’s read on the latest state fiscal news.

Learn more about the new and improved Fiscal 50.