“If we kill the sea, we kill ourselves”~ David Gallo, an oceanographer at the forefront of ocean exploration
As humans, we are still able to find ways to escape harmful noise pollution, such as a sonic boom or fire drill. We can find refuge in a quiet room, joyous music or parts of nature. Unlike our eyes, our ears cannot completely shut out sound but we can often move away from it.
Whales, dolphins, shrimp, turtles and zooplankton cannot escape sonic harm from seismic air blasting, oil drilling and more. This was made possible with Executive Order 13797, signed last year by President Trump in order to expand offshore drilling and exploration in U.S. waters. Two months after the order was given, a number of Congress members wrote to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke in strong opposition to offshore oil and gas drilling off the Atlantic coast stating. “Opening the Atlantic to seismic testing and drilling jeopardizes our coastal businesses, fishing communities, tourism and or national security,” they stated. “It harms our coastal economies in the near term, and opens the door to even greater risks from offshore oil and gas production down the road. Therefore, we ask you not to issue any permits for airgun surveys for subsea oil and gas deposits in the Atlantic Ocean.”
The seismic airguns move across large areas of ocean, sending constant loud blasts signals every 10-20 seconds. These surveys cause disturbance of vital activities of millions living in the Atlantic Ocean, killing and disorienting marine mammals that depend on sound to function. These mammals use echolocation to defend, navigate, breed and raise young. The elevated alarm responses also cause stress hormones and chemicals to build up in the fish we eat.
Marine animals rely on a sonic world to find their way in the dark with song. A deaf whale is a dead whale. Many are found on the shoreline bleeding from their ears because they rise to the surface too suddenly in order to escape deafening man-made sounds. Even those harmed may die slowly. If the manmade assault on ocean-dwellers continues, we could lose hundreds of thousand of whales and dolphins as well as critically endangered species like right whales.
If we listen to music or ocean recordings with a hydrophone, we can decipher a shrimp’s crackle, a lobster vocalizing like a cabasa, an orca’s high cry and a dolphin’s whistle. Few humans get to experience the symphony below the water line. Hearing in the water world is far more difficult today. We have lost some of our ability to listen well to each other even amongst humans, so saving a world many don’t experience is a larger challenge. Visual underwater environments are shared by renowned photographers, Chuck Davis and Brain Skerry and oceanographers like Sylvia Earle but few are known for presenting the auditory world living below the water line.
David Gallo, a leading American oceanographer, bears witness to the dramatic topography of the deep ocean. He shares “Oceans do not transmit light as well as they are efficient at transmitting sounds. We have arrived, making all sorts of noise without regard for the blue world. We use sonar to map the sea floor, identify submarines and navigate shipwrecks. Global trade by sea involves more than 50,000 ships in the commercial fleet with each making its own painful noise in the home of majestic whales and abundant life,”
Humpback whales, for example, communicate through a large song repertoire that mirrors the structure of classical music with repetitive phrases and patterns that change every year. To hear this inspires reverence.
Patrick Hof, MD, a research professor of neuroscience, vice chair of the department of neuroscience at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York, has written about spindle cells found in whales as well as humans, which are involved in sensitive judgments and emotional cues. Whales evolved spindle cells completely independent of humans some 30 million years ago. These cells are much larger then those found in humans and whales have more of them than us. Some qualities we assume make us human, whales experienced long before us. How can we dishonor and kill them?
Ocean advocacy work can involve aiding lone cetaceans, (lost whales and dolphins) as, disoriented by noise pollution, they become separated from their pod. Unable to hear their way home, they stay near humans and unfamiliar dangers. A lost baby beluga whale in Cook Inlet Alaska was found alone recently, suggesting that noise from boats may have separated it from its mother. This happens all over the world. Once dependent on humans, they rarely return home.
HELP THE OCEAN DWELLERS
We need to do more to protect the ocean soundscape. If all people hear the symphony of those living in the ocean, we’d put up a greater fight to save it. Here are some things that can be done:
- Sign petitions and find local events on Ocean Day, June 8.
- Visit StoptheDrill.org and CSI.org (Cetacean Society International)
- Listen to recordings that share the cetacean song and share them with others. Here are three examples: