Bad Vibrations: How We're Deafening the Deep


There are few sounds in the natural world that are as soothing as the restless sea – so it’s a shame we’re drowning it out.

In yet another assault on the biophony, human beings are flooding the depths of the oceans with noise pollution, turning the formerly Silent World into a busy-sounding place. All humanity’s sea-going machinery send out vibrations – some of them very substantial indeed – and for marine creatures that have evolved to pick up the faintest of noises and communicate with natural sonar, this is indeed a problem. Shockingly, a report by the International Fund for Animal Welfare (Ifaw) argues that the range of blue whale communication has reduced down to just a tenth of what it was before humans starting plying the waves with powered-propeller vessels.

When it comes to airborne noise pollution, there are at least regulations – because this noise directly affects people. There are currently no such restrictions on noise pollution at sea. It’s true that we’re talking about the uppermost layers of a truly vast volume of seawater – the oceans cover 71% of our planet, around 1.3 billion cubic kilometres – but those upper layers are where most marine life thrives. It’s an even more urgent issue to consider when worldwide deep-sea drilling is set to intensify as our fossil fuels start running out, forcing us further and further away from the shoreline.

First the air, then the ground, then space, and now the oceans. We’ve been highly inventive in our methods of polluting every corner of the natural environment, so let’s hope we can be just as creative in cleaning them up – before our neglect reaches new depths.

Further reading:  Ifaw: “Ocean Noise: Turn It Down” (PDF).

Image: Kalandrakas

Mike Sowden

Mike Sowden is a freelance writer based in the north of England, obsessed with travel, storytelling and terrifyingly strong coffee. He has written for online & offline publications including Mashable, Matador Network and the San Francisco Chronicle, and his work has been linked to by Lonely Planet, World Hum and Lifehacker. If all the world is a stage, he keeps tripping over scenery & getting tangled in the curtain - but he's just fine with that.