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What is ocean noise?

Ocean noise refers to sounds made by human activities that can interfere with or obscure the ability of marine animals to hear natural sounds in the ocean.

Humpback whales swimming underwater

Humpback whales swimming underwater. Photo credit: Ed Lyman/NOAA, under NOAA permit #14682

Many marine organisms rely on their ability to hear for their survival. Sound is a highly efficient means of communication underwater and is the primary way that many marine species gather and understand information about their environment. Many aquatic animals use sound to find prey, locate mates and offspring, avoid predators, guide their navigation and locate habitat, as well as to listen and communicate with each other.

Over the last century, human activities such as shipping, recreational boating, and energy exploration have increased along our coasts, offshore, and deep ocean environments. Noise from these activities can travel long distances underwater, leading to increases and changes in ocean noise levels in many coastal and offshore habitats.

These rising noise levels can negatively impact ocean animals and ecosystems. Higher noise levels can reduce the ability of animals to communicate with potential mates, other group members, their offspring, or feeding partners. Noise can also reduce an ocean animal's ability to hear environmental cues that are vital for survival, including those key to avoiding predators, finding food, and navigating to preferred habitats.