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University of Maryland co-sponsors International Conference on the Effects of Noise on Aquatic Life

More than 250 scientists, engineers, government advisers and groups concerned with environmental change are meeting in Cork, Ireland from August 15-20, 2010 to consider the impact of human-generated underwater noise upon aquatic life. The University of Maryland is co-sponsoring the conference, The Effects of Noise on Aquatic Life, (, which is co-organized by University of Maryland Biology Professor Arthur Popper, a leading expert in aquatic bioacoustics. The goal of the conference is to draw together new knowledge on the importance of underwater sound to animals and to consider the effects of sounds upon them; whether those sounds occur naturally, are made by the animals themselves, or result from human activities.

Our oceans, rivers and lakes, once thought to be silent, have been revealed as being quite noisy, both because of sounds produced by underwater life and sounds produced by humans. Moreover, it is becoming increasingly apparent that ships, underwater explosions, seismic exploration, offshore construction, and sonars of various types have raised the level of background noise in the sea and other water bodies. There is concern over the effects of these human-made sounds upon marine mammals, fish and other aquatic animals. It is known that very intense sounds may cause tissue damage or impair hearing. At lower levels, human-generated sound may affect the ability of animals to orient, or navigate. It may affect the abilities of animals to find one another or hear the sounds made by others at a distance. Sound can disrupt behaviour, affect migrations, interfere with mating, interrupt foraging and feeding or simply cause discomfort.

Many of the underwater sounds detected in seas, lakes, and rivers are natural. Falling rain, breaking waves, cracking ice, bubbles, spray, and turbulence generate a continuous but fluctuating background of noise to which marine animals are well adapted, and which are part of their daily lives. Distant earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and lightning strikes generate intense sounds, travelling over great distances. Sounds from aquatic animals themselves add to the ambient noise. Chorusing fish, snapping shrimps and calling dolphins contribute significantly over a wide band of frequencies, and may mask the detection of other sounds.

The effects of noise pollution often go un-noticed in comparison with more visible pollutants, but are nevertheless important with the expansion of noisy activities, especially in coastal waters. For example, the construction of large wind-farms, planned for waters in many parts of the world, are likely to pose particular concern, especially during construction when piles are driven to support the wind turbines. In addition, the increase in shipping world-wide is adding to the noise levels of the oceans and inland water, and this adds to the general increase in background noise. As yet we do not understand fully the effects of these increasingly high noise levels upon aquatic life.

Conference organisers Professors Arthur Popper and Tony Hawkins have spent their working lives studying underwater noise and its effects upon animals. Their first conference on the effects of noise on aquatic life was held in Denmark in 2007. "We thought that the impact of underwater noise needed to be discussed objectively, and that the best way of achieving that was to bring together all the experts together in one place" said Tony Hawkins, a former Director of Fisheries Research for Scotland and now an independent scientist. "Our first conference proved to be a landmark in reviewing research in this field. Now, three years later, we have decided to look again at the progress made in this fast-moving area of science. Asked why Cork was chosen for this conference Professor Hawkins replied "Cork is an attractive and lively city where people will be able to work hard and debate the main issues during the day and then relax during the evening. Cork is also a centre for marine research and is close to Europe's first marine reserve; the beautiful and unique Lough Hyne."

Arthur Popper, Professor of Biology at the University of Maryland in the USA pointed to the strong support from industry and from government agencies for the conference. From the industry side the Oil and Gas Producers Organisation, Exxon Mobil, Simrad, JASCO (Canada), Greenridge Sciences and Simrad (Norway) have provided support for the meeting. On the government side, the US National Science Foundation, the Office of Naval Research, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, the US Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement, the US National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the Office of Naval ResearchGlobal, and the US Marine Mammal Commission have all given their support. "We are intending that the emphasis of the conference will be on recent research results, the sharing of ideas, discussion of experimental approaches, and analysis of regulatory issues."

"The conference has excited interest world-wide and we have scientists and others attending from Europe, North America, Australia, South America, the Russian Federation, Japan, Israel, and of course Ireland itself. We are delighted that we have been able to arrange for the conference to take place in Cork, and for this we must thank the staff of Venues Ireland and the support provided by Filte Ireland and the staff of the Clarion Hotel" said Professor Popper.

The Conference will be opened on Monday morning by Councillor Michael O' Connell; Lord Mayor of Cork City, followed by a keynote address by Dr. Brandon Southall, one of the world's leading authorities on effects of noise on marine animals.


Contact: Arthur Popper
University of Maryland

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