ESR 32:391-413 (2017)  -  DOI: https://doi.org/10.3354/esr00820

Nowhere to go: noise impact assessments for marine mammal populations with high site fidelity

Karin A. Forney1,*, Brandon L. Southall2,3,4, Elisabeth Slooten5, Steve Dawson6, Andrew J. Read4, Robin W. Baird7, Robert L. Brownell Jr.8

1Marine Mammal and Turtle Division, Southwest Fisheries Science Center, National Marine Fisheries Service, NOAA, c/o MLML Norte, 7544 Sandholdt Rd, Moss Landing, CA 95039, USA
2Southall Environmental Associates, Inc., 9099 Soquel Dr, Suite 8, Aptos, CA 95003, USA
3University of California, Institute of Marine Science, Long Marine Laboratory, 100 McAllister Way, Santa Cruz, CA 95060, USA
4Nicholas School of the Environment, Duke University, 135 Duke Marine Lab Rd, Beaufort, NC 28516, USA
5Department of Zoology, University of Otago, PO Box 56, Dunedin, 9054, New Zealand
6Department of Marine Science, University of Otago, PO Box 56, Dunedin, 9016, New Zealand
7Cascadia Research Collective, 218 1/2 4th Ave W, Olympia, WA 98501, USA
8Southwest Fisheries Science Center, National Marine Fisheries Service, NOAA, 34500 Highway 1, Monterey, CA 93940, USA
*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: As awareness of the effects of anthropogenic noise on marine mammals has grown, research has broadened from evaluating physiological responses, including injury and mortality, to considering effects on behavior and acoustic communication. Most mitigation efforts attempt to minimize injury by enabling animals to move away as noise levels are increased gradually. Recent experiences demonstrate that this approach is inadequate or even counterproductive for small, localized marine mammal populations, for which displacement of animals may itself cause harm. Seismic surveys within the ranges of harbor porpoise Phocoena phocoena in California and Māui dolphin Cephalorhynchus hectori maui in New Zealand highlight the need to explicitly consider biological risks posed by displacement during survey planning, monitoring, and mitigation. Consequences of displacement are poorly understood, but likely include increased stress and reduced foraging success, with associated effects on survival and reproduction. In some cases, such as the Critically Endangered Māui dolphin, displacement by seismic activities risks exposing the remaining 55 dolphins to bycatch in nearby fisheries. Similar concerns about military and industrial activities exist for island-associated species such as melon-headed whales Peponocephala electra in Hawai'i; shelf-break associated species such as Cuvier’s beaked whales Ziphius cavirostris off the US Atlantic coast, and whales foraging in coastal habitats, such as the Critically Endangered western gray whale Eschrichtius robustus. We present an expanded framework for considering disturbance effects that acknowledges scientific uncertainty, providing managers and operators a more robust means of assessing and avoiding potential harm associated with both displacement and direct effects of intense anthropogenic noise exposure.


KEY WORDS: Anthropogenic noise · Marine mammals · Impact assessment · Mitigation · Monitoring · Small populations


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Cite this article as: Forney KA, Southall BL, Slooten E, Dawson S, Read AJ, Baird RW, Brownell RL Jr (2017) Nowhere to go: noise impact assessments for marine mammal populations with high site fidelity. Endang Species Res 32:391-413. https://doi.org/10.3354/esr00820

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