MEPS 288:295-309 (2005)  -  doi:10.3354/meps288295

Hearing in fish and their reactions to sounds from offshore wind farms

Magnus Wahlberg1,2,3,*, Håkan Westerberg3,4

1Naturens Stemme, Ewaldsgade 4, 2. sal, 8000 Aarhus C, Denmark
2Department of Zoophysiology, Aarhus University, C. F. Mollers Alle Building 131, 8000 Aarhus C, Denmark
3Tjärnö Marine Biological Laboratory, Göteborg University, 452 96 Strömstad, Sweden
4National Board of Fisheries, PO Box 423, 401 26 Göteborg, Sweden

ABSTRACT: The current knowledge on detection of, and reaction to, sound by fish is reviewed, with special emphasis on underwater noise from offshore wind farms. The detection distance to wind farms for 3 species of fish representing various hearing capabilities varies between 0.4 and 25 km at wind speeds of 8 to 13 m s–1. The detection distance depends on the size and number of windmills, the hearing abilities of the fish, background noise level, wind speed, water depth and type of sea bottom. The noise from windmills may decrease the effective range for sound communication of fish; however, it is not known to what extent this decrease affects the behaviour and fitness of fish. Windmill noise does not have any destructive effects upon the hearing abilities of fish, even within distances of a few metres. It is estimated that fish are consistently scared away from windmills only at ranges shorter than about 4 m, and only at high wind speeds (higher than 13 m s–1). Thus, the acoustic impact of windmills on fish is restricted to masking communication and orientation signals rather than causing physiological damage or consistent avoidance reactions. These conclusions must be viewed with great caution, however, as the existing data are prone to large uncertainties. Further studies on more detailed measurements of the sound-field and of fish behaviour around windmills are needed.

KEY WORDS: Bioacoustics · Detection range · Fish communication · Hearing in fish · Sea-based wind farm

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