Noisy Oceans Affecting Marine Life

Human noise in the ocean is becoming a major concern. From sonar on our submarines to cargo ship traffic and even oil drilling rigs, we are filling our oceans up with lots of unnatural noise. This noise is linked to altering many species calling, foraging, and migration patterns . In extreme situations, scientists also believe it is a reason there have been so many beached whales.

Here is a video that shows what some different noises in the oceans sound like, and how loud they really are.

“Virginia Class Submarine” By Owly K under U.S. federal government

Effects of sound on whales

It seems that whales and dolphins are the marine animals that are most affected by the noisy oceans. Although natural noise in the ocean from wind, waves or other marine animals is a common occurrence, they are not nearly as intense as noise from humans. This more intense and frequent noise can be causing stress to whales and contributing to them beaching themselves. One scientist has said that he has seen whales abandon a location because of noise. These locations sometimes contain a food source necessary for the whales survival.

Sound waves from military submarine sonar systems can get as loud as 235 decibels. They are able to travel hundreds of miles and can maintain the intensity of 140 decibels as far as 300 miles from the source.

Cargo Ships create what is known as ambient noise. This is particularly concerning for low-frequency great whales. Right whales are endangered and it has been proven that noise from cargo ships constantly crossing the ocean is causing them stress.

Cargo Ship

Cargo Ship” by Peter Griffin under

Here is a video on the process of deep water oil rigging. It would be hard to believe that these rigs don’t make a ton of noise. It is understandable that hearing noise from these rigs constantly could stress a whale out or confuse it considering they rely heavily on acoustics for survival.


Recent Beached Whale Stories

On February 10th, 2017, New Zealand had over 600 Pilot whales wash ashore. Volunteers were able to save about 80 of the whales, who went on to join a nearby pod. After they were saved, later that night the pod that they joined got stranded on Farewell Spit. Although the cause of these whales stranding and beaching themselves is unknown, one theory is underwater noise. The loud sound waves that humans create can panic the whales into surfacing too quickly or swimming into the shallows.

 File:Whales on beach, Farewell Split, South Island, New Zealand.JPG

Whales on beach, Farewell Split, South Island, New Zealand” By Chagai


In May 2016, more than 20 whales beached themselves near San Felipe, Mexico. According to one statement, there were no signs of injuries noted on the whales, but they seemed disoriented.  Since the whales had no signs of injury, it is very reasonable to believe that sonar and loud ocean noise drove them out of deep water towards the beach.

Less than a year after 330 whales washed ashore on Patagonian Inlet, 70 whales were found on a beach in southern Chile. Although they are not the same species, this is a terrible trend that is happening. The whales were smaller this time and they had been dead for about 2 months before they were found.


9 thoughts on “Noisy Oceans Affecting Marine Life

  1. Alana,
    Well written article. On twitter and the news I kept seeing how hundreds of whales were washing up on beaches in New Zealand but did not read much into it since I considered it to be due to climate change. I never thought much about how a noise can affect the lives of whales and other animals foraging and migration patterns. Did you look into what other animals this has affected other then whales and dolphins as well as what we can do about it? It seems like technology has been helping us a lot for research in the oceans but ultimately this technology could be causing unnecessary noise in the ocean. This was a topic I did not know much about. Good job!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Noise pollution is affecting all marine life that uses sound and echolocation in order to survive. The is mostly whales and dolphins because they are very acoustic animals. And the first step in solving this problem is raising awareness about it!

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Nice post! I see that you said the noise has only been seen to have drastic effects on whales and dolphins what about other marine mammals like sea lions, seals, and sea otters? or are they safe because they can escape on land? Also, I feel like since coral is so fragile boats that are super loud near areas with coral reefs might have some effect on them. Did you come across any information about that in your research?

    Liked by 2 people

    1. The noise is having an effect on coral reefs. The noise from humans is masking reef sounds which is what baby coral rely on to find their way to the reef. If the coral larvae do not find the reef quickly and establish a colony, they will end up dying.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. Excellent post and conversation here! You have some great links and videos (talk to me about how to embed a video directly). This is such an important topic, noise pollution is often over-looked. The effects that you describe on whales and dolphins are heart-breaking. But even small fish and some invertebrates can be sensitive to sounds. It would be interesting to see what studies are being done on the effects of noise on these organisms too.


  4. This is a great read! This topic is definitely something many people, including myself don’t think about. I just recently came across this article about the North Atlantic Right Whale that was talking about how noise is driving them to extinction. I tweeted you the link. Also in your comments, I see you said that noise also has an affect on corals, that in so interesting. Great post here addressing the issue of ocean conservation.


  5. I would of never of thought of noise as a form of pollution. I think this is a great topic to bring attention too. It is unbelievable that the whales in mexico brought themselves up to the beach because of the amount of noise that was occurring at the time. Well done!


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