First Advisor

Debbie Duffield

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Bachelor of Science (B.S.) in Biology and University Honors




Cetacea -- Effect of noise on, Cetacea -- Effect of human beings on, Noise pollution -- Environmental aspects, Underwater acoustics, Cetacea -- Stranding, Marine mammals




Anthropogenic noise has been identified as an environmental pollutant since the early 70s and has since been shown to disrupt biologically significant functions of marine life. Recognizing that the world’s oceans are undergoing unprecedented change in the 21st Century, this study reviews the most current research related to the interactions between cetaceans and anthropogenic noise in their environment. Working with literature published after 2008, this review contextualizes the direct and indirect impacts of the greatest sources of anthropogenic noise: vessel traffic, seismic seafloor exploration, and sonar, and their effect on cetacean biology and ecology. This review found that vessel noise interferes with the communication and acoustic functions of cetaceans, as well as elicits behavioral responses that disrupt foraging activity and may contribute to the displacement of individuals and populations. Interactions between cetaceans and seismic surveys are similar to those described for vessel noise, with additional risks of temporary or permanent hearing loss due the intensity of the sounds produced. Sonar activities have greater impacts on the acoustic functions of toothed whales, impacting their ability to echolocate, and has been implicated in multiple mass strandings. In cases of mass strandings of deep-diving species, such as beaked whales, decompression sickness is implicated as a potential cause of death and recent studies of North Atlantic right whales have shown that increased environmental noise correlates with increased glucocorticoid stress hormone levels, suggesting that anthropogenic noise has a potentially injurious impact on cetacean physiology.


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