MMC and NMFS Hold Congressional Briefing on Shipping Noise and Marine Mammals

On September 25, 2014, the U.S. Marine Mammal Commission and the U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service held a “Congressional Briefing– Increasing awareness of ocean sound: Impacts of shipping on marine mammals.” The Briefing was held at the U.S. National Capitol Visitor Center in Washington, D.C. The Senate Commerce Committee hosted the briefing.

The presenters were Jason Gedamke, NMFS; Christopher Clark, Cornell University; Joseph Cox, Chamber of Shipping of America; and Michael Jasny, Natural Resources Defense Council.

Dr. Gedamke gave a brief overview of sound in the oceans. He emphasized that manmade sounds can travel long distances in the oceans. He stated that manmade sound has changed the marine environment, and discussed some of the mapping and other tools NMFS was using to understand the effects of marine sound. He stated that NMFS’ current marine sound strategy included the following components:

1) Integrate science and management actions;

2) Conduct research to fill critical knowledge gaps;

3) Develop tools to support noise assessment planning and mitigation; and

4) Develop public awareness of the issue.

Dr. Clark also emphasized that sound travels very far in the oceans. He stated that activities like shipping noise “impose large scale risks to oceans,” and that the present U.S. regulatory scheme is not based on best available scientific concepts and/or evidence.

Dr. Clark stated that we know how to conceptually translate cumulative noise into ecological cost, but that “it’s not about noise, whales and science. It’s about the U.S.’ social and political will.”

Dr. Clark stated his conclusion that “manmade noise is chronically degrading many marine environments on a daily basis.”

Dr. Clark accompanied these statements with a discussion of current marine sound mapping techniques.

Mr. Cox made the following statements:

1) “We know there’s a problem” with regard to the effects of shipping noise on marine mammals;

2) Shipping is necessary and will inevitably create noise;

3) “Noise solutions must be international solutions”;

4) “85% of ship radiated noise is due to excessive cavitation”;

5) the industry’s need to save fuel drives lower speeds which generate less ship noise; and

6) There is a need for all stakeholders to join together to do “good” rather than waiting for the “perfect” because the “perfect” is unlikely to happen.

Mr. Cox said that past experience with marine sound regulation does not reassure him that the there will be a rational regulatory future for this issue.

Mr. Jasny stated that progress on the marine sound issue depends upon collaboration among the stakeholders.

He discussed data which he claimed showed that shipping noise at Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary makes it impossible for right whales to communicate, and that the noise is coming from far away as well as nearby.

Mr. Jasny spent most of his presentation discussing advances in ship quieting technology.

He recommended that the U.S. Congress take several actions in this area including the following:

1)Tax credits for decreasing shipping noise;

2) Fund research into methods to reduce shipping noise;

3) Commend NMFS and the U.S. Coast Guard for their work on reducing shipping noise; and

4) Require that new builds of non-military U.S. Flag vessels meet low noise standards.

The presenters’ power point presentations will eventually be available at the MMC website:

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