International recognition of shipping noise impact on marine life sparks study

March 7, 2018

An Australian study into the impacts of shipping noise on whales will be funded by the National Environmental Science Program. Photo by David Paton, Dept. of Environment and Energy

Research on the measurement of shipping noise and its potential impact on whales and other marine animals has received funding under the Australian Government’s National Environmental Science Program (NESP).

With this funding, Research Fellow at Murdoch University’s Cetacean Research Unit, Dr Joshua Smith will join Dr David Peel from the CSIRO and Dr Christine Erbe from Curtin University, to measure shipping noise around Australia that will help to assess its impact on surrounding marine life.

This work is being undertaken for the NESP Marine Biodiversity Hub, an Australian Government-funded research consortium providing information and understanding to support marine biodiversity management and conservation.

Dr Smith said the effects of shipping noise on marine animals was a globally-recognised threat.

“Many marine animals, such as whales, rely on sound to feed and breed, and human-made noise in the oceans can interfere with their effectiveness to do this,” he said.

“The volume of shipping across the globe has doubled in the past 12 years and there is increasing concern that this noise can impact the life cycles and behaviour of marine animals.”

As part of the two-year study, Dr Smith and his colleagues will conduct a nationwide assessment of shipping noise within the entire Australian Exclusive Economic Zone.

In addition, recordings of individual ships will be undertaken at ports in Sydney, Fremantle and Gladstone to gain accurate sound measurements of the different types of large ships, such as cargo, tanker and passenger vessels that typically transit through Australian waters.

Dr Smith said that this would be the first comprehensive nation-wide assessment of shipping noise in Australia in and around World Heritage areas and Marine Parks, with the aim of gaining a deeper understanding of how much ocean noise in Australian waters is attributed to shipping. This will ultimately allow for an assessment of the impact of this on marine fauna.

“In 2014, the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) adopted guidelines to reduce underwater noise from commercial ships, which recognised that underwater-radiated noise from shipping can have both short and long-term impacts on marine life,” Dr Smith said.

“Our study is in response to these guidelines and will inform discussions about options for effectively managing potential risks associated with shipping noise, including developing a set of national marine noise management standards for Australian shipping zones.”

The project will commence with fieldwork in July on the Great Barrier Reef, a known breeding ground for the federally-protected humpback whale and a shipping route frequently traversed by large commercial vessels.

Media enquiries: Paige Berdal 9360 6742 /


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