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Underwater Noise

September 18, 2006

Noise pollution is a problem in seas as well as cities.


Racket in the Pacific. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

[Sound of ship, heard underwater]

This is how a ship sounds—to a whale. It’s loud, and scientists think it might interfere with how sea mammals communicate and find food. Now a team has discovered that ambient underwater noise has increased ten times since the 1960s—at least in the Pacific. But it’s not just that the number of ships has gone up. John Hildebrand of Scripps Oceanography says traffic has only doubled since that time.

JOHN HILDEBRAND (Scripps Oceanography):
So a very significant part of the increase comes from the fact that the ships themselves must be generating more noise—the ships are bigger, they travel faster, they have greater total tonnage.

He adds that they discovered the problem using declassified Navy data from the 60s, and the solution may also lie with Navy—in their technology for making ships stealthy. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.