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Increasing ship noise is one of the factors contributing to man-made noise pollution in the sea.
Photo: Chris Johnson

September 15, 2004
"Sound in the Sea - a New Series on Ocean Acoustics"

Concerns about the effects on whales of loud, man-made sounds in the ocean is much in the news these days and seems likely to be there for months to come. The argument comes down to whether there is a way in which the needs of Americans can be balanced with the needs of whales and other ocean creatures. And if such a way can be found whether the Precautionary Principal has a place in determining government policy. Although Ocean Alliance is not ready to throw its hat into either ring, it is becoming increasingly clear that there is a surprising degree of misunderstanding in both camps regarding the science that underlies this argument-ocean acoustics.

It is not our view that either side need apologize for its confusion-ocean acoustics is a Jules Verne world in which many phenomena are counter intuitive, and in which there are often confrontations between experts before both sides clearly understand what the other was claiming and can finally agree. However, we do feel that everyone involved in this debate should make the effort to improve their understanding of ocean acoustics, because the final outcome will deeply impact both national security and marine life.

Having carried out work in ocean acoustics since our founding, I feel that Ocean Alliance is in a good position to help clarify some of the issues, and to do so in laymen's terms (something that is necessary if we are to help people who are uncomfortable with mathematical equations). We plan therefore to publish a series of occasional articles on ocean acoustics under the title Sound in the Sea. We hope they will help those of you interested in this debate to understand some of the areas of ocean acoustics that some individuals on both sides of the argument either misunderstand or misstate. In an attempt to make these articles as useful as possible, we will subject them to rigorous peer review by specialists in the field, before posting them on our website. We will choose as reviewers scientists whose expertise is beyond reproach and whom we feel are most likely to disagree most strongly with the points we make.

I will write several of the articles as will bio-acoustician Dr. Peter Teglberg Madsen (whose contributions from aboard the Odyssey will be familiar to many of you). The series will start in a few days, and my hope is that it will contribute to getting all of us on the same page, because once we are working with a better understanding of the science behind the arguments, we can focus our full attentions on trying to resolve whatever real differences we may have regarding the effects on marine life of loud sounds in the sea.

Roger Payne

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2004 Written by Roger Payne

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