Marine renewable developments have raised concerns over impacts of underwater noise on marine species, particularly from pile-driving for wind turbines. Environmental assessments typically use generic sound propagation models, but empirical tests of these models are lacking. In 2006, two 5 MW wind turbines were installed off NE Scotland. The turbines were in deep (>40 m) water, 25 km from the Moray Firth Special Area of Conservation (SAC), potentially affecting a protected population of bottlenose dolphins. We measured pile-driving noise at distances of 0.1 (maximum broadband peak to peak sound level 205 dB re 1 μPa) to 80 km (no longer distinguishable above background noise). These sound levels were related to noise exposure criteria for marine mammals to assess possible effects. For bottlenose dolphins, auditory injury would only have occurred within 100 m of the pile-driving and behavioural disturbance, defined as modifications in behaviour, could have occurred up to 50 km away.
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