Cetacean stock assessments in relation to exploration and production industry activity and other human pressures: Review and data needs

Open Access Peer Reviewed Publication 2011

Aquatic Mammals

The impacts of manmade underwater sound on cetaceans have become an important environmental issue. A number of studies have documented effects on individuals such as behavioural response; masking of biologically relevant signals; and hearing loss, either temporary or permanent (reviews by Richardson et al., 1995; Southall et al., 2007). Little is known, however, about the population-level consequences of acoustic impacts. Methodologies addressing this issue, such as risk-based and cumulative impact assessments, are still in their infancy (e.g., National Research Council [NRC], 2005; Boyd et al., 2008; Wright, 2009). There is also limited information on levels of human activities generating sound and uncertainties in cetacean stock assessments that hamper quantitative investigations. Yet, sound generating industries are active in many parts of the world’s oceans and, therefore, qualitative assessments could provide a first step in managing potential conflicts between industry sectors generating sound and cetacean conservation. The Exploration and Production industry (E&P industry) generates underwater sound potentially affecting individual cetaceans, with most concerns expressed about the effects of seismic surveys (review by OSPAR, 2009). However, the relationship between E&P industry activities and trends in cetacean stocks has rarely been investigated. We provide a global overview of E&P industries and cetacean stock data in order to identify hot spots for more detailed investigations. Thus, in four case studies, we quantified the E&P industry activity in a specific region, investigated the status and trends of seven cetacean stocks therein, and assessed other factors presumably influencing the populations in question.

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