Comparing the Underwater Soundscapes of Four U.S. National Parks and Marine Sanctuaries

Open Access Article 2019

Frontiers in Marine Science

Passive acoustic sensors provide a cost-effective tool for monitoring marine environments. Documenting acoustic conditions among habitats can provide insights into temporal changes in ecosystem composition and anthropogenic impacts. Agencies tasked with safeguarding marine protected areas, such as the U.S. National Park Service and U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries, are increasingly interested in using long-term monitoring of underwater sounds as a means of tracking species diversity and ecosystem health. In this study, low-frequency passive acoustic recordings were collected fall 2014 – spring 2018, using standardized instrumentation, from four marine protected areas across geographically disparate regions of the U.S. Economic Exclusive Zone. In addition to comparing ambient sound levels, a species common to all four sites, the humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae), was used to compare biological sound detection. Ambient sound levels varied across the sites and were driven by differences in animal vocalization rates, anthropogenic activity, and weather. The results highlight the variability of ambient sound conditions in marine protected areas in U.S. waters, and the utility of long-term soundscape monitoring for condition assessment in support of resource management.

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