Harbour porpoise responses to pile-driving diminish over time

Open Access Peer Reviewed Publication 2019

Royal Society Open Science

Estimating impacts of offshore windfarm construction on marine mammals requires data on displacement in relation to different noise levels and sources. Using echolocation detectors and noise recorders, we investigated harbour porpoise behavioural responses to piling noise during the 10-month foundation installation of a North Sea windfarm. Current UK guidance assumes total displacement within 26 km of pile driving. By contrast, we recorded a 50% probability of response within 7.4 km (95% CI = 5.7–9.4) at the first location piled, decreasing to 1.3 km (95% CI = 0.2–2.8) by the final location; representing 28% (95% CI = 21–35) and 18% (95% CI = 13–23) displacement of individuals within 26 km. Distance proved as good a predictor of responses as audiogram-weighted received levels, presenting a more practicable variable for environmental assessments. Critically, acoustic deterrent device (ADD) use and vessel activity increased response levels. Policy and management to minimize impacts of renewables on cetaceans have concentrated on pile-driving noise. Our results highlight the need to consider trade-offs between efforts to reduce far-field behavioural disturbance and near-field injury through ADD use.

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