Predicting the exposure of diving grey seals to shipping noise

Open Access Peer Reviewed Publication 2020

Journal of the Acoustical Society of America

There is high spatial overlap between grey seals and shipping traffic, and the functional hearing range of grey seals indicates sensitivity to underwater noise emitted by ships. However, there is still very little data regarding the exposure of grey seals to shipping noise, constraining effective policy decisions. Particularly, there are few predictions that consider the at-sea movement of seals. Consequently, this study aimed to predict the exposure of adult grey seals and pups to shipping noise along a three-dimensional movement track, and assess the influence of shipping characteristics on sound exposure levels. Using ship location data, a ship source model, and the acoustic propagation model, RAMSurf, this study estimated weighted 24-h sound exposure levels (10–1000Hz) (SELw). Median predicted 24-h SELw was 128 and 142 dB re 1 μPa2s for the pups and adults, respectively. The predicted exposure of seals to shipping noise did not exceed best evidence thresholds for temporary threshold shift. Exposure was mediated by the number of ships, ship source level, the distance between seals and ships, and the at-sea behaviour of the seals. The results can inform regulatory planning related to anthropogenic pressures on seal populations.

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