Pile driving during offshore windfarm construction goes along with considerable noise emissions that potentially harm marine mammals in the vicinity and may cause large scale disturbances. Information on the scale of such disturbances is limited. Therefore, assessment and evaluation of the effects of offshore construction on marine mammals is difficult. During summer 2008, 91 monopile foundations were driven into the seabed during construction of the offshore wind farm Horns Rev II in the Danish North Sea. We investigated the spatial and temporal scale of behavioural responses of harbour porpoises Phocoena phocoena to construction noise using passive acoustic monitoring devices (T-PODs) deployed in a gradient sampling design. Porpoise acoustic activity was reduced by 100% during 1 h after pile driving and stayed below normal levels for 24 to 72 h at a distance of 2.6 km from the construction site. This period gradually decreased with increasing distance. A negative effect was detectable out to a mean distance of 17.8 km. At 22 km it was no longer apparent, instead, porpoise activity temporarily increased. Out to a distance of 4.7 km, the recovery time was longer than most pauses between pile driving events. Consequently, porpoise activity and possibly abundance were reduced over the entire 5 mo construction period. The behavioural response of harbour porpoises to pile driving lasted much longer than previously reported. This information should be considered when planning future wind farm construction.
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