Facilitating assessments of the impact that human actions have on the ocean environment, particularly impacts to marine mammals resulting from exposure to ocean noise.

The Environmental Stewardship Program develops and facilitates Environmental Assessments, Environmental Impact Statements, requests for Letters of Authorization, and other technical documents required by agencies for activities that may impact the ocean environment and associated protected species. As part of the process, this program strives to create sustainable solutions, maximize environmental benefits, and develop plans to mitigate environmental impacts. The program ensures that projects comply with federal, state, local, and tribal regulations, such as the National Environmental Policy Act, Endangered Species Act, and Marine Mammal Protection Act.

Sound and the Marine Environment

Light transmits poorly through water but sound travels efficiently and across great distances. Most marine mammals are adapted for hearing sound underwater, and hearing is the primary sense of many species. Marine mammals use sound to forage, communicate, socialize, navigate, and evade predators.
The introduction of sound by humans into the ocean occurs for many reasons, including seismic and oil exploration, sonar activities, underwater pile driving, scientific research, and underwater demolition and construction. This anthropogenic, or human-made, noise can impact marine mammals in several ways. If sufficiently loud, it can cause temporary or permanent hearing loss. Noise can interfere with the detection and discrimination of other biologically important sounds, such as mating calls. Ocean noise may cause animals to change their vocal behavior in order to reduce the overlap between frequency of their own calls and that of interfering sound. Noise can disrupt behavior, such as foraging and mating, and has the potential to elevate stress levels in noise-exposed animals. These, and additional factors, must be accounted for when assessing the potential impact of anthropogenic sound on marine mammals.
NMMF’s Environmental Stewardship Program assesses the impacts anthropogenic noise and other human-related activities can have on marine life, including marine mammals, fish, sea turtles, birds, and invertebrates.

Current Efforts

The Environmental Stewardship Program is working with the U.S. Navy to assess potential noise impacts from its training exercises in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. Additionally, the program is working to assess the potential impact of noise-producing military activities on the endangered Cook Inlet Beluga whale, its habitat, and its prey.

Environmental Stewardship Team

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