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A new framework assesses the impact of underwater noise on marine mammals

18.09.2015 16:14

Recently appointed Branco Weiss fellow Stephanie King led a study which created a new computer modelling tool for assessing the consequences of human-induced noise disturbance, such as offshore windfarm development, on animal populations and particularly marine mammals. The tool called the interim Population Consequences of Disturbance (PCOD) framework helps to assess impacts when empirical evidence is sparse.

Changes in natural patterns of animal behaviour and health resulting from individuals being disturbed may alter the conservation status of a population if the activity affects the ability of individuals to survive, breed or grow. Possible consequences of exposure to underwater noise include disturbance that could cause marine mammals to either move away or change their behaviour, e.g. stop feeding, or suffer temporary hearing damage or permanent physical injury. However, information required to forecast population-level consequences of such changes is often lacking.

The PCOD framework uses expert elicitation and stochastic population models to assess what the longer term and larger scale consequences of these impacts on individual animals are for the population as a whole. One important application for the PCOD framework is in the marine industry. Many industries use practices that involve the generation of underwater noise. These include shipping, oil and gas exploration, defence activities and port, harbour and renewable energy construction.

Paper published in Methods in Ecology and Evolution

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