Marine Mammal Noise Special Issue: Exposure Criteria: Initial Scientific Recommendations

Editor’s Note: This is a special issue dedicated to the topic of Exposure Criteria to Noise for Marine Mammals

Overview Summary: A group of experts in acoustic research from behavioral, physiological, and physical disciplines was convened over a several year period. The purpose of this panel was to review the expanding literature on marine mammal hearing and on physiological and behavioral responses to anthropogenic sound, and to propose exposure criteria for certain effects. The group employed all available relevant data to predict noise exposure levels above which adverse effects on various groups of marine mammals are expected. Recent advances in these fields and the pressing need for a science-based paradigm to assess the effects of sound exposure were the primary motivations for this effort. Two categories of effects were considered: (1) injury and (2) behavioral disturbance. The proposed criteria for the onset of these effects were further segregated according to the functional hearing capabilities of different marine mammal groups, and according to the different categories and metrics of typical anthropogenic sounds in the ocean. The group achieved many of its objectives but acknowledges certain limitations in the proposed criteria because of scarcity or complete absence of information about some key topics. A major component of these recommendations is a call for specific research on critical topics to reduce uncertainty and improve future exposure criteria for marine mammals. This publication marks the culmination of a long and challenging initial effort, but it also initiates a necessary, iterative process to apply and refine noise exposure criteria for different species of marine mammals. The process of establishing policy guidelines or regulations for anthropogenic sound exposure (i.e., the application of these exposure criteria) will vary among nations, jurisdictions, and legal/policy settings. Such processes should carefully consider the limitations and caveats given with these proposed criteria in deciding whether sufficient data currently exist to establish simplistic, broad criteria based solely on exposure levels. In many cases, especially for behavioral disturbance, context specific analyses considering previous studies on species and conditions similar to those in question might, at least for the foreseeable future, be more appropriate than general guidelines.

Document Type: Special Issue – research article

DOI: 10.1578/AM.33.4.2007.411

Page Numbers: 411 – 522

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