‘Sonic Sea’ Reveals What Ocean Noise Pollution Is Doing To Whales Around The Planet

The world is buzzing with the sounds of Earth’s creatures as they are living, interacting, and communicating with one another. The sounds of life even reverberate in the darkest depths of the oceans, where whales and other beloved marine life such as dolphins, depend on sound in order to mate, find food, migrate, raise their young, and defend against predators.

According to The Futon Critic, over the last century the loud and industrialized noises emanating from commercial ships, oil and gas explorations, naval sonar exercises, and other sources has transformed the ocean’s sensitive acoustic habitat into a sonic sea of noise pollution. Sonic Sea will examine how this detrimental change has impacted the ability of whales and other marine life to multiply and to thrive.

Sonic Sea was created in partnership with the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), Imaginary Forces, and International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW). Broadway World shared that Sonic Sea will travel beneath the ocean’s surface to discover what exactly are the consequences of increased ocean noise pollution. Sonic Sea takes a look at how noise from a wide range of man-made sources has affected the whales, including mass stranding of whales around the entire planet.

“There’s different ways that sounds can affect animals,” explains IFAW Animal Rescue Program Director Katie Moore. “There’s that underlying ambient noise level that’s rising, and rising, and rising that interferes with communication and their movement patterns. And then there’s the more acute kind of traumatic impact of sound, that’s causing physical damage or a really strong behavioral response. It’s fight or flight.”

“March 15, 2000: The day of infamy as far as I’m concerned,” explains Kenneth C. Balcomb, a whale researcher and a former U.S. Navy officer who was living in the Bahamas. Balcomb tells Sonic Sea about the day he and his team discovered whales swimming too close to the shore. As the day progressed, more and more whales were discovered off the coast, and eventually, various groups of whales ended up beached. According to a joint report published through the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, necropsies of the dead animals revealed that they had experienced some sort of acoustic or impulse trauma that led to their stranding and subsequent deaths.

Sonic Sea takes a look at the events in the Bahamas and others around the globe, where researchers have worked to study the direct effect the noise pollution has on wildlife living in the ocean, and they have come to some shocking conclusions. For example, Sonic Sea examines one study conducted off of the coast of Boston, which revealed that North Right Whales have lost up to 80 percent of their ability to hear the songs of their friends and mates. Sonic Sea reveals that in stark contrast whales that live in the Southern Hemisphere, aptly named Southern Right Whales (where there is a fraction of the shipping traffic compared to an area like Boston), continue to have a robust and healthy population.

“There may be 450 of them left in the entire ocean,” explains Christopher W. Clark, Ph.D, Senior Scientist at the Bioacoustics Research Program, Cornell Lab of Ornithology. “That species is fighting for its life right now.”

Sonic Sea will examine what can be done to halt the man-made problem that is threatening to destroy many of the ocean’s most sound-sensitive creatures. Better ship designs, specific speed limits for large ships, quieter ways to conduct underwater resource exploration, and exclusion zones for sonar training can all be effective techniques used to reduce ocean noise in the sonic sea. Perhaps these types of changes in the sonic sea will help to stop the mounting deaths of the ocean’s whales and other marine animals.

Sonic Sea is narrated by Academy® Award-nominated actress Rachel McAdams and will feature several interviews with marine ecologists, ocean life experts, and wildlife activists such as the Grammy Award-winning musician, human rights and environmental activist, Sting.

Sonic Sea premieres as a part of Discovery Impact, which is a series of groundbreaking documentaries focusing on mankind’s impact on the environment. These series also take a look at what individuals, and society as a whole, can do to rectify some of the toughest problems currently facing the planet. Upcoming Discovery Impact Documentaries include Toucan Nation (July 30) and Killing the Colorado (August 6).

Will you be watching this special? Leave your comments, thoughts, and opinions below. Sonic Sea premieres on Thursday, May 19 at 9 p.m. ET on the Discovery Channel.

[Image via Discovery/Facebook]