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Humans have made the oceans very noisy

Reuters, February 8, 2021 7:00PM Kids News

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A section of the BP Eastern Trough Area Project oil platform in the North Sea in 2014. Picture: Reuters media_cameraA section of the BP Eastern Trough Area Project oil platform in the North Sea in 2014. Picture: Reuters


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With rumbling ships, hammering oil drills and booming blasts from geological surveys, humans have drastically altered the underwater soundscape.

In some cases human-made noise has deafened or disoriented* whales, dolphins and other marine mammals that rely on sound to navigate, according to a metastudy* of more than 500 research papers, the results of which are published in the journal Science.

Even the cracking of glaciers calving* into polar oceans and the rattle of rain falling on the water’s surface can be heard deep under the sea, said lead author Carlos Duarte, a marine scientist at King Abdullah University of Science and Technology in Saudi Arabia.

“It’s a chronic* problem that certainly weakens the animals all the way from individuals to populations,” Professor Duarte said in an interview. “This is a growing problem, one that is global in scope.”

The Queen Mary 2 (QM2) arrives at Port Everglades in Florida on her maiden voyage 26 Jan 2004, as tug boats shoot water cannons to celebrate her arrival. AFP picRobert/Sullivan cruise liner ship ships shipping media_cameraThe Queen Mary 2 arrives at Port Everglades in Florida, US on her maiden voyage in 2004, as tug boats shoot water cannons to celebrate her arrival. Ocean noise reduced in April 2020 due to pandemic-related lockdowns. Picture: AFP

These noises and their impacts need more attention from scientists and policy makers, particularly the effects on sea turtles and other reptiles, seabirds, seals, walruses and plant-eating mammals such as manatees*, the study says. The international team of researchers called for a global set of regulations for measuring and managing ocean noise.

Much of the human-caused noise should be easy to reduce, Prof Duarte said. For example, measures such as building quieter ship propellers and hulls* and using drilling techniques that do not cause bubbles and water vibrations could cut noise pollution in half, he said. Having the world use more renewable energy would lessen the need to drill for oil and gas.

The benefits to marine life could be dramatic, he said, noting a resurgence* in marine activity during April 2020 when shipping noise, typically loudest near coastlines, died down as countries went into lockdown during the COVID-19 pandemic.

But humans have not only added noise to the ocean, they have also eliminated* natural sounds, the study found.

Whaling in the 1900s, for example, removed millions of whales from the world’s oceans – along with much of their whale song. And the chirp and chatter around coral reefs is growing quieter as more corals die from ocean warming, acidification and pollution.

Climate change has also changed the soundscape in parts of the ocean that are warming by altering the mix of animals living there, along with the noises they make.

Oceanographer* Kate Stafford at the University of Washington Applied Physics Laboratory praised the timing of the metastudy, as the United Nations calls on governments to set aside 30 per cent of the world’s land and sea areas for conservation.

“The review makes it clear that, to actually reduce anthrophony (human noise) and aim for a well-managed future … we will need global co-operation among governments,” she said.


  • disoriented: caused someone or something to lose their sense of direction
  • metastudy: a study that compares the results of many previous studies
  • calving: split and fall off
  • chronic: over a long period of time
  • manatees: sea cow
  • hulls: main bodies of boats
  • resurgence: an increase after a time of little activity
  • eliminated: completely removed
  • oceanographer: scientist studying the ocean and things that live in it


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  1. List three ways humans are making oceans noisy.
  2. Which journal is the research published in?
  3. What impact is noise having on marine mammals?
  4. Why were oceans quieter in April last year?
  5. What does Kate Stafford do?


1. Problem and Solutions
After reading the Kids News article, work with a partner to complete the table below. In the first column, list the problems affecting marine life to do with noise and environmental changes. In the second column list the impacts this is having on marine life and in the third column list some possible solutions.

use a table like this to record your answers media_cameraUse a table like this to record your answers

Time: allow 25 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: Science, Personal and social, Critical and creative thinking.

2. Extension
List some ways humans could restore some of the natural noises of the ocean that have been taken away. What should the Australian government commit to to ensure we do not contribute any more noise than absolutely necessary to marine life?

Time: allow 10 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: Science, Critical and creative thinking

Read with Kung Fu Punctuation
Pair up with the article between you and stand up to make it easy to demonstrate your Kung Fu Punctuation.

Practice reading one sentence at a time. Now read it again, while acting out the punctuation as you read.

Read and act 3 sentences before swapping with your partner.

Have 2 turns each.

Now as a challenge ask your partner to read a sentence out loud while you try and act out the punctuation. Can you keep up?

Swap over?

Try acting out 2 sentences.

Are you laughing yet?

Have fun acting out your punctuation.

HAVE YOUR SAY: What ideas do you have for better protecting oceans?
No one-word answers. Use full sentences to explain your thinking. No comments will be published until approved by editors.

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