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Underwater noise and Arctic marine mammals: review and policy recommendations

Publication: Environmental Reviews
11 June 2020


Underwater noise is an important issue globally. Underwater noise can cause auditory masking, behavioural disturbance, hearing damage, and even death for marine animals. While underwater noise levels have been increasing in nonpolar regions, noise levels are thought to be much lower in the Arctic where the presence of sea ice limits anthropogenic activities. However, climate change is causing sea ice to decrease, which is allowing for increased access for noisy anthropogenic activities. Underwater noise may have more severe impacts in the Arctic compared with nonpolar regions due to a combination of lower ambient sound levels and increased sensitivity of Arctic marine animals to underwater noise. Here, we review ambient sound levels in the Arctic, as well as the reactions of Arctic and sub-Arctic marine mammals to underwater noise. We then relate what is known about underwater noise in the Arctic to policies and management solutions for underwater noise and discuss whether Arctic-specific policies are necessary.


Le bruit sous-marin constitue un problème important à l’échelle mondiale. Le bruit sous-marin peut provoquer un masquage auditif, des troubles de comportement, des lésions auditives et même la mort des animaux marins. Alors que les niveaux de bruit sous-marin ont augmenté dans les régions non polaires, on croit que les niveaux de bruit sont beaucoup plus faibles dans l’Arctique où la présence de glace de mer limite les activités anthropiques. Toutefois, les changements climatiques entrainent une diminution de la glace de mer ce qui permet un accès accru à des activités anthropiques bruyantes. Les bruits sous-marins peuvent avoir des répercussions plus graves dans l’Arctique comparativement aux régions non polaires en raison de la combinaison des niveaux sonores ambiants plus faibles et la sensibilité accrue des animaux marins de l’Arctique aux bruits sous-marins. Les auteurs passent ici en revue les niveaux sonores ambiants dans l’Arctique, ainsi que les réactions des mammifères marins arctiques et subarctiques aux bruits sous-marins. Ils établissent ensuite un lien entre ce qui est connu des bruits sous-marins dans l’Arctique et les politiques et les solutions de gestion du bruit sous-marin, et ils discutent s’il est nécessaire d’établir des politiques spécifiques à l’Arctique.

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Published In

cover image Environmental Reviews
Environmental Reviews
Volume 28Number 4December 2020
Pages: 438 - 448


Received: 22 May 2019
Accepted: 28 May 2020
Accepted manuscript online: 11 June 2020
Version of record online: 11 June 2020


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Key Words

  1. acoustic
  2. cetacean
  3. disturbance
  4. marine
  5. pinniped
  6. threshold


  1. acoustique
  2. cétacé
  3. perturbation
  4. marin
  5. pinnipède
  6. seuil



William D. Halliday [email protected]
Wildlife Conservation Society Canada, 169 Titanium Way, Whitehorse, YT Y1A 0E9, Canada. Department of Biology, University of Victoria, 3800 Finnerty Rd., Victoria, BC V8P 5C2, Canada.
Matthew K. Pine
Wildlife Conservation Society Canada, 169 Titanium Way, Whitehorse, YT Y1A 0E9, Canada. Department of Biology, University of Victoria, 3800 Finnerty Rd., Victoria, BC V8P 5C2, Canada.
Stephen J. Insley
Wildlife Conservation Society Canada, 169 Titanium Way, Whitehorse, YT Y1A 0E9, Canada. Department of Biology, University of Victoria, 3800 Finnerty Rd., Victoria, BC V8P 5C2, Canada.


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