Sound Monitoring Frequently Asked Questions

Underwater soundscapes include sounds made by marine animals and physical processes, like wind and waves, as well as sounds produced by human activities. This research will record underwater sound using temporary bottom-mounted sensors and will also collaborate with other researchers to make use of existing recordings in these areas.
Underwater listening technologies can be different, and the data we derive from those recordings need to use the same baseline. As managers of a national system of marine protected areas, we need standardized methods to be able to characterize sound conditions accurately and compare them over time at different locations within a single site, and across sites. These comparisons will be made in single locations four years of monitoring, among different locations within a single sanctuary, and among locations in different sanctuaries.
The settlement specifies that this topic will be co-managed by NOAA and the Navy. Co-leads are staff from NOAA's Office of National Marine Sanctuaries and the Chief of Naval Operations, Energy & Environmental Readiness Division (N45), with additional administration through the Navy's Living Marine Resources Program.
NOAA and the Navy began discussing agency priorities for implementing this program in January 2017. NOAA's Office of National Marine Sanctuaries worked with the Navy in both the Atlantic and Pacific to identify sites where sound conditions and acoustically sensitive species were of site interest, where noise had potential impacts, and where Navy has undertaken environmental compliance activities. This process identified eight sites, divided into three regions: the East Coast region (Stellwagen Bank, Gray's Reef, and Florida Keys national marine sanctuaries), the West Coast region (Olympic Coast, Monterey Bay, and Channel Islands national marine sanctuaries) and the Pacific region (Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary and Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument).
To inform the development of this program, the agencies sponsored an expert workshop in May 2018 to discuss and compare analytical approaches and support dialog among colleagues working internationally. The meeting sought to match existing or in-development soundscape description and interpretation methods with the highest priority information needs that were identified by NOAA and the Navy for the sanctuary research program. The report from this workshop is available on the program’s website.
Under this program, NOAA's Office of National Marine Sanctuaries and the Naval Postgraduate School will be responsible for conducting research with a variety of funded partners.
Regional teams deployed the first sensors in October to December 2018 and March 2019 within the eight participating protected areas. The majority of deployments use NOAA small boats. Data collection or analysis is expected to continue through 2022.
Sound is critical for the survival for many marine animals because it is a primary means of communication, orientation and navigation, finding food, avoiding predators, and mate selection. As such, human activities that produce sound underwater have the potential to negatively impact animals by reducing their ability to hear prey, predators, and each other. In other cases, loud sounds can cause physical injury or behavioral reactions.
No. This is a research program that is designed to improve the baseline information that both NOAA and the Navy have for understanding underwater soundscapes within sanctuaries more holistically. Such information is important for contextualizing both how much sound is introduced by specific sources within sanctuary soundscapes and the potential for each type of source to impact specific marine taxa and their habitats.
The National Marine Sanctuary System's underwater sound research effort is a result of a 2016 settlement agreement over the use of the U.S. Navy's low frequency active surveillance sonar system, and NOAA Fisheries' associated authorization of "takes" of marine mammals (National Resources Defense Council, et al., v. Pritzker, et al., 828 F.3d 1125, 9th Cir. 2016). Under the settlement agreement, the Navy agreed to spend $7.5 million over three years to support the project.