Sound pollution is a far less visible threat that harms and kills life in our seas.

Sound pollution comes from human activity such as energy exploration, commercial shipping and recreational boating. These disruptions can travel over long distances, and with greater activity being introduced in coastal, offshore and deep ocean settings, the rates of underwater pollution are on the rise.

So how does noise pollution end up harming marine inhabitants, especially cetaceans like dolphins and whales? These species rely heavily on hearing when navigating through the sea. They also use sounds to communicate with each other, to find food, appropriate sexual partners and their own offspring, and to avoid predators and threats. By introducing noise, humans are confusing them and endangering entire sea and ocean ecosystems.

The Mediterranean is a global hotspot for human acti­vity. The accompanying image by OceanCare shows how the sea is dominated by human, noise-producing activities, often overlapping with important cetacean habitats.

Take oil and gas exploration, which uses airguns that produce loud impulses of up to 260 decibels (an aeroplane taking off is only 140!) every few seconds for weeks and even months in 27 per cent of the Mediterranean’s surface (in 2013). Or consider the 1,500 commercial vessels (excluding fishing and leisure vessels) constantly in these seas. All this activity stresses out marine life. Noise does kill.

Manuel Castellote, a scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and co-author of the report entitled ‘Overview of the Noise Hotspots in the ACCOBAMS Area, Part I – Mediterranean Sea’, argues that this is only “the tip of the iceberg” as many European states are not willing to share information regarding their activity in the Mediterranean.

Underwater noise pollution is a big problem, but we still do not know how big it is.

Not enough research has happened to explore what cannot be heard by the human ear. Even though sound is so vital for marine species to survive and thrive, tampering with it can create irreversible consequences.

Did you know?

• Famous microbiologist Alexander Flemming gave a neighbour a piece of the original fungal colony used to produce penicillin as a thank you for scaring off a burglar.

• The world’s largest honey bees are found in the Himalayas, produces hallucinogenic honey. But you are only allowed to collect it if you have had a specific dream, says locals.

• When Walmart opened up stores in Germany, they changed company policy stating that all clerks need to smile at customers because Germans found it too weird. 

• Researchers have discovered that it is easier to speak Dutch if you are drunk.

For more trivia see: www.um.edu.mt/think

Sound bites

• The Science in the City festival has already started attracting hundreds of participants online and thousands of views on its events. The live virtual festival takes place between Friday and Sunday with over 30 activities ranging from plays on the loss of water in Malta to puppet shows, and from cocktail mixology to the life of a shark.

Free Festival Bookings: bit.ly/SITCFREEBOOK

• Malta’s first online escape room sold out within days. The Malta team partnered with BiOrbic in Ireland to open up even more slots for people in Malta to take part. The escape room lets participants control a real person and try to help them solve the puzzles to leave the room… or else!

bit.ly/IRISHESCAPE

For more science news, listen to Radio Mocha on Radju Malta and www.fb.com/RadioMochaMalta/

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