Monitoring ship noise to assess the impact of coastal developments on marine mammals

Nathan D. Merchant, Enrico Pirotta, Tim R. Barton, Paul M. Thompson

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The potential impacts of underwater noise on marine mammals are widely recognised, but uncertainty over variability in baseline noise levels often constrains efforts to manage these impacts. This paper characterises natural and anthropogenic contributors to underwater noise at two sites in the Moray Firth Special Area of Conservation, an important marine mammal habitat that may be exposed to increased shipping activity from proposed offshore energy developments. We aimed to establish a pre-development baseline, and to develop ship noise monitoring methods using Automatic Identification System (AIS) and time-lapse video to record trends in noise levels and shipping activity. Our results detail the noise levels currently experienced by a locally protected bottlenose dolphin population, explore the relationship between broadband sound exposure levels and the indicators proposed in response to the EU Marine Strategy Framework Directive, and provide a ship noise assessment toolkit which can be applied in other coastal marine environments.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)85-95
JournalMarine Pollution Bulletin
Issue number1-2
Early online date23 Nov 2013
Publication statusPublished - 15 Jan 2014


  • AIS data
  • acoustic disturbance
  • marine mammals
  • ship noise
  • renewable energy
  • time-lapse


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