Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Categorizing active marine acoustic sources based on their potential to affect marine animals

September 19, 2022

Marine acoustic sources are widely used for geophysical imaging, oceanographic sensing, and communicating with and tracking objects or robotic vehicles in the water column. Under the U.S. Marine Mammal Protection Act and similar regulations in several other countries, the impact of controlled acoustic sources is assessed based on whether the sound levels received by marine mammals meet the criteria for harassment that causes certain behavioral responses. This study describes quantitative factors beyond received sound levels that could be used to assess how marine species are affected by many commonly deployed marine acoustic sources, including airguns, high-resolution geophysical sources (e.g., multibeam echosounders, sidescan sonars, subbottom profilers, boomers, and sparkers), oceanographic instrumentation (e.g., acoustic doppler current profilers, split-beam fisheries sonars), and communication/tracking sources (e.g., acoustic releases and locators, navigational transponders). Using physical criteria about the sources, such as source level, transmission frequency, directionality, beamwidth, and pulse repetition rate, we divide marine acoustic sources into four tiers that could inform regulatory evaluation. Tier 1 refers to high-energy airgun surveys with a total volume larger than 1500 in3 (24.5 L) or arrays with more than 12 airguns, while Tier 2 covers the remaining low/intermediate energy airgun surveys. Tier 4 includes most high-resolution geophysical, oceanographic, and communication/tracking sources, which are considered unlikely to result in incidental take of marine mammals and therefore termed de minimis. Tier 3 covers most non-airgun seismic sources, which either have characteristics that do not meet the de minimis category (e.g., some sparkers) or could not be fully evaluated here (e.g., bubble guns, some boomers). We also consider the simultaneous use of multiple acoustic sources, discuss marine mammal field observations that are consistent with the de minimis designation for some acoustic sources, and suggest how to evaluate acoustic sources that are not explicitly considered here.

Citation Information

Publication Year 2022
Title Categorizing active marine acoustic sources based on their potential to affect marine animals
DOI 10.3390/jmse10091278
Authors Carolyn D. Ruppel, T.S. Weber, Erica Staaterman, Stanley Labak, Patrick E. Hart
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Journal of Marine Science and Engineering
Index ID 70236765
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Pacific Coastal and Marine Science Center, Woods Hole Coastal and Marine Science Center