In a report released Monday, The Natural Resources Defense Council says noise polluters--from super tankers to research loudspeakers--have created a high decibel water world. "Sound is to ocean creatures as sight is to human beings," says Joe Reynolds, a representative of the NRDC.
The report comes as Congress begins hearings Tuesday on renewing the Marine Mammal Protection Act, and just as the navy is about to release plans for a new noise making sonar system designed to detect submarines.
"Shipping noise is acoustic smog," says bioacoustics expert Christopher Clark, of Cornell University. He adds, however, that the research on how marine animals are affected by noise is not yet conclusive. "Many of the animals don't seem to respond to the noise at all," Clark says. "But we've only just begun this study."
Nevertheless, the Clinton administration is already moving to save one group of whales from harm. The right whales off Cape Cod have a poor sense of hearing and it frequently leads to fatal collisions with ships. Now, by law, the ships must yield to them. The whales have the right of way.
For most sea creatures though, it may be a case of hearing too much. If today's research is proven correct, the next battle over ocean pollution will be the noisy one.