NOAA Maps Underwater Noises to Protect Whales

A federal agency is in the first phase of a project to curb human-caused undersea noises that experts worry could be affecting ocean mammals. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's project is looking to document noises across the globe to generate one of the first large-scale sound maps. The sea spans more than 70 percent of the Earth's surface, making the project a major undertaking. So far, dozens of the ocean visualizations have been made public. The maps use bright colors to depict the annual average noise that permeates through the waters in particular areas. 


Scientists said the sonar blasts from military exercises, the air gun booms from energy exploration and noises from commercial fleets could be of particular concern to marine mammals, like whales. Whales, they said, depend on their hearing in order to find food or others of the species. Through the Endangered Species Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act, the federal government has some standing to regulate underwater sounds — though exemptions exist for the military.