Ocean scientists around the world are studying the “unique moment” of quiet created by the pandemic.
The researchers have called their vast listening experiment: The year of the quiet ocean.
“Lockdown slowed global shipping on a scale that would otherwise be impossible,” explained Prof Peter Tyack from the University of St Andrews.
The scientists plan to listen to the ocean soundscape before, during and after lockdown.
They have identified 200 ocean hydrophones – underwater microphones that are already in place around the global ocean. “So the idea is to use those to measure the changes in noise and how they affect marine life – like calling whales or fish choruses,” Prof Tyack said.
“Just like people and cities may have noticed that, with much less traffic noise and human activity, you hear more birdsong or maybe see more wildlife in your own environment, we need ways to monitor that in the ocean.”
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The aim is not only to measure how the pandemic briefly changed the ocean soundscape, but to take the opportunity to find out how decades of increasing ocean noise has affected marine life. Combined with other methods such as animal tagging, researchers hope this will reveal the extent to which noise in “the Anthropocene seas” affects life in the deep.
“We’ve had such a big impact on the world’s oceans – with pollution and climate change – but the thing about noise is that it’s relatively easy to turn down the volume,” said Prof Tyack.