60-Second Earth

Air Gun Blasts Shatter Undersea Tranquility

Proposals to open the U.S. east coast for oil and gas exploration mean an increasingly noisy neighborhood for marine life. David Biello reports

[audio clip] That's the sound of air gun testing for the presence of oil and gas under the seabed. “Air gun” is a euphemism for a massive release of compressed air. Don’t like it? Neither does underwater life.

Such testing also isn't a one-off burst of 250-decibel sound louder than a jet engine. For days or even weeks at a time, these guns send a volley of ear-shattering sound through the ocean to impact the seafloor every ten seconds or so. That's nearly 9,000 such bursts per day.

Our mammal cousins, whales and dolphins particularly loathe air guns. Perhaps that's because hundreds of thousands of the animals can be injured by them each year.

As you can imagine, in addition to injuring whales and dolphins through hearing loss, it also puts them off their food and has even been linked to strandings. And it's not just sea mammals. Turtles, fish and other marine creatures are similarly affected as the sound travels for thousands of kilometers.

And this is all before any drilling takes place. If fossil fuel exploration is opened up along the U.S. east coast, an already noisy neighborhood from ship traffic will get a lot louder.

—David Biello

[The above text is a transcript of this podcast.]

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