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Article << Previous     |     Next >>   Contents Vol 33(4)

An assessment of the audibility of sound from human transport by breeding Weddell seals (Leptonychotes weddellii)

Tamara D. van Polanen Petel A D, John M. Terhune B, Mark A. Hindell A, Melissa A. Giese C

A School of Zoology, University of Tasmania, PO Box 252-05, Tas. 7001, Australia.
B Centre for Coastal Studies and Aquaculture, University of New Brunswick, PO Box 5050, Saint John, New Brunswick, E2L 4L5, Canada.
C Human Impacts Research Program, Australian Antarctic Division, Channel Highway, Tas. 7050, Australia.
D Corresponding author. Email: tdvan@postoffice.utas.edu.au
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Anthropogenic noise generated through travel in the Antarctic has the potential to affect the region’s wildlife. Weddell seals (Leptonychotes weddellii) in particular can be exposed to anthropogenic noise because they live under, and breed on, the fast ice on which humans travel. To investigate the potential effects of anthropogenic noise on Weddell seals we developed sound profiles for pedestrian travel, over-snow vehicles, aircraft and watercraft operating at various distances and altitudes from breeding seals. The received 1/3-octave noise levels were then related to an assumed detection threshold for the Weddell seal. We found that most noise levels generated by the pedestrian, quad (4-wheeled, all-terrain vehicle) and Hagglunds (tracked, all-terrain vehicle) were commonly categorised in the inaudible and barely audible range of detection (both in-air and underwater), while noise levels generated by the helicopter, Twin Otter aircraft and Zodiac boat were categorised more commonly in the barely audible and clearly audible range. Experimental underwater recordings of vocal behaviour of Weddell seals exposed to continuous low-amplitude over-snow vehicle noise (i.e. Hagglund operation) were also made. Weddell seals underwater did not alter individual call types in response to low-level Hagglunds noise, but they did decrease their calling rate.

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