Noise Pollution in the Ocean May be Giving Predators an Edge Against Prey

First Posted: Feb 08, 2016 09:12 AM EST

It turns out that predators may have the advantage when motor boat noise is involved. Scientists have found that the rate that fish are captured can double when boats are motoring nearby.

In this latest study, the researchers combined laboratory and field experiments, using playbacks and real boat noise in order to test the impact of motorboat noise on survival of young Ambon damselfish during encounters with their natural predator of the dusky dottyback.

"We found that when real boats were motoring near to young damelfish in open water, they became stressed and were six times less likely to startle to simulated predator attacks compared to fish tested without boats nearby," said Stephen Simpson, one of the researchers, in a news release. "The combination of stress and poor responses to strikes by predators is why these fish became such easy prey."

While it does show that predators have more luck when underwater noise is involved, it also shows that prey species may be depleted more quickly. This, in turn, could have a chain reaction along the food chain. However, researchers are optimistic about the future.

"If you go to the Great Barrier Reef, there is a lot of noise from motorboats in some places," said Simpson. "But unlike many pollutants we can more easily control noise. We can choose when and where we make it, and with new technologies, we can make less noise. For example, we could create marine quiet zones or buffer zones, and avoid known sensitive areas or times of year when juveniles are abundant."

The findings are published in the journal Nature Communications.

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