The effects of seismic airguns on cetaceans in UK waters

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Carolyn J. Stone
Mark L. Tasker


Observations undertaken during 201 seismic surveys in UK and adjacent waters were analysed to examine effects on cetaceans. Sighting rates, distance from the airguns and orientation were compared for periods when airguns were active and when they were silent, both for surveys with airgun arrays of large volume and surveys with smaller volume arrays. The results demonstrate that cetaceans can be disturbed by seismic exploration. Small odontocetes showed the strongest lateral spatial avoidance (extending at least as far as the limit of visual observation) in response to active airguns, while mysticetes and killer whales showed more localised spatial avoidance. Long-finned pilot whales showed only a change in orientation and sperm whales showed no statistically significant effects. Responses to active airguns were greater during those seismic surveys with large volume airgun arrays than those with smaller volumes of airguns. It is suggested that the different taxonomic groups of cetaceans may adopt different strategies for responding to acoustic disturbance from seismic surveys; some small odontocetes move out of the immediate area, while the slower moving mysticetes orient away from the vessel and increase their distance from the source but do not move away from the area completely.

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