Royal Society Open Science (2017)

DOI: 10.1098/rsos.170286


Acoustic harassment devices (AHD) or ‘seal scarers’ are used extensively, not only to deter seals from fisheries, but also as mitigation tools to deter marine mammals from potentially harmful sound sources, such as offshore pile driving. To test the effectiveness of AHDs, we conducted two studies with similar experimental set-ups on two key species: harbour porpoises and harbour seals. We exposed animals to 500 ms tone bursts at 12 kHz simulating that of an AHD (Lofitech), but with reduced output levels (source peak-to-peak level of 165 dB re 1 µPa). Animals were localized with a theodolite before, during and after sound exposures. In total, 12 sound exposures were conducted to porpoises and 13 exposures to seals. Porpoises were found to exhibit avoidance reactions out to ranges of 525 m from the sound source. Contrary to this, seal observations increased during sound exposure within 100 m of the loudspeaker. We thereby demonstrate that porpoises and seals respond very differently to AHD sounds. This has important implications for application of AHDs in multi-species habitats, as sound levels required to deter less sensitive species (seals) can lead to excessive and unwanted large deterrence ranges on more sensitive species (porpoises).