Environmental Pollution (2018)

DOI: 10.1016/j.envpol.2017.10.001


The continuing rise in underwater sound levels in the oceans leads to disturbance of marine life. It is thought that one of the main impacts of sound exposure is the alteration of foraging behaviour of marine species, for example by deterring animals from a prey location, or by distracting them while they are trying to catch prey. So far, only limited knowledge is available on both mechanisms in the same species. The harbour porpoise (Phocoena phocoena) is a relatively small marine mammal that could quickly suffer fitness consequences from a reduction of foraging success. To investigate effects of anthropogenic sound on their foraging efficiency, we tested whether experimentally elevated sound levels would deter two captive harbour porpoises from a noisy pool into a quiet pool (Experiment 1) and reduce their prey-search performance, measured as prey-search time in the noisy pool (Experiment 2). Furthermore, we tested the influence of the temporal structure and amplitude of the sound on the avoidance response of both animals. Both individuals avoided the pool with elevated sound levels, but they did not show a change in search time for prey when trying to find a fish hidden in one of three cages. The combination of temporal structure and SPL caused variable patterns. When the sound was intermittent, increased SPL caused increased avoidance times. When the sound was continuous, avoidance was equal for all SPLs above a threshold of 100 dB re 1 μPa. Hence, we found no evidence for an effect of sound exposure on search efficiency, but sounds of different temporal patterns did cause spatial avoidance with distinct dose-response patterns.