Shut Up: How Noise Pollution Is Affecting 10 Animals

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Defined as man-, animal- or machine-made noise that has a harmful effect on surrounding life, noise pollution or environmental noise from transportation, construction and many other loud and annoying activities is wreaking havoc on natural habitats and environments. From birds in the sky to elephants on land to dolphins in the sea, noise pollution is threatening all types of species and altering the way in which these animals communicate, mate and even protect themselves from larger predators.

No Solace High Above from Noise Pollution

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For many types of bats, owls and birds, noise pollution from planes, machinery and car traffic in urban areas and construction in natural habitats is changing normal ways of life. Environmental noise has been shown to affect the way that bats and owls find and hunt for prey. For example, gleaning bats such as the Bechstein’s bat are less likely to hunt in noisy areas. According to researchers, too much noise pollution could put these animals at risk of extinction by making once fulfilling environments unlivable. While some birds like great tits, waterbirds, birds of prey, corvids and starlings are able to adapt to urban noise by tweeting louder, other birds with lower frequencies are not as adaptable at changing their tunes, which may affect these winged-friends from communicating with and finding each other for mating, and even propel them to fly away to less noisy environments.

Turn Down the Sound on the Ground

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For Zimbabwe elephants, helicopters that fly above their herding grounds can be as frighteningly loud as an elephant stampede. As tourist helicopter rides over Victoria Falls (see top right image) have been ramped up in recent years, environmentalists warn that such increased activity may scare the area’s large concentration of elephants, causing them to run and flee to other areas. If such altered elephant behavior occurs as a result of helicopters, environmentalists worry that the entire ecosystem – meaning thousands of other wild animals and birds – will suffer as well. However, the local government has not seemed too concerned about these possibilities, saying that the tourist shows must go on.

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The Budweiser Frogs Wouldn’t  Put Up With This

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For female grey tree frogs, increasing noise from nearby traffic has been shown to slow their abilities to listen for and locate male frogs that are calling for their services during the mating season. As for European tree frogs, they simply don’t call as much due to increasing noise pollution. Unfortunately, both grey and European tree frogs have struggled to adapt their calls to the growing demands of increased environmental noise, which environmentalists say could lead to less reproduction and declining populations of these frogs.

I Don’t Mean To Be A Crab But Please Be Quiet

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While hermit crabs are equipped with great protection (their shells) from larger predators, they are not as quick to shield themselves when environmental noise is present. According to a recent study, hermit crabs that were distracted by nearby noises from boats were slower to hide in their shells when presented with a simulated predator, in this case a donut that was covered with a black T-shirt and attached to a pole swung near the crabs. Based on the study’s findings, the hermit crabs in quiet areas quickly hid from the potential predator. On the other hand, the hermit crabs in noisy areas appeared distracted by the boat noise and did not retract as quickly, suggesting to researchers how noise can put crabs in a disadvantageous position when predators are near.

Hardly Noise Free under the Sea

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The deep blue sea would seem to offer some peace and quiet for whales, dolphins and porpoises, but this is not the case as noise from sonar, commercial shipping and drilling for oil and gas are causing great harm. In the case of military sonar and seismic testing, it is believed that whales, dolphins and porpoises can become scared by the high-pitch sounds, causing them to surface in water that is beyond their physical limits and beach themselves. Communication among these animals is also affected by underwater noise pollution like sonar, which has caused some dolphins to go temporarily deaf and whales to be separated from their calves. Sadly, it doesn’t appear that the ocean’s noise level is going to be reduced any time soon, that is unless some more stringent sound regulations are passed. With climate change, the oceans are expected to get noisier as molecules that usually absorb sound are changed by the water becoming more acidic. In fact, some experts are predicting that sound absorption in the ocean may decrease by 60 percent and that underwater noise may travel 70 percent further in the future as a result of climate change.

Beetles and Loud Rock Music: Literal Beatle Mania

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Loud noise is detrimental to so many species that scientists are using it to their advantage, in this case for more noble purposes. To combat the effects of ravenous bark beetles that are damaging many types of trees (see top right image), researchers recently conducted an experiment in which loud rock music from Metallica, Guns & Roses and Queen and backward recordings of Rush Limbaugh were blasted near trees infested with these beetles. According to the study’s findings, the loud noise severely bothered the beetles to the point where it disrupted their tunneling, feeding and reproduction habits. In some cases, the loud recordings caused the beetles to kill each other, thus possibly providing a new way to handle these pests and save infested trees. Of course, this experiment was performed in a controlled laboratory setting and does not take into account how the music would affect birds and other species that live in the trees. Judging by the response of most animals to noise pollution, such music would likely be problematic for these other animals despite eradicating one major problem: annoying bark beetles.

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