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Underwater noise pollution makes fish easier prey

Researchers say the threat of noise pollution can be more easily curtailed than other types of pollution.
By Brooks Hays   |   Feb. 8, 2016 at 3:10 PM

EXETER, England, Feb. 8 (UPI) -- Usually, when marine biologists talk about noise pollution as it relates to fish and sea mammals, they're talking about its effects on the ability of whales and dolphins to communicate, but new research suggests underwater noise pollution can negatively affect much smaller species.

Combining field observations and lab experiments, researchers in England and Australia were able to measure the effects of motorboat noise on Ambon damselfish, a coral reef fish.

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Juvenile damselfish became stressed during instances of noise pollution and were less able to flee dusky dottybacks, their natural predator.

"We found that when real boats were motoring near to young damselfish 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," Stephen Simpson, a senior lecturer at the University of Exeter, said in a news release.

Researchers observed the behavior of damselfish during real boat noise, and also used playback sound clips in the lab.

"The combination of stress and poor responses to strikes by predators is why these fish became such easy prey," added Andy Radford, a researcher at the University of Bristol.

Researchers shared their findings in the journal Nature Communication.

Though the study's conclusions aren't exactly positive, the researchers say the threat of noise pollution can be more easily curtailed than other types of pollution.

"We can choose when and where we make it, and with new technologies, we can make less noise," Simpson said. "For example, we could create marine quiet zones or buffer zones, and avoid known sensitive areas or times of year when juveniles are abundant."

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