A Sanctuary Soundscape: Understanding and Managing Underwater Noise in the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary

Leila Hatch
Marine Ecologist

Gerry E. Studds Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary (SBNMS)

Friday, Apr. 16, 2010, 3:00pm
Chase 130

Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary (SBNMS) is home to many vocally-active marine species that are protected and/or managed under multiple US statutes.  Placed right in the middle of Massachusetts Bay, the sanctuary is also a busy place for human commerce and recreation, both of which contribute noise to the area’s underwater acoustic environment or “soundscape”. Meeting protection and management objectives in the SBNMS thus necessitates identifying contributors to the sanctuary’s soundscape and evaluating their possible effects on marine animal behavior.

This talk will introduce the partnerships, technologies, and methodologies being utilized in the SBNMS to meet NOAA’s mandates, and will present results from ongoing passive acoustic (listening-based) research and mitigation programs. Low frequency acoustic data, collected and analyzed by researchers from SBNMS, NOAA’s Northeast Fisheries Science Center and Cornell University are being used to address multiple questions regarding the locations and behaviors of vocally-active species in the sanctuary. Ship tracking data, collected and analyzed by the SBNMS, the University of New Hampshire’s Center for Coastal and Ocean Mapping and the US Coast Guard, are being used to characterize patterns of large commercial traffic in the sanctuary. Acoustic data are integrated with vessel tracking data from a variety of sources to calculate the contributions of different types of vessels to the sanctuary’s soundscape, and to investigate the potential for vessel noise to mask animal sounds. Finally, both archival and real-time passive acoustic tools are being applied in the SBNMS in new ways to mitigate and monitor impacts to sanctuary resources.


Dr. Leila Hatch is a Marine Ecologist at the Gerry E. Studds Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary (SBNMS), a marine protected area managed by the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). In her current position, Dr. Hatch focuses on characterizing the relative inputs of different source types to the total underwater noise budgets of local marine environments, and using this information to better manage acoustically-sensitive marine species. Dr. Hatch began working at the SBNMS in 2006 after working in the US Congress on marine mammal and fisheries legislation for the House of Representatives’ Resources Committee. She received a doctoral degree from Cornell University in Evolutionary Biology, where her research used molecular genetic and acoustic tools to identify population boundaries among northern hemisphere fin whales. Prior to her graduate work, Dr. Hatch participated in a variety of international studies that sought to document the behavioral ecology of cetacean populations and/or assess impacts to cetaceans associated with human activities (i.e., whale-watching, vessel traffic, low-frequency active sonar, active acoustic research sources etc.).