Phillip Island Nature Parks Researchers have ventured underwater in an effort to measure and understand the impacts of underwater noise on Phillip Island's fur seal colony.
Australian fur seals live in a complex world both above and below the surface of the ocean. When underwater seals vocalise, they play and learn, find food and they groom and rest at the surface. Anthropogenic underwater noise is a known threat to marine mammals, and Nature Parks researchers are now using hydrophones to listen in to the seals underwater world and assess the impact of visiting vessels.
By placing underwater acoustic recorders (hydrophones) in an array around Seal Rocks, the team will examine the vocalisations of the seals and the level of vessel visitation through engine noise and characteristics (i.e. motor types, power levels and sound) and examine potential disturbance to the seals as a consequence of the visitation. Whale presence will also be recorded by their vocalisations in an effort to develop other methods to monitor cetacean use of the area. The results will provide valuable data for future directions in marine spatial planning and inform best-practice ecotourism management.
The project is part of a new PhD by Jessalyn Taylor from the Sydney School of Veterinary Science at the University of Sydney and is supervised by an international and cross-disciplinary team made up of Dr Rebecca McIntosh from Phillip Island Nature Parks, Dr Rachael Gray from the University of Sydney and Dr Isabelle Charrier from the University of Paris-Saclay & CNRS.
Penguin Foundation donors have contributed $20,000 towards this research which will ensure greater protection for Australian fur seals, improved understanding of other key marine species including cetaceans, and facilitate management of marine mammals at the local, national and global level.
Check out the images of the Kina Diving Team installing the hydrophone while seals played among their equipment and nibbled at their fins and oxygen source - all in a days work! Image credit: Holly Baird