Noise itself in the ocean is not the issue. Many ocean lovers have been able to enjoy the sounds of cetaceans communicating (such as dolphins and whales), the roaring of waves onto the shore, and the barking of seals and sea lions. The ocean is filled with an abundance of life... and living things make noise. That being said, the ocean is also seen by many as a sanctuary. A place of peace and tranquility, as being underwater brings a feeling of silence and thought that only few place on the Earth can bring.
For these inevitable noises to be harmless, they must be natural. The unnatural and harmful noises are man-made, and include: trans-oceanic shipping, SONAR, civil engineering projects, seismic exploration, other modes of transportation, etc.
Thankfully, our world is used to having to rebound from the pollution and harm that comes with the way man lives, and many animals and habitats have been able to adapt. Unfortunately, though, this is certainly not always the case and this noise pollution affects animals, their habitats, as well as their echolocation and other forms of communication.
The fact that sound travels four times faster in water than air only escalates the problem at hand. The sounds can travel farther, are louder, and thus are even more harmful.
One of the main problems is the affect on cetacean communication. Whales communicate at relatively low frequencies, which are overcome by the higher frequencies of the artificial noises. These sounds drown out the noises of whales calling for their calves, mates, and other relationships that are essential to their everyday life. With these drawbacks with communication, the migration patterns and feeding patterns can be negatively affected.
Echolocation is another huge part of many marine animals' lives. It allows for animals to interpret objects for what they are, find their prey, and detect other organisms nearby that could be beneficial or harmful to them. The noise counteracts the waves that are used in echolocation, and can alter the interpretation that these animals have.
Not only do these sounds inconvenience animals in communicating and finding their prey, but they can be fatal. In 2000, at least seventeen whales were found stranded on the beaches of the Bahamas due to the U.S. Navy's SONAR system.
Scientists are still trying to figure out what the long term effects could be, and how they can help limit these problems while still being practical in what is necessary for our protection and well-being as people, too. Being aware of these issues is the first step, and the more people that are educated on the potential disaster that can ensue from harming our oceans for our gain, the better.