Critical information gaps remain in understanding impacts of industrial seismic surveys on marine vertebrates

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© The authors 2019. Anthropogenic noise is increasing throughout the world's oceans. One major contributor is industrial seismic surveys-a process typically undertaken to locate and estimate the quantity of oil and gas deposits beneath the seafloor-which, in recent years, has increased in magnitude and scope in some regions. Regulators permit this activity despite widespread uncertainties regarding the potential ecological impacts of seismic surveys and gaps in baseline information on some key species of conservation concern. Research to date suggests that impacts vary, from displacement to direct mortality, but these effects remain poorly understood for most species. Here, we summarize potential effects of seismic surveys, describe key knowledge gaps, and recommend broad-scale research priorities for 3 impacted taxonomic groups: fish, marine mammals, and sea turtles. We also suggest further technological advances, improved mitigation measures, and better policy and management structures to minimize the ecological impacts of seismic surveys in light of scientific uncertainty.





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Elliott, BW, AJ Read, BJ Godley, SE Nelms and DP Nowacek (2019). Critical information gaps remain in understanding impacts of industrial seismic surveys on marine vertebrates. Endangered Species Research, 39. pp. 247–254. 10.3354/esr00968 Retrieved from

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Brianna Elliott


I am a PhD candidate in the Marine Science and Conservation program. My research interests broadly center around conservation biology and conservation policy, primarily through the lens of protected species bycatch. I am particularly interested in conducting bycatch assessments in international commercial fisheries, especially those managed by regional fisheries management organizations, and modeling bycatch rates in data-poor scenarios. I am equally as interested in the policy and management angle to these human-wildlife conflicts, and enjoy exploring efficacy of regulations and working with managers to strengthen policy and management surrounding protected species.

My strong interests in bycatch, policy, and management are influenced from my prior work experience, including as a former NOAA Knauss Marine Policy Fellow at the U.S. Department of State, an MMPA analyst as a contractor at the National Marine Fisheries Service Office of Protected Resources, and as a science communicator at Oceana. I hold a Master of Coastal Environmental Management from Duke University and a Bachelor of Science from the University of North Carolina Wilmington. 


Andrew J Read

Stephen A. Toth Distinguished Professor of Marine Biology in the Nicholas School of the Environment

I study the conservation biology of long-lived marine vertebrates, particularly marine mammals, seabirds and sea turtles. My work, and that of my students, documents the effects of human activities on populations of these species. Our work involves field work, experimentation and modeling. I am particularly interested in the development and application of new conservation tools.


Douglas Nowacek

Randolph K. Repass and Sally-Christine Rodgers University Distinguished Professor of Conservation Technology in Environment and Engineering

Sound propagates very efficiently through sea water, and marine mammals take advantage of this medium to communicate and explore their environment. My research is focused on the link between acoustic and motor behavior in marine mammals, primarily cetaceans and manatees, specifically, how they use sound in ecological processes. The cetaceans, or whales and dolphins, are divided into two main groups, the toothed whales (odontocetes) and the baleen whales (mysticetes). One of my specific areas of research is the use of echolocation and foraging behavior in one of the odontocetes, the bottlenose dolphin. Another focus of my current research is the effect(s) of anthropogenic noise on marine mammals.

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