The frequency range of noise from pile driving used to lay foundations in the seabed can affect the way bluenose dolphins communicate and orientate themselves, according to scientific research published in a journal of the Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management.

As dolphins use echo-location to navigate, find food and avoid predators, the interference of industrial noise can seriously affect their health and ability to breed.

The recent mysterious deaths of over 600 bluenose dolphins off the coast of Zanzibar hightened scientists’ suspicions that offshore industrial noise can be dangerous to the mammals.

The author of the new research, Dr JA David, said more protection was needed for dolphins in British waters, including inside Special Areas of Conservation off the coast of Dorset, Anglesey and Cornwall, where pile driving noise is likely to affect them.

He also believes that plans for offshore wind farm development call for more research into the way industrial noise affects marine mammals.

Britain currently has four offshore wind farms generating 213MW of electricity, with a further 90MW to be delivered by a project in Barrow currently under construction.

But offshore wind could provide as much as 2000MW – or 6% of the UK’s electricity – by 2015, a recent report from the British Wind Energy Association found (see related story). Delivering this potential would involve large-scale offshore construction.

Issues raised in Government consultations on offshore wind development so far included distance of wind farms from the shore, the specifics of accompanying onshore installations and cables, impacts on fisheries and ship navigation.

A 2003 Government consultation had also found that more research was needed into the effects of noise from operational wind farms on marine mammals like seals and dolphins.

Goska Romanowicz

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