Underwater noise and the protection of whales and dolphins

I am interested in acoustics and how man made underwater noise may impact on marine mammals. The link is to an article I wrote about it in 2014.


Marine mammals depend on sound to communicate, find fish to eat and find their way in the ocean.

Is it cruel to bombard them with high intensity noise which can physically cause internal harm and mask there communications in the sea?

That may be, but a government agency, the Petroleum Affairs Division will give a license for exploration companies to do it in Ireland’s European Economic Zone (Ireland Ocean)



But are these animals protected by the Protection of Animals legislation in Ireland?

The Protection of Animals Acts, 1911 and 1965 are the principal statutes which prohibit the maltreatment of animals.

Initially, the scope of this Act extended only to domestic or captive animals (Section 15 of the 1911 Act), a domestic animal being any tame animal, or any animal which had been sufficiently tamed to be put to use by humans. Captive animals are those whose freedom is curtailed by use of cages, pens, ropes, pinions, or other device. Animals in the wild remained vulnerable to wanton acts of cruelty under the 1911 Act.

The 1965 Act, however, extended the definition to include all wild animals, Section 13(a). By virtue of these provisions, it is now unlawful to commit acts of cruelty on any animal.

It appears that all wild animals are protected from cruelty including whales and dolphins in Ireland.

A government department tasked with licensing oil and gas exploration has a serious conflict of interest. It cannot protect the marine environment when it licenses activities which can physically harm marine life.

A beaked whale stranded in Mulranny, County Mayo, Ireland. 07/03/2015 ©Photo Shay Fennelly

How is this be legal? If these animals are strictly protected under EU law? And in Ireland’s “whale and dolphin sanctuary”?

Can you pay the cost to challenge on grounds of cruelty in a court of law?

Common Dolphins show an avoidance reaction to seismic surveys (Goold 1996) © Photo Shay Fennelly
A young Minke whale 6.40 metres in length was stranded on Omey Island, County Galway 25/11/2015.
Prior to its stranding a Supertawler FV Margiris was fishing off the coast. There is no funded post mortem scheme in Ireland to determine the cause of death of whales and dolphins. In 2017 strandings are at an all time high. No Irish fishery observers are on such pelagic trawlers. ©Photo Shay Fennelly

Published by shayfennelly

Marine scientist and photographer. Interested in all marine ecology, exploration, science and technology.

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