Large-Scale Analysis of Effects of Seismic Surveys on Cetaceans through KOSMOS Surveys

Large-Scale Analysis of Effects of Seismic Surveys on Cetaceans through KOSMOS Surveys: While this has been done on single species or at very small spatial scales, this is the first time that significant impacts (80% reduction in sightings of baleen whales and 50% reduction in sightings of toothed whales) have been shown across multiple species after correcting for environmental variables and observer effects.

Quantifying noise impacts from seismic surveys on marine mammals is difficult due to ethical concerns and high costs, with previous studies focussing on single species and rely on inappropriate control data. We used industry-supplied observations of marine mammals and undertook extensive control surveys to generate datasets of an unprecedented scale. We used newly developed statistical modelling frameworks to account for regional, seasonal and environmental factors, enabling us to compare occurrences both with and without seismic surveys. This is the first study to take a multi-species approach to quantifying impacts over such large scales.

Results were published in the peer-reviewed journal PLOS ONE, with the underlying data lodged with the National Biodiversity Data Centre for further scientific use. An infographic and explanatory video were produced for social media, with the infographic generating over 9,000 impressions on Twitter, and the video generating over 22,000 impressions and 4,000 media views. The research was also featured by
the BBC, who interviewed Dr. Mark Jessopp for an article on efforts by the industry to develop new, less environmentally impactful methods for seabed mapping.

The study generated a significant dataset that is being made available to the wider scientific community. Data has already been included in another study on the broad-scale distribution of cetaceans across the northeast Atlantic, published in the Journal of Applied Ecology. Research outputs provide peer-reviewed evidence for the impact of seismic surveys across a range of sensitive species that are of direct
benefit to environmental regulators. Ireland’s guidelines for mitigation of noise generating activities are currently outdated, and this will ensure that the best evidence is used to inform management and minimise environmental impacts.