The coronavirus pandemic has given some respite to the world, with wildlife returning to waterways. Experts predict the crisis may also be good news for sea mammals thanks to a drop in underwater noise pollution.

Researchers from Ocean Networks Canada who are examining real-time underwater signals from the seabed observatories near the port of Vancouver found a significant drop in low-frequency sound associated with ships.

“Generally, we know underwater noise at this frequency has effects on marine mammals,” David Barclay, assistant professor of oceanography at Dalhousie University, told The Guardian.

“There has been a consistent drop in noise since 1 January, which has amounted to a change of four or five decibels in the period up to 1 April,” Barclay added.

Barclay is also a co-author of a paper reviewing the phenomena and examined sound power. The findings of Barclay and his researchers were first published in The Narwhal.

They reported a drop of around 20% in exports and imports from the port over the same period. A drop in average weekly noise of 1.5 decibels or around a 15% decrease in power also showed around 60km from the shipping lanes and in 3,000 metres of water.

“This gives us an idea of the scale over which this reduction in noise can be observed,” said Barclay.

“We are facing a moment of truth,” said Michelle Fournet, a marine acoustician at Cornell University and studies humpback whales in southeast Alaska. “We have an opportunity to listen – and that opportunity to listen will not appear again in our lifetime.”

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