Aquatic anthropogenic noise is on the rise, with growing concern about its impact on species that are sensitive to low-frequency sounds (e.g. most fish and invertebrates). We investigated whether the reef fish Halichoeres bivittatus living in both noisy and quiet areas had differing levels of baseline stress (measured as whole-body cortisol) and whether they would exhibit a physiological stress response when exposed to boat noise playbacks. While the playback experiments significantly increased cortisol levels in fish from our experiment compared to baseline levels, there were minimal pairwise differences across treatments and no difference in baseline stress for fish living in noisy vs. quiet areas. These results may be explained by low overall auditory sensitivity, habituation to a fairly noisy environment (due to biological sounds), or that boat noise simply may not represent an immediate threat to survival in this species. These findings contrast recent studies that have shown elevated stress responses in fishes when exposed to boat noise and highlights that inter-specific differences must be considered when evaluating potential impacts of anthropogenic noise on marine life.

, ,
Aquatic Biology
Fish Ecology and Conservation Physiology Laboratory

Staaterman, E. (E.), Gallagher, A.J. (A. J.), Holder, P.E. (P. E.), Reid, C.H. (C. H.), Altieri, A.H. (A. H.), Ogburn, M.B. (M. B.), … Cooke, S.J. (2020). Exposure to boat noise in the field yields minimal stress response in wild reef fish. Aquatic Biology, 29, 93–103. doi:10.3354/ab00728