Characterizing the Relative Contributions of Large Vessels to Total Ocean Noise Fields: A Case Study Using the Gerry E. Studds Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary


In 2006, we used the U.S. Coast Guard’s Automatic Identification System (AIS) to describe patterns of large commercial ship traffic within a U.S. National Marine Sanctuary located off the coast of Massachusetts. We found that 541 large commercial vessels transited the greater sanctuary 3413 times during the year. Cargo ships, tankers, and tug/tows constituted 78% of the vessels and 82% of the total transits. Cargo ships, tankers, and cruise ships predominantly used the designated Boston Traffic Separation Scheme, while tug/tow traffic was concentrated in the western and northern portions of the sanctuary. We combined AIS data with low-frequency acoustic data from an array of nine autonomous recording units analyzed for 2 months in 2006. Analysis of received sound levels (10–1000 Hz, root-mean-square pressure re 1 μPa ± SE) averaged 119.5 ± 0.3 dB at high-traffic locations. High-traffic locations experienced double the acoustic power of less trafficked locations for the majority of the time period analyzed. Average source level estimates (71–141 Hz, root-mean-square pressure re 1 μPa ± SE) for individual vessels ranged from 158 ± 2 dB (research vessel) to 186 ± 2 dB (oil tanker). Tankers were estimated to contribute 2 times more acoustic power to the region than cargo ships, and more than 100 times more than research vessels. Our results indicate that noise produced by large commercial vessels was at levels and within frequencies that warrant concern among managers regarding the ability of endangered whales to maintain acoustic contact within greater sanctuary waters.


Center for Coastal and Ocean Mapping

Publication Date


Journal or Conference Title

Environmental Management


42, Issue 5



Publisher Place

New York, NY, USA



Digital Object Identifier (DOI)


Document Type

Journal Article