Marine mammal noise exposure criteria: updated scientific recommendations for residual hearing effects

Brandon L. Southall, James J. Finneran, Colleen Reichmuth, Paul E. Nachtigall, Darlene R. Ketten, Anne E. Bowles, William T. Ellison, Douglas P. Nowacek, Peter Lloyd Tyack

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

103 Citations (Scopus)


This article evaluates Southall et al. (2007) in light of subsequent scientific findings and proposes revised noise exposure criteria to predict the onset of auditory effects in marine mammals. Estimated audiograms, weighting functions, and underwater noise exposure criteria for temporary and permanent auditory effects of noise are presented for six species groupings, including all marine mammal species. In-air criteria are also provided for amphibious species. Earlier marine mammal hearing groupings were reviewed and modified based on phylogenetic relationships and a comprehensive review of studies on hearing, auditory anatomy, and sound production. Auditory weighting functions are derived for each group; those proposed here are less flattened and closer to audiograms than the Southall et al. M-weightings. As in Southall et al., noise sources are categorized as either impulsive or non-impulsive, and criteria use multiple exposure metrics to account for different aspects of exposure. For continuous (non-impulsive) noise sources, exposure criteria are given in frequency-weighted sound exposure level (SEL, given in units relative to 1 μPa2-s or (20 μPa2)-s for water and air, respectively). Dual exposure metrics are provided for impulsive noise criteria, including frequency-weighted SEL and unweighted peak sound pressure level (SPL, given in units relative to 1 μPa or 20 μPa for water and air, respectively). Exposures exceeding the specified respective criteria level for any exposure metric are interpreted as resulting in predicted temporary threshold shift (TTS) or permanent threshold shift (PTS) onset. Scientific findings in the last decade provide substantial new insight but also underscore remaining challenges in deriving simple, broadly applicable quantitative exposure criteria for such diverse taxa. These criteria should be considered with regard to relevant caveats, recommended research, and with the expectation of subsequent revision.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)125-232
JournalAquatic Mammals
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 11 Mar 2019


  • Hearing
  • Marine mammals,
  • Noise exposure
  • Weighting
  • TTS
  • PTS
  • Criteria


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