Research on Mammal Exposure to Noise, Shock Loads

A Naval Undersea Warfare Center (NUWC) Division Newport team of oceanographers, marine
biologists and engineers is determined to collect new data on marine mammals in an effort to
provide the U.S. Navy with more applicable test plan information when it comes to mammal
exposure to noise and shock loads.

Navy operations and exercises may expose marine mammals to man-made noise and shock loads,
such as underwater explosions. Currently, the protection and mitigation measures that are in place
are based on data collected from the lung and gastrointestinal (GI) tract of terrestrial mammals.
This information is used to establish monitoring zones to protect marine mammals during testing
and training. The team is looking for new data that would be focused solely on marine mammals.

The team united for the project “Investigating Marine Mammal Melon Response to Underwater
Explosions,” which is in its second year of a three-year in-house laboratory independent research
effort. Principal investigators Monica DeAngelis, Environmental Branch, and Dr. Emily Guzas, Applied
Sciences and Structural Mechanics Branch, worked with a team that includes Lauren Marshall, Tom
Fetherston, Dan Perez, Rachel Hesse, Eric Warner, A.J. Paolero, Jesse Belden, Joe Legris, Dave
Bamford, Drew Canfield, Craig Urian, Carlos Javier and University of Rhode Island interns Catherine
Eno and Irine Chenwi.

A 3D printer in Division Newport’s Rapid Innovation Center helped develop models for the project.

For this study, the team is focusing on the forehead of odontocetes, or toothed whales, which holds an organ called the melon. According to NOAA, “the melon acts like an acoustic lens, aiding in sound recognition. In addition to the melon, the dolphin’s teeth are arranged in a way that they function like antenna, receiving incoming sound.”

The team’s goal is to create validated numerical models of underwater explosions on marine mammal melons to attempt to establish whether the current nonauditory criteria are adequate to assess the potential impact of underwater explosions to other tissues besides the lung and GI tract.

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