Protecting the Whales against Acoustic Pollution under the International Marine Environmental Law

Document Type : academic


Ph.D. in International law, Allameh Tabataba'i University



Underwater noise pollution is considered a threat to marine biodiversity and marine mammals, such as whale species. An increasing amount of disturbing noise in the marine environment can have major and even fatal impacts on the cetaceans. Studies have shown that decreased species diversity in whales and dolphins is directly related to an increase in underwater noise. The present article seeks to find the legal basis in international marine environmental law to protect whales against the adverse impact of acoustic pollution. Therefore, the article’s main question is to what extent the normative foundations and organizational measures under international environmental law play a role in protecting whales against noise pollution. Studies show that main international environmental or marine instruments contain no explicit provisions about acoustic pollution. However, some have the necessary framework to address the issue and can be applied through interpretation. In addition, several international organizations have acted toward protecting the population of whales against noise pollution.


Main Subjects

  1. Books

    1. National Academy of Sciences. Ocean Noise and Marine Mammals. Washington, D.C.: The National Academies Press, 2003.
    2. Young, Hugh D. and Roger A. Freedman. University Physics with Modern Physics. Edinburgh: Pearson Education Limited, 2016.


    - Articles

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    2. Erbe, Christine et al., "The Effects of Ship Noise on Marine Mammals—A Review." Frontiers in Marine Science 6 (2019).
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    5. Parente, Cristiano Leite, Janaína Pauline de Araújo and Maria Elisabeth de Araújo. "Diversity of Cetaceans as Tool in Monitoring Environmental Impacts of Seismic Surveys." Biota Neotropica 7, no. 1 (2007).
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    9. Warner, Robin M. "Protecting the Diversity of the Depths: Environmental Regulation of Bioprospecting and Marine Scientific Research beyond National Jurisdiction." Ocean Yearbook Online 22, no. 1 (2008).
    10. Markus, Till and Pedro Pablo Silva Sánchez. "Managing and Regulating Underwater Noise Pollution." In Handbook on Marine Environment Protection; Science, Impacts and Sustainable Management, edited by Markus Salomon and Till Markus. Switzerland: Springer International Publishing, 2018.


    - Documents

    1. Agreement on the Conservation of Cetaceans of the Black Sea, Mediterranean Sea, and Contiguous Atlantic Area (ACCOBAMS).
    2. Agreement on the Conservation of Small Cetaceans of the Baltic, Northeast Atlantic, Irish and North Seas (ASCOBANS).
    3. CMS, CMS Family Guidelines on Environmental Impact Assessments for Marine Noise-generating Activities, available at: (last visited on: 23/04/2022).
    4. European Commission. "Commission Decision (EU) 2017/848, laying down criteria and methodological standards on good environmental status of marine waters and specifications and standardised methods for monitoring and assessment, and repealing Decision 2010/477/EU." 17 May 2017.
    5. Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (Bonn Convention; CMS), Jun 23, 1979, Entry into force: Nov 1, 1983.
    6. COP12 Resolution on Adverse Impacts of Anthropogenic Noise on Cetaceans and Other Migratory Species, incl. CMS Family Guidelines on Environmental Impact Assessments for Marine Noise-generating Activities, UNEP/CMS/COP12/Doc.24.2.2, Resolution 12.14, Manila, October 2017.
    7. Decision 2010/477/EU, at preamble para. 12, and Annex, Part I, Descriptor 11.
    8. Decision Adopted by the COP to the Convention on Biological Diversity at its Twelfth Meeting, (COP 12 Decision No. XII/23): Marine and coastal biodiversity: Impacts on marine and coastal biodiversity of anthropogenic underwater noise and ocean acidification, priority actions to achieve Aichi Biodiversity Target 10 for coral reefs and closely associated ecosystems, and marine spatial planning and training initiatives, UNEP/CBD/COP/DEC/XII/23, 17 October 2014.
    9. Directive 2008/56/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 17 June 2008 establishing a framework for community action in the field of marine environmental policy (Marine Strategy Framework Directive).
    10. Final Report of the ASCOBANS Intersessional Working Group on the Assessment of Acoustic Disturbance, AC17/Doc.4-08 (WG), 2010.
    11. IMI, Resolution A.982(24), the revised Guidelines for the Identification and Designation of Particularly Sensitive Sea Areas, Adopted on 1 December 2005.
    12. International Maritime Organization, Guidelines for the reduction of underwater noise from commercial shipping to address adverse impacts on marine life, 7 April 2014.
    13. International Maritime Organization, Resolution A.927(22), Adopted on 29 November 2001, Annex 2
    14. International Maritime Organization, Resolution MSC.338(91), adopted on 30 November 2012, Regulation 3-12.
    15. International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling (ICRW), Washington, D.C., 2 December 1946.
    16. OSPAR Commission, CEMP Guidelines for Monitoring and Assessment of loud, low, and mid-frequency impulsive sound sources in the OSPAR Maritime Region, (OSPAR Agreement 2017-07), EIHA 17/9/1 Annex 15.
    17. OSPAR Commission, OSPAR Monitoring Strategy for Ambient Underwater Noise, (Agreement 2015-05).
    18. Prideaux G. "Technical Support Information to the CMS Family Guidelines on Environmental Impact Assessments for Marine Noise-generating Activities." Convention on Migratory Species of Wild Animals, Bonn, 2017.
    19. Resolution 2003-1, The Berlin Initiative on Strengthening the Conservation Agenda of the International Whaling Commission.
    20. Seventh Meeting of the Parties to ACCOBAMS, Methodological Guide: Guidance on underwater noise mitigation measures, V. 3.0., 5-8 November 2019, ACCOBAMS-MOP7/2019/Doc 31Rev1.
    21. Sixth Meeting of the Parties to ACCOBAMS, Overview of the Noise Hotspots in the ACCOBAMS area – Part I the Mediterranean Sea, ACCOBAMS-MOP6/2016/Doc28Rev1.
    22. The "Convention on the Prevention of Marine Pollution by Dumping of Wastes and Other Matter 1972", the "London Convention" and 1996 "London Protocol".
    23. The Arctic Environmental Protection Strategy (AEPS), June 14, 1991
    24. The Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the North-East Atlantic, opened for signature in Paris on 22 September 1992. entered into force on 25 March 1998, amended on 24 July 1998, updated 9 May 2002, 7 February 2005, and 18 May 2006; Amendments to Annexes II and III adopted at OSPAR 2007.
    25. The Convention for the Protection of the Mediterranean Sea Against Pollution (Barcelona Convention) was adopted on 16 February 1976 in Barcelona and entered into force in 1978.
    26. The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), opened for signature on 5 June 1992, entered into force on 29 December 1993.
    27. the Convention on the Protection of the Marine Environment of the Baltic Sea Area (HELCOM), (Helsinki Convention), The original Convention was signed in Helsinki on 22 March 1974, The Helsinki Convention was updated in 1992 and entered into force on 17 January 2000.
    28. The International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS).
    29. The World Organization of Dredging Associations (WODA), Technical Guidance on: Underwater Sound in Relation to Dredging, June 2013.
    30. UN General Assembly. "Oceans and the Law of the Sea.” Resolution A/RES/72/73, 5 December 2017.


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