Effects of a seismic survey on movement of free-ranging Atlantic cod

Inge van der Knaap*, Jan Reubens, Len Thomas, Michael A. Ainslie, Hendrik V. Winter, Jeroen Hubert, Bruce Martin, Hans Slabbekoorn

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

8 Citations (Scopus)


Geophysical exploration of the seabed is typically done through seismic surveys, using airgun arrays that produce intense, low-frequency-sound pulses1 that can be heard over hundreds of square kilometers, 24/7.2,3 Little is known about the effects of these sounds on free-ranging fish behavior.4–6 Effects reported range from subtle individual change in activity and swimming depth for captive fish7,8 to potential avoidance9 and changes in swimming velocity and diurnal activity patterns for free-swimming animals.10 However, the extent and duration of behavioral responses to seismic surveys remain largely unexplored for most fish species.4 In this study, we investigated the effect of a full-scale seismic survey on the movement behavior of free-swimming Atlantic cod (Gadus morhua). We found that cod did not leave the detection area more than expected during the experimental survey but that they left more quickly from 2 days to 2 weeks after the survey. Furthermore, during the exposure, cod decreased their activity, with time spent being “locally active” (moving small distances, showing high body acceleration) becoming shorter, and time spent being “inactive” (moving small distances, having low body acceleration) becoming longer. Additionally, diurnal activity cycles were disrupted with lower locally active peaks at dusk and dawn, periods when cod are known to actively feed.11,12 The combined effects of delayed deterrence and activity disruption indicate the potential for seismic surveys to affect energy budgets and to ultimately lead to population-level consequences.13 van der Knaap et al. show that exposure to a seismic survey caused delayed deterrence of free-ranging Atlantic cod. During sound exposure, cod became less active at dusk and dawn, interrupting their diurnal activity cycle. These effects indicate the potential for anthropogenic noise to affect energy budgets and to have population-level consequences.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1555-1562.e4
JournalCurrent Biology
Issue number7
Early online date9 Feb 2021
Publication statusPublished - 12 Apr 2021


  • acoustic telemetry
  • airgun array
  • Atlantic cod
  • good environmental status
  • hidden Markov models
  • movement behavior
  • noise pollution


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