ASA 126th Meeting Denver 1993 October 4-8

4aAB1. Behavioral and hearing responses of pinnipeds to rocket launch noise and sonic boom.

Brent S. Stewart

Hubbs--Sea World Res. Inst., 1700 South Shores Rd., San Diego, CA 92109

Loud launch noise and sonic booms from some military space vehicle launches from Vandenberg Air Force Base impact pinnipeds on the mainland and at San Miguel Island, California, and may cause stampedes, temporary threshold shift or, less likely, permanent hearing damage. Maximum fast A-weighted (MFXA) sound levels approximately 4.8 miles downrange during the launch of three Titan IV rockets were 93.2, 92.7, and 93.0 dB; average sound exposure levels were between 98.9 and 101 dB. Harbor seals fled into the water in response but many returned to land within several hours. A sonic boom was recorded at San Miguel Island during one launch. Its peak flat sound-pressure level was 129.5 dB and maximum fast A-weighted sound level was 86.2 dB; virtually all of the energy was below 500 Hz. Pinniped behavioral responses were mild and brief. Predicted overpressures for focused sonic booms from the Titan IV rocket are substantially greater ((greater than or equal to)150 dB). Noninvasive hearing tests using ABR and OAE techniques are being used to determine if pinnipeds suffer temporary threshold shifts or permanent hearing damage from exposure to those sonic booms.