It’s Wednesday and here come the leaf blowers!

I always learn something new at the Aquarium, and yesterday’s trip with the girls was no exception. I did my best to explain to Sophia the difference between baleen whales and toothed whales. Karina was more interested in mimicking whale song and I had trouble prying her away from the computerized kiosk. I was also interested in learning something new.  And I did; a term new to me anyway—acoustic smog.

The term accompanies a disturbing fact. Primarily due to increased shipping traffic and noisy ocean technology, the whale breeding opportunities are more limited because the females cannot hear the males singing. Maybe now would be a good time to plug the World Wildlife Fund for its work in protecting all animal habitats.

Watching my granddaughters’ awe and fascination with whales certainly makes me more sensitive to the great mammals’ plight, but then, too, maybe the reason this particular threat jumped at me from the many other environmental and conservation concerns is due to my personal sensitivity to acoustic smog.

It doesn’t take living at the end of an airport runway to experience noise pollution. First thing every Wednesday, here he comes, the same groundsman who otherwise contributes to the beauty of the university landscape (noise-canceling headphones strategically placed), armed with a giant, exhaust spewing leaf blower. He ceremoniously fires that baby up spewing a whirlwind of dust and debris from one direction to another. Then, after what seems longer than it surely must be, he concludes with a final sweeping sequence that appears to return the dirt to its original location.

Am I unreasonable? Noise by definition is repeated unwelcome sound, and although most of us are not physically threatened or harmed by its intrusion into our daily lives we are all nonetheless affected.  And here’s an interesting fact! Although we may think we tune out unpleasant sounds after a brief period of adjustment (traffic, sirens, construction noise, dogs barking) or even invited sounds (loud music, television), the brain interprets noise as a signal to trigger  hormonal reactions associated with our primal fight or flight response. Noise pollution has a negative impact on well-being, sometimes contributing to aggression, hypertension, high stress levels, hearing loss and sleep disturbances.

Perhaps it’s not such a great thing that we even think we’ve become desensitized to background noise. If you aren’t sure that you are affected by some version of acoustic smog, try eliminating as much noise as possible, background or otherwise, and see how you experience silence. Have a television free night once in a while and see if you notice a change in how that one small act makes you feel. Most people actually report feeling unnerved and bit uncomfortable.

There’s really only so much we can do about external noise, but I suggest making a commitment to finding as much quiet—even silence, as you can on a regular basis. Strike a reasonable balance. I know that my television has been mostly silent for the past couple of weeks.  I’ve been too busy to watch much, and, I’ve also been saving up for this weekend’s opening of–wait for it… Shark Week 2011. I need to get ready for all those questions next time we visit the Long Beach Aquarium!