Navy's Use of New Sonar Suspected in Mass Killings of Whales - Washington Post
In more than a dozen instances dating back to the 1960s, whales have stranded themselves on the beaches and sometimes died at the time of naval training exercises miles away using midfrequency active sonar. An unprecedented stranding of 16 beaked and minke whales in the Bahamas in 2000 brought worldwide attention to military sonar. A NOAA investigation concluded that a Navy testing maneuver using midfrequency sonar was the likely cause. Necropsies found signs of brain hemorrhaging, which is consistent with injury from sound.
-- San Francisco Chronicle, 12/13/04, front page
Feb. 19, 2005
The navy has been developing and testing new very low frequency sonar equipment for several years now. For those who are following this, it is clear that this technology seriously damages whales and dolphins. Their dead corpses have been found with blood in their ears after tests in numerous places around the globe. The press has sadly given this very little coverage. Thankfully, the Washington Post and San Francisco Chronicle (front page) have had articles about this.
Below are excerpts from these two articles with links
for those who would like to read the entire article. You can help by signing
the petition at the bottom of this email and by contacting your congressional
representatives and asking them to stop the use of this damaging technology.
Also please spread this important news to your friends.
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Navy's use of sonar suspected in near-stranding of
Hawaii incident intensifies debate on ocean noise
The Navy has acknowledged that vessels on maneuver off Hawaii in July used their sonar periodically in the 20 hours before a large pod of melon-headed whales unexpectedly came to shore in the area. The acknowledgment added to an already contentious debate over whether the sound from sonar has been causing marine mammals to strand.
Navy officials said that a review of the July 3 incident indicates that two ships turned on their sonar between 6:45 and 7:10 a.m., by most accounts just before the unusual movement of almost 200 deep-water whales to the shoreline of a Kauai bay. The Navy had said earlier that no sonar was used until more than 90 minutes later, well after the animals came ashore.
Lieutenant Commander Greg Geisen, the Navy spokesman responsible for information about the maneuver, said a Navy review of the incident still concluded that the ships were either too far from the whales or were using the sonar at the wrong time to cause the mass movement.
"There is no evidence of a relationship here between the sonar use and the whale behavior," he said.
But the newly released information from Geisen and other Navy officials -- that the ships were testing their sonar in preparation for the maneuver on the day before the whales came ashore, and early on the morning of the near-stranding -- has caused some observers to question that conclusion.
"Every time the Navy changes its story, it reduces its credibility on this issue," said Cara Horowitz, a lawyer with the Natural Resources Defense Council, which has sued the Navy over a related sonar issue. "The Navy would be better off spending more time developing common-sense ways to protect whales from sonar and less time denying a connection that is unfortunately being repeatedly shown."
Residents and government officials worked throughout July 3 to steer the whales back to open water, and all made it except one newborn calf that died of starvation.
The Hawaii incident is the third significant one involving sonar and marine mammal strandings near the United States since 2000. The stranding of 17 whales of various kinds off the Bahamas in 2000, which resulted in the death of at least six of them, occurred during a major Navy maneuver. Navy officials at first said there was no connection between their exercise and the stranding, but later acknowledged that the loud sound from the sonar had caused the animals to flee ashore.
Another incident occurred off the coast of Washington state last year, where harbor porpoises unexpectedly came ashore after a sonar exercise. The Navy concluded that there was no connection between the two, but the NOAA is still reviewing the incident.
Jane Kay, Chronicle Environment
Navy under global pressure to limit sonar use
EU, others call for cut in noises that harm sea life
The United States is facing increasing international pressure to place limitations on the use of military sonar, the underwater equivalent of radar that has been linked to mass strandings of whales.
The European Union Parliament -- the most prominent of four international bodies that have taken up the matter in recent months -- called in October for its member states to develop a moratorium on all types of military sonars, which use powerful sound to locate objects such as submarines.
Two weeks ago, the IUCN-World Conservation Union, a prestigious group of 70 nations and 400 nongovernmental organizations meeting in Bangkok, overwhelmingly passed a resolution urging governments to limit the use of loud noise sources in the world's oceans, including military sonar, oil and gas exploration and commercial shipping, until the effects are better understood. The United States abstained from the vote.
The measure also said that, to the extent possible, sonar and other activities should be avoided entirely in areas where the vulnerable species live. According to studies cited by the EU and the other world bodies, noise can interfere with the survival of the ocean creatures that depend on sound to navigate, find food, locate mates, avoid predators and communicate with one another. At high decibel levels, noise can kill.
The U.S. Navy is the biggest user of midfrequency active sonar in the world -- and government officials have been loath to require permits to regulate its use.
"We're not ignoring it by any means," said Bill Hogarth, director of the fisheries division of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). "But to translate to direct mortality is very difficult.''
Hogarth said that calling for a ban or restrictions on naval sonar is "too simple,'' because the effects of sonar depend on ocean conditions.
In more than a dozen instances dating back to the 1960s, however, whales have stranded themselves on the beaches and sometimes died at the time of naval training exercises miles away using midfrequency active sonar.
An unprecedented stranding of 16 beaked and minke whales in the Bahamas in 2000 brought worldwide attention to military sonar. A NOAA investigation concluded that a Navy testing maneuver using midfrequency sonar -- by far the most commonly used type of sonar -- was the likely cause. Necropsies found signs of brain hemorrhaging, which is consistent with injury from sound.
Kenneth Balcomb, founder of the Center for Whale Research in Friday Harbor, Wash., and leader of the Bahamas Marine Mammal Survey, concluded that a vibration in the whales' cranial air spaces tore delicate tissues around the brain and ears.
Military active sonars emit sound waves -- blasted from loud speakers - - that scan hundreds of thousands of square miles of ocean waters the way a spotlight would search on land. The sound signal bounces off objects and sends back information to receivers. Some midfrequency active sonar systems can put out more than 235 decibels, as loud as a Saturn V rocket at launch. Aside from the U.S. use, the technology is also employed by Western European countries, Japan, Australia and, to a small extent, Canada.
Joel Reynolds, a senior attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council, who first challenged the Navy's use of powerful underwater sounds a decade ago, says his group is considering filing a lawsuit that would charge the Navy with harassing and killing marine mammals in violation of the Marine Mammal Protection Act.
E-mail Jane Kay at [email protected].
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