Dolphin and Whale News ArticlesExcerpts of Key Dolphin and Whale News Articles in Media
Two dolphins have been recorded having a conversation for the first time after scientists developed an underwater microphone which could distinguish the animals' different "voices". Researchers have known for decades that the mammals had an advanced form of communication. But scientists have now shown that dolphins alter the volume and frequency of pulsed clicks to form individual "words" which they string together into sentences in much the same way that humans speak. Researchers at the Karadag Nature Reserve, in Feodosia, Ukraine, recorded two Black Sea bottlenose dolphins, called Yasha and Yana, talking to each other in a pool. Each dolphin would listen to a sentence of pulses without interruption, before replying. Lead researcher Dr Vyacheslav Ryabov, said: “Essentially, this exchange resembles a conversation between two people. “Each pulse represents a phoneme or a word of the dolphin's spoken language. “The analysis of numerous pulses registered in our experiments showed that the dolphins took turns in producing [sentences] and did not interrupt each other, which gives reason to believe that each of the dolphins listened to the other's pulses before producing its own. “This language exhibits all the design features present in the human spoken language, this indicates a high level of intelligence and consciousness in dolphins, and their language can be ostensibly considered a highly developed spoken language, akin to the human language.”
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My research team and I were following a school of bottlenose dolphins near shore ... off Los Angeles, California. The dolphins were still feeding in circle near shore, when suddenly, one individual changed direction heading out toward deeper water. A minute later, the rest of the school turned to follow. Seeing them abruptly leave a foraging ground and change direction came as a surprise to the research team. I decided to follow them. The dolphins increased their speed. Somewhere near three miles offshore the dolphin group stopped, forming a sort of ring around a dark object in the water. “Someone’s in the water!” yelled my assistant, standing up and pointing at the seemingly lifeless body of a girl. As the boat neared, she feebly turned her head toward us, half-raising her hand as a weak sign for help. If we didn’t act immediately, the girl would die. We [pulled] the frail and hypothermic body on board. “She is cyanotic,” said one of my researchers, also a lifeguard, after a cursory examination. “She has severe hypothermia. We need to get her warm!” We managed to get some of her wet garments off and wrap her in a blanket. We took turns keeping her warm by huddling with her under the blanket. A couple of hours later, we were all waiting outside the emergency room at the Marina del Rey hospital. The ER doctor came out to talk with us. The girl, it seems, would pull through, and he thanked us for our quick action. He tells us the girl was vacationing in L.A. from Germany and, as the letter found in her plastic bag explained, she was attempting suicide. If we hadn’t found her, if the dolphins hadn’t led us offshore when they did, to that specific place, she would have died.
Note: This article has been adapted from the book Dolphin Confidential: Confessions of a Field Biologist. For more on the amazing capacities of dolphins and other marine mammals, as well as the threats they face from human activities, click here. For a treasure trove of great news articles which will inspire you to make a difference, click here.
They escape from aquarium tanks. They locate underwater mines. Now, a new paper published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Science claims that dolphins recognized their own name when called. Vincent Janik, one of the authors of the study and a biology researcher at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, said that the name is actually a specific type of dolphin vocalization that the animals respond to. "They're these high pitched whistles that have a little bit of a melody," he told ABC News. These sounds are referred to as "signature whistles." Janik and his colleague, Stephanie King, cruised along the east coast of Scotland looking for bottlenose dolphins. After spotting and identifying a dolphin in the wild, the researchers would play one of three different sounds: a modified sound clip of that dolphin's signature whistle, a signature whistle of one of its podmates, or the signature whistle of a completely foreign dolphin. They played the dolphin's own signature whistle and the animal would come up and approach the boat and whistle back. However, the dolphin didn't respond to the other two types of whistles and mostly kept about its business. It may seem odd that the dolphins don't react much to the whistles of their fellow herdmates, but Janik says that copying a dolphin's signature whistle just right is part of their social group. "This copying only occurs between closely associated animals, like between mothers and their calves," he said. Dolphins only need to respond to their own signature whistles, since any socially relevant animal will have learned how to copy it. "It says to them, 'I know that this [whistle] is a friend.'"
Whales flee from the loud military sonar used by navies to hunt submarines, new research has proven for the first time. The studies provide a missing link in the puzzle that has connected naval exercises around the world to unusual mass strandings of whales and dolphins. Beaked whales, the most common casualty of the strandings, were shown to be highly sensitive to sonar. But the research also revealed unexpectedly that blue whales, the largest animals on Earth and whose population has plummeted by 95% in the last century, also abandoned feeding and swam rapidly away from sonar noise. The strong response observed in the beaked whales occurred at noise levels well below those allowed for US navy exercises. "For whales and dolphins, listening is as important as seeing is for humans – they communicate, locate food, and navigate using sound," said Sarah Dolman, at charity Whale and Dolphin Conservation. "Noise pollution threatens vulnerable populations, driving them away from areas important to their survival, and at worst injuring or even causing the deaths of some whales and dolphins." Dolman said there were no accepted international standards regarding noise pollution and there was an urgent need to re-evaluate the environmental impacts of military activities. Unusual mass strandings, where multiple species of whale and dolphin beach at several locations at once, have soared since the introduction of military sonar in the 1950s and can be fatal. The strandings occur every year and major recent events saw up to 15 animals beached in the Canary Islands, the Bahamas and Greece.
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The ocean depths have become a noisy place. The causes are human: the sonar blasts of military exercises, the booms from air guns used in oil and gas exploration, and the whine from fleets of commercial ships that relentlessly crisscross the global seas. Marine experts say the rising clamor is particularly dangerous to whales, which depend on their acute hearing to locate food and one another. To fight the din, ... the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration seeks to document human-made noises in the ocean and transform the results into the world’s first large sound maps. “It’s a first step,” Leila T. Hatch, a marine biologist and one of the project’s two directors, said of the sound maps. “No one’s ever done it on this scale.” Michael Jasny, a senior policy analyst with the Natural Resources Defense Council, [which] has sued the Navy to reduce sounds that can harm marine mammals, praised the maps as “magnificent” and their depictions of sound pollution as “incredibly disturbing.” Legal experts say the new findings are likely to accelerate efforts both domestically and internationally to deal with the complicated problem through laws, regulations, treaties and voluntary noise reductions. The Navy estimates that blasts from its sonars — used in training and to hunt enemy submarines — result in permanent hearing losses for hundreds of sea mammals every year and temporary losses for thousands. All told, annually the injured animals number more than a quarter million.
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Environmental groups sued the Obama administration ... for granting the Navy permits to test underwater sonar along the West Coast -- and potentially harass up to 650,000 porpoises, seals, dolphins and whales over a five-year period. The alliance said it wasn't seeking to stop the testing but to scale it back, especially at certain times and in waters important for feeding and giving birth. Several studies have found that marine mammals can hear low-frequency sonar, which is magnified under water, and periodically dolphins and even whales have been found with perforated ear drums. The National Marine Fisheries Service "fell down on the job and failed to require the Navy to take reasonable and effective actions to protect" marine mammals, Steve Mashuda, an attorney for the law firm Earthjustice, said. The lawsuit ... claims that the Navy's sonar use might be strong enough to kill the animals outright. But even if it doesn't, it claims, the repeated use of sonar in certain critical habitats is unwarranted. In 2010, the fisheries service approved the Navy's five-year plan for operations in the Northwest Training Range Complex, an area roughly the size of California that stretches from Washington state to Northern California. Under the five-year plan, the service said it was acceptable for the Navy to incur up to 650,000 cases of harassment of marine mammals.
Note: Sonar can drive drive marine mammals insane with the intensity of noise. Imagine a huge siren right next to your ears. You would certainly flee to try to get away. This is likely what is causing many of the whale and dolphin strandings. How much sound does it take to perforate an ear drum, as is mentioned in this article? For more on threats to marine mammals, see the deeply revealing reports from reliable major media sources available here.
A federal appeals court ruled Friday that the U.S. Navy was wrongly allowed to use sonar that could harm whales and other marine life. The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a lower court decision upholding approval granted in 2012 for the Navy to use low-frequency sonar for training, testing and routine operations. The five-year approval covered peacetime operations in the Pacific, Atlantic, and Indian Oceans and the Mediterranean Sea. Sonar, used to detect submarines, can injure whales, seals, dolphins and walruses and disrupt their feeding and mating. The 2012 rules adopted by the National Marine Fisheries Service permitted Navy sonar use to affect about 30 whales and two dozen pinnipeds, marine mammals with front and rear flippers such as seals and sea lions, each year. The Navy was required to shut down or delay sonar use if a marine mammal was detected near the ship. Loud sonar pulses also were banned near coastlines and in certain protected waters. Environmental groups, led by the Natural Resources Defense Council, filed a lawsuit in San Francisco in 2012, arguing that the approval violated the Marine Mammal Protection Act. The appellate court ruled 3-0 that the approval rules failed to meet a section of the protection act requiring peacetime oceanic programs to have "the least practicable adverse impact on marine mammals." The panel concluded that the fisheries service "did not give adequate protection to ... the world's oceans."
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Conservationists counted 615 dead dolphins along a 90-mile stretch of beaches in Peru ... and the leading suspect is acoustic testing offshore by oil companies. "If you can count 615 dead dolphins, you can be sure there are a great many more out at sea and the total will reach into the thousands,” Hardy Jones, head of the conservation group BlueVoice.org, said in a statement after he and an expert with ORCA Peru walked the beaches. BlueVoice.org stated that "initial tests ... show evidence of acoustical impact from sonic blasts used in exploration for oil." The ORCA Peru expert, veterinarian Carlos Yaipen Llanos, said that while "we have no definitive evidence," he suspects acoustic testing created ... a sonic blast that led to internal bleeding, loss of equilibrium and disorientation. Another possibility is that the dolphins suffered from a disease outbreak, Yaipen Llanos said. "It is a horrifying thought that these dolphins would die in agony over a prolonged period if they were impacted by sonic blast," said Jones. Numerous dolphins first started washing ashore in January, with the largest amount coming in early February. Thousands of dead anchovies were also seen. BlueVoice.org noted that the U.S. has suspended similar testing in the Gulf of Mexico due to recent sightings of dead and sick dolphins. The ban was set to last through the dolphins' calving season, which ends in May.
Note: A San Francisco Chronicle article on this a few days later states, "All of the 20 or so animals ... examined showed middle-ear hemorrhage and fracture of the ear's periotic bone. ... Most of the dolphins apparently were alive when they beached." Clearly sonic blasts of some sort are driving these intelligent animals to beach themselves and commit suicide. For clear evidence this is the result of oil exploration, click here. For many other excellent media articles on whales on dolphins, click here.
Scientists have now documented behaviors like tool use and cooperative hunting strategies among whales. Orcas, or killer whales, have been found to mourn their own dead. Just three years ago, researchers at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York discovered, in the brains of a number of whale species, highly specialized neurons that are linked to, among other things, the use of language and were once thought to be the exclusive property of humans and a few other primates. Indeed, marine biologists are now revealing not only the dizzying variety of vocalizations among a number of whale species but also complex societal structures and cultures. Whales, we now know, teach and learn. They scheme. They cooperate, and they grieve. They recognize themselves and their friends. They know and fight back against their enemies. And perhaps most stunningly, given all of our transgressions against them, they may even, in certain circumstances, have learned to trust us. For all of their inherent elusiveness, the gray whales of Baja baffle scientists for the opposite reason: They can’t seem to get enough of us humans. The question of why present-day gray-whale mothers, some of whom still bear harpoon scars, would take to seeking us out and gently shepherding their young into our arms is a mystery that now captivates whale researchers and watchers alike. There may be something far more compelling going on in the lagoons of Baja each winter and spring. Something, let’s say, along the lines of that time-worn plot conceit behind many a film, in which the peaceable greetings of alien visitors are tragically rebuffed by human fear and ignorance. Except that in this particular rendition, the aliens keep coming back, trying, perhaps, to give us another chance.
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[Humpbacks whales] deliberately interfere with attacking killer whales to help others in distress. They don’t just defend their own babies or close relatives. They intervene on behalf of other species - a gray whale calf with its mother, a seal hauled out on an ice floe, even an ocean sunfish. Humpbacks act to improve the welfare of others; the classic definition of altruism. Robert Pitman, a marine ecologist ... describes a pivotal encounter he witnessed in Antarctica in 2009. A group of killer whales washed a Weddell seal they were attacking off an ice floe. A pair of humpbacks ... inserted themselves into the action. One of the huge humpbacks rolled over on its back and the 180-kilogram seal was swept up onto its chest between the whale’s massive flippers. And when the seal started slipping off, the humpback, according to Pitman, “gave the seal a gentle nudge with its flipper, back to the middle of its chest. Moments later, the seal scrambled off and swam to the safety of a nearby ice floe.” Pitman started asking people to send him similar accounts. Soon he was poring through observations of 115 encounters between humpbacks and killer whales, recorded over 62 years. So are humpbacks compassionate? When I pose the ... question to Pitman he [responds], “When a human protects an imperiled individual of another species, we call it compassion. If a humpback whale does so, we call it instinct. But sometimes the distinction isn’t all that clear.”
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One of the stories that inspired bestselling author Susan Casey’s new book on the intricate world of dolphins, Voices in the Ocean, is almost too beautiful to be believed. A biologist named Maddalena Bearzi was studying a group of dolphins off the coast of Los Angeles when she noticed something strange. The “pod” (group of dolphins) had just landed upon a herd of sardines. They were about to start feeding when one, unexpectedly, darted off. The rest followed, swimming full speed out to sea. When she reached them, three miles offshore, the pod had a formed a circle - in the middle of it, a girl’s floating body. Very near death, the girl had a plastic bag with her identification and a suicide note wrapped around her neck. With the dolphins' help, she was saved. The first dolphins lived on land. It took them 25 million years to adapt to being in the water. Their bodies shrank and their teeth shrank and their brains got big. They did all kinds of shape-shifting evolutionarily. Their brains grew significantly. It’s fascinating because scientists don’t know why. Most scientists’ main guess is that it was due to their changing social behavior. How did the dolphin know the girl was there? That’s the big question. They don’t rely on vision. I suspect it had something to do with frequency and vibration but of course that’s a guess. We don’t know. They tend to treat us the way they would treat other dolphins. By themselves, they’re vulnerable - to sharks, getting lost, all these things. So when you see dolphins together there is constant touching. They know how to help each other.
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Environmental organizations filed a lawsuit [on December 16] against the National Marine Fisheries Service to demand it force the Navy to consider alternatives to its five-year plan that will intensify its sonar use off Southern California and Hawaii. Earthjustice, representing several groups, filed the lawsuit ... only hours after the federal agency announced it had decided to grant the Navy permits to move ahead with its plans for training and testing in the Pacific. Environmentalists [favor] creating zones that would be off-limits to biologically sensitive areas [and] want the Navy to avoid training in certain spots seasonally when they are rich in marine life. "The science is clear: sonar and live-fire training in the ocean harms marine mammals," said Marsha Green of Ocean Mammal Institute. "There are safer ways to conduct Navy exercises that include time and place restrictions to avoid areas known to be vital for marine mammals' feeding, breeding and resting." Reported mass strandings of beaked whales have increased around the world since the military started using sonar more than half a century ago. The sounds can scare animals into shallow waters where they can become disoriented and wash ashore. Aside from beachings, biologists are concerned about prolonged stress from changes in diving, feeding and communication habits. Two recent studies off the Southern California coast found certain endangered blue whales and beaked whales stopped feeding and fled from recordings of noise similar to military sonar. Beaked whales are highly sensitive to sound and account for the majority of strandings near military exercises.
Note: Consider that naval sonar doesn't "scare" marine mammals, but rather drives them insane with the intensity of noise. Imagine a huge siren right next to your ears. You would certainly flee to try to get away. This is likely what is causing many of the whale and dolphin strandings. Studies have found stranded animals to have perforated ear drums, as you can read in this NBC News article. How much sound does it take to perforate an ear drum? For more on threats to marine mammals, see the deeply revealing reports from reliable major media sources available here.
In issuing a deliberately narrow ruling yesterday in a controversial case involving whales and the U.S. Navy, the Supreme Court strongly indicated that it intends to defer to the military in future disputes pitting national security against environmental concerns. The justices voted 6 to 3 to lift restrictions on the Navy's use of sonar off the Southern California coast, backing the military in a longstanding battle over whether anti-submarine training harms marine mammals. Environmentalists say the exercises disrupt habitats and leave the mammals with permanent hearing loss and decompression sickness. But the Navy argued that the training missions are essential to detecting a new generation of "quiet" submarines deployed by China, North Korea and other potential adversaries. "We do not discount the importance of plaintiffs' ecological, scientific, and recreational interests in marine mammals," Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. wrote in the first decision of the court's current term. "Those interests, however, are plainly outweighed by the Navy's need to conduct realistic training exercises to ensure that it is able to neutralize the threat posed by enemy submarines." Although the majority tailored its decision on narrow legal grounds and indicated that future environmental disputes will be decided on a case-by-case basis, the court made sweeping statements of deference to military judgments. Roberts unquestioningly accepted the assertion of top Navy officers that the exercises "are of utmost importance to the Navy and the Nation," writing that "the proper determination of where the public interest lies does not strike us as a close question."
A humpback whale freed by divers from a tangle of crab trap lines near the Farallon Islands nudged its rescuers and flapped around in what marine experts said was a rare and remarkable encounter. "It felt to me like it was thanking us, knowing that it was free and that we had helped it," James Moskito, one of the rescue divers, said Tuesday. "It stopped about a foot away from me, pushed me around a little bit and had some fun." Sunday's daring rescue was the first successful attempt on the West Coast to free an entangled humpback. It was a very risky maneuver...because the mere flip of a humpback's massive tail can kill a man. "I was the first diver in the water, and my heart sank when I saw all the lines wrapped around it," said [James] Moskito. "I really didn't think we were going to be able to save it." Moskito said about 20 crab-pot ropes, which are 240 feet long with weights every 60 feet, were wrapped around the animal. Rope was wrapped at least four times around the tail, the back and the left front flipper, and there was a line in the whale's mouth. Moskito and three other divers spent about an hour cutting the ropes with a special curved knife. The whale floated passively in the water the whole time, he said, giving off a strange kind of vibration. "When I was cutting the line going through the mouth, its eye was there winking at me, watching me," Moskito said. "It was an epic moment of my life." When the whale realized it was free, it began swimming around in circles, according to the rescuers. Moskito said it swam to each diver, nuzzled him and then swam to the next one.
New research reveals that orcas are able to imitate human speech, in some cases at the first attempt, saying words such as “hello”, “one, two” and “bye bye”. The creatures are already known for their ability to copy the movements of other orcas, with some reports suggesting they can also mimic the sounds of bottlenose dolphins and sea lions. “We wanted to see how flexible a killer whale can be in copying sounds,” said [study co-author] Josep Call. “We thought what would be really convincing is to present them with something that is not in their repertoire – and in this case ‘hello’ [is] not what a killer whale would say.” Only a fraction of the animal kingdom can mimic human speech, with brain pathways and vocal apparatus both thought to determine whether it is possible. “That is what makes it even more impressive – even though the morphology [of orcas] is so different, they can still produce a sound that comes close to what another species, in this case us, can produce,” said Call. Wikie, a 14-year-old female orca ... had previously been trained to copy actions performed by another orca when given a human gesture. After first brushing up Wikie’s grasp of the “copy” command, she was ... exposed to five orca sounds she had never heard before. Finally, Wikie was exposed to a human making three of the orca sounds, as well as six human sounds. Wikie was often quickly able to copy the sounds, whether from an orca or a human, with all of the novel noises mimicked within 17 trials.
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Late last year, fishermen began finding dead dolphins, hundreds of them, washed up on Peru’s northern coast. Now, seabirds have begun dying, too, and the government has yet to conclusively pinpoint a cause. Officials insist that the two die-offs are unrelated. The dolphins are succumbing to a virus, they suggest, and the seabirds are dying of starvation because anchovies are in short supply. There is growing suspicion among the public and scientists that there might be more to the story. Some argue that offshore oil exploration could be disturbing wildlife, for example, and others fear that biotoxins or pesticides might be working their way up the food chain. At least 877 dolphins and more than 1,500 birds, most of them brown pelicans and boobies, have died since the government began tracking the deaths in February, the Environment Ministry said last week. The dolphins, many of which appeared to have decomposed in the ocean before washing ashore, were found in the Piura and Lambayeque regions, not far from the border with Ecuador. The seabirds, which seem mostly to have died onshore, have been found from Lambayeque to Lima. In offshore seismic testing, ships tow arrays of air guns that release high-pressure air under water, producing sound waves that can be analyzed to locate oil and gas deposits deep under the ocean floor.
Note: A San Francisco Chronicle article on this states, "All of the 20 or so animals ... examined showed middle-ear hemorrhage and fracture of the ear's periotic bone. ... Most of the dolphins apparently were alive when they beached." Clearly sonic blasts of some sort are driving these intelligent animals to beach themselves and commit suicide. For clear evidence that this is the result of oil exploration, click here. For lots more from major media sources on the threats to marine mammals from human activities, click here. And for more on the mysterious mass animal deaths occurring worldwide, click here.
A new study of dolphins living close to the site of North America's worst ever oil spill – the BP Deepwater Horizon catastrophe two years ago – has established serious health problems afflicting the marine mammals. The report, commissioned by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration [NOAA], found that many of the 32 dolphins studied were underweight, anaemic and suffering from lung and liver disease. More than 200m gallons of crude oil flowed from the well after a series of explosions on 20 April 2010, which killed 11 workers. The spill contaminated the Gulf of Mexico and its coastline in what President Barack Obama called America's worst environmental disaster. The research follows the publication of several scientific studies into insect populations on the nearby Gulf coastline and into the health of deepwater coral populations, which all suggest that the environmental impact of the five-month long spill may have been far worse than previously appreciated. The study of the dolphins ... followed two years in which the number of dead dolphins found stranded on the coast close to the spill had dramatically increased. Although all but one of the 32 dolphins were still alive when the study ended, lead researcher Lori Schwacke said survival prospects for many were grim. A study of deep ocean corals seven miles from the spill source jointly funded by the NOAA and BP has found dead and dying corals coated "in brown gunk". Chemical analysis of oil found on the dying coral showed that it came from the Deepwater Horizon spill.
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Dolphins have been declared the worldâ€™s second most intelligent creatures after humans, with scientists suggesting they are so bright that they should be treated as â€śnon-human personsâ€ť. Studies into dolphin behaviour have highlighted how similar their communications are to those of humans and that they are brighter than chimpanzees. These have been backed up by anatomical research showing that dolphin brains have many key features associated with high intelligence. The researchers argue that their work shows it is morally unacceptable to keep such intelligent animals in amusement parks or to kill them for food or by accident when fishing. Some 300,000 whales, dolphins and porpoises die in this way each year. â€śMany dolphin brains are larger than our own and second in mass only to the human brain when corrected for body size,â€ť said Lori Marino, a zoologist at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, who has used magnetic resonance imaging scans to map the brains of dolphin species and compare them with those of primates. Thomas White, professor of ethics at Loyola Marymount University, Los Angeles, who has written a series of academic studies suggesting dolphins should have rights, [said], â€śThe scientific research ... suggests that dolphins are â€non-human personsâ€™ who qualify for moral standing as individuals."
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The songs that whales and dolphins use to communicate, orient themselves and find mates are being drowned out by human-made noises in the world's oceans. That sound pollution -- everything from increasing commercial shipping and seismic surveys to a new generation of military sonar -- is not only confounding the mammals, it also is further threatening the survival of these endangered animals. Studies show that these cetaceans, which once communicated over thousands of miles to forage and mate, are losing touch with each other, ... experts said at a U.N. wildlife conference in Rome. "Call it a cocktail-party effect," said Mark Simmonds, director of the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society, a Britain-based NGO. "You have to speak louder and louder until no one can hear each other anymore." Environmental groups also are increasingly finding cases of beached whales and dolphins that can be linked to sound pollution, Simmonds said. Marine mammals are turning up on the world's beaches with tissue damage similar to that found in divers suffering from decompression sickness. Scientists say the use of military sonar or seismic testing may have scared the animals into diving and surfacing beyond their physical limits. Several species of cetaceans are already listed as endangered or critically endangered from other causes, including hunting, chemical pollution, collisions with boats and entanglements with fishing equipment. Though it is not yet known precisely how many animals are affected, sound pollution is increasingly being recognized as a serious factor, the experts said.
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Anti-submarine sonar may have killed a group of whales found dead in the Hebrides in one of Britain's most unusual strandings, scientists believe. Five Cuvier's beaked whales, a species rarely seen in British waters, were discovered on beaches in the Western Isles on succeeding days in February. Another animal from a related species was discovered at the same time. Experts consider such a multiple stranding to be highly abnormal. The main suspect in the case is sonar, as it is known that beaked whales are highly sensitive to the powerful sound waves used by all the world's navies to locate underwater objects such as submarines. Groups of beaked whales have been killed, with sonar suspected as the direct cause, several times in recent years; well-documented incidents include anti-submarine exercises in Greece in 1996, the Bahamas in 2000 and the Canary Islands in 2002. Britain's Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society has now submitted a Freedom of Information request to the Ministry of Defence over the Hebridean strandings. The 21 species of beaked whale include some of the world's most rarely seen mammals; they are also the deepest-diving air-breathing animals. A Cuvier's beaked whale set the record for a deep dive two years ago: 1,899 metres, or 6,230ft, beneath the surface, holding its breath for an astonishing 85 minutes. The animals use these deep dives to forage, but when sonar gets involved, their remarkable habit may be their undoing. One theory is that the whales are so distressed by the intensely loud sound waves that they return too quickly to the surface, and in doing so, fatally suffer "the bends" – the formation of nitrogen bubbles in the blood which can kill human divers.
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