Sonar May Cause Whale Beachings
There are many theories on what causes whale beaching, attributing to electro-magnetic interference, sonar, seismic activity and even offshore wind farms. Upon further study research suggests that whale beaching may be caused by ocean or white noise.
Today many questions are being observed by scientists, biologists and researchers. The biggest inquiry is whether ocean sounds made by humans are harmful or even disastrous to all marine life.
Communication vs Sonar
Various marine animals depend on sound for communication, feeding, breeding and navigation. Not only are the vocalizations of whales, dolphins and fish distinct from each other but most animal species have several ways to communicate with each other by utilizing sound. By living green we must as a world protect all life including marine mammals.
In the past 60 years ocean or white noise has radically increased in volume. According to the World Wide Whale association, ocean white noise has increased 10 decibels between 1950 and 1975. This is a 900% increase in 25 years. Today ocean noise can be up to 250 decibels which is equal to the takeoff of a commercial jet plane. A lot of this ocean noise is cause by sonar.
There are 2 straightforward problems associated with ocean or white noise and sounds. One is ambient noise level that is produced by shipping traffic, underwater explosive detonations, echo sounding and other industrial sounds. The problem with ocean ambient white noise is that it sound waves propagate 12 times faster through water than through air. Noise produced in water travels a lot further and carries more energy. According to various studies, ambient noise in the ocean may be interfering with a whale’s ability to communicate, locate food, find mates and possibly cause permanent hearing loss.
The second most lethal noise is the focused sound waves that are generated by Sonar at high frequency low to mid-levels. Sonar is used for exploring and mapping the ocean to develop nautical charts and used in war games by Navy submarines and surface ships.
Sound Channels of the Ocean and White Noise
Many researchers feel that marine animals use ocean sound channels to communicate. In fact, numerous authorities say that by permeating the ocean with high and low frequencies we are damaging marine animals and affecting the natural process of ocean communication.
Even with today’s innovative technology it is difficult to determine the amount of sound that may interfere with marine animals. Unfortunately ocean or white noise cannot be observed worldwide. Yet some studies show that normal communication between ocean animals has been disturbed. According to Joel Reynolds, director of the Marine Mammal and Urban Program at the Natural Resource Defense Council (NRDC), evidence shows that marine mammals are altering their sound patterns and rates which may show that normal communication has been disrupted.
While the U.S. Navy relies on sonar for national defense and our economy is dependent on a massive amounts of shipping we are faced with overwhelming obstacles and decisions. On one hand a high performing submarine force is crucial to the nation’s security, states the Navel Medical Labor Research Laboratory (NSMRL). On the other hand, it is imperative that we preserve ocean life not only for human decency but for mankind’s survival. The world depends on the ocean for food, medicinal plants and the weather. Even the slightest alteration could be highly damaging and irreversible.
Whale Beaching Time-line
In March 2000, massive numbers of beached whales lay helpless on the shores of the Bahamas. Necropsies (autopsies) of six dead whale beaching revealed that there was hemorrhaging around the brain and ears and more than likely caused by intense interior vibrations of mid-frequency sound waves or sonar.
In April 2001, the US Navy requests to be exempt from federal law for harassment or the killing of whales by utilizing sonar for detecting very quiet submarines. Additionally, Navy officials promised not use any sonar within a kilometer of all marine mammal including whales and sea turtles.
On September 24, 2002, more than a dozen beaked whales were beached on the Canary Islands. There were a total of eight that died. According to the Los Angeles Times, the whale beaching happened right after a NATO exercise. It is said that the US Navy’s use of sonar is to blame for the mass beaching of whales.
In July 2004, there were numerous whale beaching in Hawaii. Reports by the National Oceanic and Atmosphere Administration (NOAA) shows that there is a heavy connection between the Navy’s use of sonar conducted between July 2-3, 2004 and the whale beachings.
On January 15, 2005, there were reports of more than three dozen whale beaching off the coast of North Carolina. Immediately prior to the occurrence the Navy was testing sonar at a recommended 600 square mile Undersea Warfare Training Range. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) ruled out any weather or biological factors as the cause. Further NOAA reports states that the association between naval sonar activity and the location and timing of the event of the whale beaching could be causal rather than a coincidental relationship. The most recent NOAA report states that the cause of the whale beaching was “unclear”. However, evidence supporting a conclusive association is deficient.
Recent Whale Beaching
On Feb 15, 2010, reports show that there were a total of 168 whale beaching that died over a span of a few months on the shore of a New Zealand island. Reports also state that there were 9 whales already dead before they beached and many of the pilot whales suffered immeasurably. A total of 76 whales were saved by conservation teams. Additionally, in 2003 there were a total of 160 whales that died. According to marine biology specialists, the New Zealand islands are a direct path for whales that are headed to the South Pacific to breed.
On January 23, 2012 around 36 pilot whales were beached and died near Farewell Spit, New Zealand. Reports state that there were a total of 99 whales that were beached. Over 200 people were there to help including local volunteers, tourists, the Project Jonah marine rescue and Department of Conservation.
On December 8, 2013 there were 22 pilot whales were confirmed dead in the Florida keys. There was a pod of 51 short-finned pilot whales first observed stranded on the edge of the Florida Everglades National Park. The Coast Guard said 29 pilot whales remained missing.
February 12, 2014 there were 9 killer whales beached on the New Zealand coast (the far south coast of the South Island). The beached whales included eight adults and one juvenile. Although the Department of Conservation tried to reach them, by the time they arrive the whales were all dead. Researchers said it was rare for so many whales to be beached at the same time. As of date, scientists state that the deaths will have a major impact on the New Zealand orca population. According to Reuben Williams, a Department of Conservation spokesman, there are only about 200 left.
December, 2013: Beached whales in the Everglades National Park in southwest Florida
Other Whale Beaching Tragedies
- June 2004: Ōpoutere, South Auckland New Zealand, 74 pilot whales beached, 2 saved
- March 2008: Senegal , West Africa, around 100 beached pilot whales, 60 whales were released back into the ocean, 38 whales died
- June 2008: Cornwall England, 26 dolphins beached and die
- June 2008: Madagascar Africa, around 100 melon headed whales beached and died
- February 2009: Manila Bay Philippines, approximately 300 dolphins were beached, all were saved but 3
- March 2009: Hamelin Bay Australia, approximately 80 whales and dolphins are beached, 55 died
- March 2009: Tasmania’s King Island, 194 pilot whales and around 7 bottle-nose dolphins beached
- April 2009: Hamelin Bay Australia, 90 long-finned pilot whales beached. 54 whales survived and the dolphins survived
- May 2009: Kommetjie beach in Cape Town, South Africa, 55 pilot whales beached and volunteers moved 20 back into the sea. The remaining died
Featured Picture Credit: Society for the Advancement of Animal Wellbeing (SAAW)
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