Navy sued again over whale-riling sonar

by Walter Olson on March 25, 2007

“The [California] Coastal Commission and a national environmental group sued the Navy on Thursday over its refusal to take certain precautions to protect marine mammals during military training exercises off the coast of San Diego. While the commission’s legal action is a rarity, the Natural Resources Defense Council already had sued the Navy four times over its use of high-intensity sonar.” We last covered the controversy, and discussed the implications for national defense, Jul. 6, 2006. (Terry Rodgers, “Coastal Commission sues Navy over use of sonar”, San Diego Union-Tribune, Mar. 22; Alicia Chang, “Calif. Coast Panel Files Navy Sonar Suit”, AP/Washington Post, Mar. 23).

{ 1 comment }

1 Richard Nieporent 03.25.07 at 11:04 am

I actually spent time reading the Joint Interim Report on the Bahamas Marine Mammal Stranding that was referenced in the article. It was quite enlightening. The report states that a mass stranding of cetaceans was probably due to mid range navy sonar along with a number of other factors. I bet you didn’t know that a mass stranding is defined as two or more animals. In this case it was 17 cetaceans of which seven died.

The investigation team concludes that the cause of this stranding event was the confluence of the Navy tactical mid-range frequency sonar and a number of contributory factors acting together … This sound source was active in a complex environment that included the presence of a strong surface duct, unusual underwater bathymetry, intensive active use of multiple sonar units over an extended period of time, a constricted channel with limited egress, and the presence of beaked whales that appear to be sensitive to the frequencies produced by these sonars.

What did they use as evidence for this conclusion?

Of the six necropsies that were performed, only three animals (one Cuvier’s beaked whale, one Blainville’s beaked whale, and the spotted dolphin) were sufficiently fresh to clearly examine the lesions… The necropsy on the spotted dolphin revealed the animal died with systemic debilitating disease. It was considered unrelated to the mass stranding event cluster.

Thus their conclusions were based on the examination of two (!) whales. To state that this is not sufficient evidence to come to any conclusion is stating the obvious especially in light of the following statement. “The actual mechanisms by which these sonar sounds could have caused animals to strand, or their tissues to be damaged, have not yet been revealed, but research is under way.”

The report also stated that“Conclusions and Recommendations appearing here could change somewhat as final results become available.” I did a google search and could not find a final report. However I did find a report from the Advisory Committee on Acoustic Impacts on Marine Mammals Report to the Marine Mammal Commission, 1 February 2006, that referenced the interim report.

Although we know that anthropogenic sound in the ocean is a serious threat, we do not have sufficient information at this time to understand the full extent of the problem. One of the biggest challenges faced in regulating the effects of noise is our ignorance of the characteristics and levels of sound exposures that may pose risks to marine mammals. Given the current state of our knowledge we must therefore take a precautionary approach in the regulation of noise. We must also expand our efforts to protect and preserve marine mammals by instituting and using effective mitigation measures – such as geographic exclusion zones – now, to keep marine mammals at a distance from noise sources that have the potential to harm or kill them. In addition, we must commit to understanding this problem better by funding a national research program. Only through a combined approach – precaution, mitigation, and research – can we assure that these very special resources will be here for the enjoyment of future generations.

Once again the precautionary principle rears its ugly head. In other words we don’t need no stinkin scientific facts to make decisions. When it comes to nature and the environment it is only feelings that count. Also we must spend lots of money on research. Why am I not surprised by that recommendation.

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