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Ocean Issues

Focusing on the effects of human noise on ocean life.
This is Ocean Issues Archive 2, containing items dated from June 2003 to September 2004.

South African Navy Extends "No Bomb" Period to Accomodate Whales - After complaints from citizens near False Bay, the South African Navy has agreed to extend the annual period during which it abstains from detonating underwater explosions, in order to accomodate what appears to be a lengthening season during which Southern Right Whales are in the area. Source: Cape Times, 9/1/04 [READ ARTICLE]

Whale-Finding Sonar Completes First Trials - A new sonar system that is designed to identify when whales are close to navy ships has completed its first sea trials. After being delayed a year by legal challenges, the tests took place off California during the Gray Whale migration to their breeding grounds. While the whales seemed to move away from the sonar vessel, they did not show signs of agitation or dramatic changes in direction. Conservationists failed to succeed in their legal challenge this year, which was based on the possibility that young whales may be more disturbed by the sound, which is just on the high end of gray whale hearing; the gray whale population has dropped dramatically in the past few years, leading to concerns that any disruption may be biologicially significant. Another round of tests will likely take place in 2006, with the system scheduled to be finalized by 2010. Source: Nashua Eagle-Tribune, 7/19/04 [READ ARTICLE]

Trash, Shipping Threats to Whales - Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust (HWDT), which monitors cetacean populations and the threats they face, is calling for the Scottish Executive to introduce a coherent marine strategy, backed by tough legislation, to help ensure the future health of the seas around Scotland’s coast. Source: Sunday Herald, July 2004 [READ ARTICLE]

Orcas Change Call Patterns in Response to Boat Noise - New reseach suggests that orcas in the Pacific Northwest are increasing the length of individual calls in order to be better heard over the din of whale watching and private recreation boats in their communities. During the 1990s, the number of boats in their waters increased about five-fold. Source: Bremerton Sun/Newsday, 4/30/04 [READ ARTICLE] BBC, 4/28/04 [READ ARTICLE] Baltimore Sun, 5/3/04 [READ ARTICLE]

Ocean Commission Releases Cautionary Report - The first federal commission to take a "big picture" look at US ocean policy since the 1960s has released a draft of its findings. "Our oceans and coast are in serious trouble," said commission Chariman Admiral James Watkins. "We believe the nation needs a new strategy to handle these problems that have arisen. We're calling on Congress and the President to establish a new national ocean policy that balances use with sustainablity, is based on sound science, and moves toward an ecosystem-based management approach." An outcome of the commission's work could be a system of zoning oceans for particular uses, the same way land is set aside for industrial development or parks. "We know where our underwater Yellowstones are, we know where the key spawning areas for most fishes are, we know where the best sites are to put aquaculture development, shipping lanes, offshore disposal areas,'' said John Ogden, director of the Florida Institute of Oceanography. "There has never been a plan equivalent to a land use plan.'' While the commission won't specifically propose zoning, Rosenberg said the idea might emerge in legislation spurred by its findings. Noise issues were mentioned only briefly in the report, which is currently in draft form and open to comments. Sources: Bloomberg News, 4/14/04 [READ ARTICLE] Voice of America News, 4/21/04 [READ ARTICLE] Commission Press Release. 4/20/04 [READ PRESS RELEASE]
RELATED: Ocean-21 Bills Introduced, Languish Until At Least September - Bills introduced in the House and Senate respond to the Ocean Commission report, but it is not clear whether they will be taken up by the current Congress. Conservation groups such as Oceana and the Natural Resources Defense Council praised the bill as a measure they said would fundamentally restructure ocean management and protection, providing a national vision for protecting, maintaining and restoring the oceans and institute an ecosystem approach to ocean management. The legislation would create national ocean science and education programs to improve management decisions and heighten public awareness of the importance of healthy oceans and coasts. “Without a doubt, this bill lays an important foundation for the creation of a new, better way of managing our oceans,” said Ted Morton, federal policy director for Oceana. With many unfinished priorities, Congress will have its hands full when it returns for short pre-and post-election sessions. Source: ENS, 7/23/04 [READ ARTICLE(sub)] FOLLOWUP: ENS, 9/22/04 [READ ARTICLE(sub)]

Shipping Noise is Focus of Symposium - Representatives of the shipping industry joined agency staff and environmental advocates for a recent symposium addressing the effects of shipping noise on marine mammals. While Navy sonars and oil survey airguns have been the targets of much concern due to their loud source levels, shipping noise is by far the largest and most omnipresent contributor to ocean noise levels. The shipping industry is just beginning to address the effects of its noise, as concern about overall noise levels increases. Sources: ENS, 5/14/04 [READ ARTICLE] Symposium website [WEBSITE]
Related: Ships Excluded from New Zealand Maritime Preserve
- The International Maritime Organization has issued an unprecedented ruling exluding large tankers from a biologically rich group of islands. The Poor Knights group, located off the east coast of New Zealand's North Island, is the first place on the planet to receive the IMO's "Mandatory Area to be Avoided" designation, which was adopted earlier this week to protect the marine environment. The islands, located 860 kilometers (537 miles) north of the capital, Wellington, are renowned for the diversity of their fish and marine life, including dolphins and seabirds, and also for their tourist diving attractions. Prevention of oil spills was the primary consideration, with noise effects a secondary issue. Source: ENS, 5/20/04 [READ ARTICLE]
Related: NOAA Proposes Shipping Changes to Protect Right Whales -
NOAA has proposed a sweeping set of navigation rules, including route changes and speed limits aimed at protecting the threatened right whale from ship stirkes in the North Atlantic. Source: ENS, 6/7/04 [READ ARTICLE] NOAA Shipstrike Website [WEBSITE]

Proposed Shock Trials Make Waves - Navy plans to detonate large explosions to test the resiliance of new warships has raised some concern in the coastal communities where the tests may take place. Three locations are under consideration, Norfolk, VA and two in Florida. Such "shock trials" are standard procedure before commissioning new ships; aerial surveys are carried out to be sure no marine mammals are visible in the area, and locations are chosen to avoid population concentrations. Becky Gillette, conservation chairman and vice chairman of the Mississippi Sierra Club, called the tests "very violent," but added, "it's localized and they make an attempt to drive out any big mammals (before the tests)." She said despite those efforts, "I've been told there are dead fish for miles." Public hearing are being held in advance of the testing, which is not scheduled until 2006. Source: Picayune Times, 4/24/04 [READ ARTICLE] The Mississippi Press, 4/19/04 [READ ARTICLE]

Alaska to Sell Oil and Gas Leases off Arctic Refuge Coast - In an end-run around Congressional and public opinion in the lower 48, Alaska Governor Frank Murkowski has announced plans for the state of Alaska to offer drilling leases in state waters along Alaska's North Slope. While the U.S. House and Senate remain grid-locked over opening ANWR for oil development, "I am not burdened with that process," Murkowski said. The governor, a former senator from Alaska, said the state "will not submit to the dictates of America’s extreme environmental community." The Beafort Sea has been quite thoroughly explored by seismic surveys for years, though new leases are generally accompanied by survey updates and more detailed siting surveys. Source: ENS, 4/1/04 [READ ARTICLE]

EU Nears Approval of Mandatory Pingers on Fishing Boats - In an effort to reduce the by-catch of dolphins in fishing nets, the European Union has approved sweeping new regulations that would require fishing boats to use "acoustic pingers", devices that emit ultra-sonic sound, and will phase out driftnets in the Baltic Sea. The pingers scare the dolphins away from the nets, where hundreds of thousands are entangled annually, according to supporters. Some environmental advocates decry the addition of more noise, especially noise designed to annoy dolphins. Harp seals seem to be attracted to the noise, or at least to the promise of an easy lunch on fish trapped in the nets. Source: AP/Newsday, 3/16/04 [READ ARTICLE] Reuters, 3/22/04 [READ ARTICLE]

Record Deepwater Drilling Taking Place in Gulf of Mexico - The Minerals Management Service announced that a new record for "ultra-deepwater" drilling activity in the Gulf of Mexico. Twelve rigs are currently drilling in water deeper than 5000 feet, following up on seismic survey data that points to exceedingly rich oil and gas deposits in the deepwater Gulf. Source: MMS Press Release, 4/3/04 [READ PRESS RELEASE]
Related: MMS Announces Western Gulf lease sale, 3/26/04: [READ PRESS RELEASE]
Related: MMS Receives bids on 557 new tracts in Central Gulf, 3/17/04: [READ PRESS RELEASE]

Countries Meet to Set Global Standards for Whale Watching - Representatives of nine countries are meeting in South Africa in an effort to develop a global set of standards governing the operations of whale watching vessels. Current regulations vary widely, with the US having the least conservative standard, allowing boats to approach to 30m from a whale. All of the other participating countries all set limits of at least 100m, with many countries requiring boats to stay 200 or even 400m from whales, especially mothers with calves. Source: ENN, 3/2/04 [READ ARTICLE]

Taiwan Set to Purchase US Active Sonar - In an effort to detect quiet diesel submarines in the Taiwan Strait, the Taiwan government will purchase two sets of the US Low Frequency Active Sonar systems. Plans are to deploy them from shore, rather than ships, within two years. Source: UPI, 2/17/04 [READ ARTICLE] Tapai Times, 2/16/04 (more in-depth) [READ ARTICLE]

Increasing Oil/Gas Development in Western Pacific Raises Concerns - Rapid expansion of development in a rich oil and gas field off the Pacific coast of Russia is worrying whale advocates. The area is an important breeding ground for the Pacific Grey Whale population; exploration and drilling began increasing in the mid-1990s, and while a recent study showed little effect on whale population (see [ARCHIVE ARTICLE]), there are increasing concerns that a recent increase in the numbers of whales showing signs of malnourishment could indicate that their food sources are being affected by drilling, incidental releases, or seismic surveys. Source: OneWorld, 2/12/04 [READ ARTICLE]

Reports (Kind of) Clear Navy in Puget Whale/Dolphin Incident - Reports from the Navy and the National Marine Fisheries Service have painted a relatively benign picture of an incident last May which alarmed whale observers who witnessed it. While a Navy ship broadcast a mid-frequency active sonar, orcas and porpoises seemed to panic, and divers reported painful levels of sound. Over the next several weeks, a somewhat higher than normal number of porpoises were found stranded, fueling concerns. NMFS necropsies on the stranded animals showed that of those fresh enough to determine a cause of death, none showed signs of acoustic trauma, while six bodies were too decomposed to determine a cause of death, so that acoustic trauma cannot be either ruled out or proven. The Navy report painted an even rosier picture, claiming that little if any abnormal behavior was observed, and blaiming unusual orca activity on a congruence of whale-watching boats in the vicinity of the pod. The Navy report also presents audio and acoustic modeling evidence that suggests that received levels were not especially loud, and that the reports of sound audible out of the water does not imply that the sounds were at extreme volumes. The stark variance between the Navy experts' picture and reports from both lay and expert witnesses at the time points to an important difference in emphasis: while the Navy is primarily concerned with not causing physical harm, there is a broad continuum of behavioral responses to loud sounds--including sonar, seismic airguns, and boat traffic--that deserve closer scrutiny. Sources: NOAA report [GO THERE] Seattle Times, 2/11/04 [READ ARTICLE] AP/NY Times 2/11/04 [READ ARTICLE]
Background: NOAA Necropsy report [GO THERE] Navy Report [DOWNLOAD(pdf)]
See Earlier News Digest Coverage

British Fishermen Roam From Home to find Quiet Waters - Fishermen from Cornwall and Looe have moved their operations away from their home waters due to a drop in catches during Naval exercises. Veteran fisherman Rick Smith said: "We have all been used to the Navy conducting its weekly exercises - known as the Thursday Wars - off Portland in the past, with lots of submarine activity and the use of sonar equipment. "But now they've shifted the practice sessions to Plymouth and Cornwall so the boats that normally work between Start Point and The Lizard are affected. "When I was fishing some years ago in the Portland area the crew could hear sonar noise on the hull over the top of powerful trawler engines, so God knows what effect it has on fish." While the drop in fish numbers off Cornwall is partly a seasonal cycle, the effect seems dramatic this year. Cornish boat owner Tony Berry, who currently operates the Charella and Levan-Mor out of Brixham, said: "There is a definite feeling that the sonar has an affect. When the Navy was in Iraq, the fishing off Looe was excellent." Source: This South Devon, 2/19/04 [READ ARTICLE]

Unmanned Vehicles to Join Ocean Traffic Fleet - An increasing emphasis on Remotely Operated Vehicles (ROVs) in spawning a new element in the ocean noise spectrum. ROVs are being developed for military surveillance, ocean research, geological mapping, and submarine rescue missions. Such vehicles are generally outfitted with cameras and/or high-frequency sonar, and are operated via joystick from a land-based control center. Over the coming decade or so, it is likely that the number of ROVs will explode. The sound of their engines will bring the noise sources closer to deep-dwelling creatures; conversely, ocean bottom mapping from ROVs may allow for decreased source levels of sonar used for mapping. A new Australian ROV is featured in this article: Source: ABC, 2/4/04 [READ ARTICLE]
Related: National Academies Report -
The National Academies of Science has prepared a report on the needs for remotely operated and manned underwater vehicles to support future ocean science research.Source: National Academies Press Release, 11/12/03 [READ PRESS RELEASE]

Whale-finder Sonar Tests Proceed Despite Challenge - A federal judge has allowed tests of a new high-frequency sonar system to continue off the California coast. The sonar, functionally somewhat similar to "fish-finding" sonars, is designed to spot whales that are not visible from the surface; it could be used to protect whales from extreme human noises, such as naval low and mid-frequency sonars and industrial activities such as seismic surveys or explosions. The tests were stopped last winter after the same judge ruled that further environmental impact analysis should have been done. This year's tests were again challenged, on grounds that the Environmental Assessment was insufficient (especially in regards to the effects of high-frequency sound on baby grey whales); the judge ruled that the EA was satisfactory, and the tests are ongoing during the January grey whale migration. Sources: AP, 1/17/03 [READ ARTICLE] San Francisco Chronicle 1/17/03 [READ ARTICLE] San Francisco Chronicle, 2/1/04 (on board vessel during tests) [READ ARTICLE] Manchester Union Leader 1/5/04 [READ ARTICLE] Cetacean Community (plaintiffs) [READ PRESS RELEASE] Scientific Solutions (defendant) [SEE WEB SITE]
Related: Group submits request to suspend tests
- The plaintiffs in the challenge that was turned down at the start of the tests have submitted new documents to the NMFS that purport to show changes in the whales' migratory paths in response to the sonar; such changes would imply that the whales are hearing the sonar, in contrast to the claim that it operates at a high enough frequency to be inaudible to them. Source:, 1/23/04 [DOWNLOAD PETITION(doc)] [DOWNLOAD MAP(pdf)]

Royalty Relief Plan Aims to Increase Gulf of Mexico Oil and Gas Production - The Bush administration has announced expected suspension of oil and gas royalties on production of oil and gas from deep below the Gulf of Mexico. The royalty suspensions will apply to new reserves pumped from over 10,000 feet below the seafloor; the relief will last five years and is expected to cost the federal government just over a billion dollars in lost revenue, while generating 1.4 billion dollars over the final fifteen years of the 20-year leases. While the Gulf has been thoroughly surveyed for oil and gas, new production is generally accompanied by some more detailed seismic surveys to pinpoint likely production sites, and ongoing surveys to track the changes in oil and gas reservoirs in response to pumping. Source: Reuters, 1/23/04 [READ ARTICLE]
Related: Alaskan North Slope Opened to New Drilling - Interior Secretary Gale Norton has announced the expected opening of the National Petroleum Reserve to new exploration and drilling. The Reserve is on Alaska's north slope, the same oil-rich region where the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge has been targetted for oil and gas development. Source: AP/Denver Post, 1/23/04 [READ ARTICLE]

Right Whales Show Alert to Siren - Right whales, which do not react to many human sounds, including passing ships (which often strike and kill them), respond dramatically to the sound of a siren, according to new research. The whales dashed to the surface when the sound was presented to them during research exploring why they don't avoid ships, and how to better alert them to passing vessels. The vigorous response suggests that the whales were put on alert by the sound, much as humans are by the piecing crescendo of siren blasts; while this could be used to better protect them from loud human activities, such an approach should be embraced with great caution. By startling them to the surface, we not only subject them to added sonic stress, but potentially move them into the surface zone, where they are within reach of ships. It is possible that such a system could be used to improve the ability of on-ship observers to spot whales in the vicinity of sonar or seismic survey operations. Source: BBC, 12/3/03 [READ ARTICLE] New Scientist 12/3/03 [READ ARTICLE]

US Congress Approves Weakened Protections for Marine Mammals - Responding to Pentagon concerns about limitations imposed on testing new sonar systems, the Defense Authorization Bill that came out of Conference Committee negotiations has retained the House provisions that weaken some key language in the Marine Mammal Protection Act. The new language will set a higher bar for researchers or the courts to invoke protections from "harassment," and will allow permits to cover impacts over vast areas and numbers of animals, replacing current permitting, which allows only small territorial and population impacts. In addition, it gives the Pentagon a blanket exemption to MMPA regulations, which can be invoked to cover any military activity deemed necessary; many observers suspect this provision could be invoked to expand deployment of the LFA sonar, which last month was limited to a portion of the western Pacific. The Bill also exempts the military from some provisions of the Endangered Species Act. Senator Olympia Snow (R-ME) expressed concern about the MMPA being revised through this channel, and stated that she hopes to "revisit" the new language when the subcommittee she chairs, which has proper jurisdiction over marine mammal rules, takes up re-authorization of the MMPA next year. Source: Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 11/8/03 [READ ARTICLE] Nature Science Update, 11/12/03 [READ ARTICLE]
Related: Enviros, Congressional Allies Aim to Roll Back Changes - Key members of Congress, including Maine's two GOP Senators, are questioning the amendments approved as part of the Defense Authorization bill. Environmental advocates, too, promise to challenge the changes during next year's reauthorization of the Marine Mammal Protection Act. Source: Washington Post/Boston Globe, 11/18/03 [READ ARTICLE]

Norway Bars Oil Drilling in Response to Environmental Concerns - Oil exploration and drilling has been barred for two years in the region surrounding the Loften Islands, an area that depends on fishing and tourism for virtually its entire economy, and is inhabited by the world's largest cod and herring populations, sperm whales and killer whales, and some of the largest sea bird colonies in Europe. Other areas in the Barents Sea were re-opened after a three-year hiatus; it is expected that the Lofoton area will receive permanent protection next year as part of the Barents Sea management plan. Source: ENN, 12/19/03 [READ ARTICLE(subscription)]

Novia Scotia Offshore Canyon Protection Moves Ahead - Regulations have been released that will govern future activities in Sable Gully, off of Novia Scotia. The area is slated to become the nations' second Marine Protected Area. While oil and gas exploration, including seismic surveys, are not explicitly prohibited, they do prohibit "the disturbance, damage, destruction or removal of any living marine organism or habitat within the gully," and so, according to Federal Fisheries Minister Robert Thibault will effectively mean oil and gas activities will not be allowed. Source: Canada News, 12/7/03 [READ ARTICLE]
Followup: Sable Gully Protection Finalized - The Sable Gully has become Canada's second officially designated Marine Protected Area, though the environment minister left open the possibility of carefully regulated oil and gas development on its fringes. Source: Toronto Globe and Mail, 5/15/04 [READ ARTICLE]

Australian Strandings Spur Questions About Seismic Surveys - A series of strandings in southeastern Australia, Tasmania, and New Zealand in late 2003 raised questions about whether seismic surveys being conducted in the region may have been involved. Over a hundred sperm whales, pilot whales, and dolphins stranded in a series of events across Tasmania, southern Australia, and New Zealand. The surveys have been occuring 400-600km away from the stranding locations, far beyond the likely zone of direct impact; generally, seismic airguns are expected to have noticable effects only within a few kilometers. However, the fact that several mother and calf sperm whales also stranded during surveys a year ago raises some concern that there are factors previously unaccounted for. It is not uncommon to see mass strandings of pilot whales, but sperm whales tend to remain in deep waters. Previous sperm whale strandings in Australia have been tied to biological infections. Source: Sydney Morning Herald, 12/05/03 [READ ARTICLE]
The Standard, 11/15/03 [READ ARTICLE]
The Standard, 1/15/04 [READ ARTICLE]
Related: Preditors or sound may have spooked whales -
New Scientist, 11/26/03 [READ ARTICLE]

Dolphins Reduce Volume of Clicks - A new study shows that dolphins reduce the intensity of their sonar clicks as they approach prey, so that the echoes will not cause damage to their hearing systems. Source: Richmond Times-Dispatch, 11/13/03 [READ ARTICLE]

Seismic Survey Planned off Cape Breton - A seismic survey of waters in the Gulf of St. Lawrence has been approved by Canadian regulators. The six-day survey will assess the natural gas potential of the area and will cover a 500 km path, with incremental ramp-up of sounds to encourage sea life to move away from the air guns before they are operating at full power. A one kilometer exclusion zone is planned (ie, operations will be suspended if whales are sighted within a kilometer), and the survey must remain at least ten miles from the low-water mark. In addition, the survey was delayed until early winter, when most of the cod and whales have left the area. Fishermen and cetacean advocates remain concerned about the possible impacts of the survey on marine mammals and snow crabs. Source: The Herald, 11/29/03 [READ ARTICLE] The Canadian Press, 10/28/03 [READ ARTICLE]
Related: Canadian researchers call for moving slowly toward surveys -
Citing uncertainties about possible impacts on marine life, a group of marine biologists and oceanographers are urging Canadian regulators to exercise caution in planning for the Cape Breton seismic surveys. Source: The Canadian Press 11/14/03 [READ ARTICLE]

Aussie Study Listens in on Humpback Vocalizations - A study funded by the US Office of Naval Research is listening in on humpback whale songs off Australia, in an attempt to learn more about the functions of the songs, and so to better assess how whale behavior may be disrupted by seismic surveys or naval sonar. Source:, 10/10/03 [READ ARTICLE]

Irish Dolphins to Call Local Cellphone Users - A project sponsored by a local environmental organization will allow Vodaphone cellphone users to listen in on the vocalizations of dolphins in the Shannon estuary. The service, set to begin in about a year, will use a series of hydrophones, and is aimed to raise awareness about the importance of the estuary to Irish dolphin populations; the recordings will also be analyzed by researchers studying the dolphins. Source: ElectricNews, 10/18/03 [READ ARTICLE] SDWF Website (features Flash presentation on the program and noise impacts) [WEBSITE]

Australia Refuses to Allow Seismic Surveys in Marine Park - Environment Minister John Thwaites rejected an application by an energy company seeking to explore parts of Twelve Apostles Marine National Park using seismic survey air guns. "While the chances of damage are low, there is insufficient evidence to show that there will be no impact," Thwaites said. "A higher . . . test applies to national parks and we have adopted a precautionary approach in this case." The Australian Conservation Foundation executive director Don Henry praised the decision, saying it showed the Government was "fair dinkum" about protecting marine national parks. Source: The Age, 10/16/03 [READ ARTICLE]

Study Finds Tissue Damage in Whales Exposed to Sonar - A study reported in current issue of Nature provides the first evidence of the mechanism by which navy sonars may be causing physical damage in beaked whales, leading some to beach and die. Necropsies on whales beached in the Canary Islands show lesions caused by the formation and expansion of bubbles in the tissues of internal organs. Such bubble formation is the cause of "the bends," which human divers experience when they surface too rapidly; it has long been thought that whale physiology protects them from the bends, even on rapid ascents. It is not clear whether the whales are startled into surfacing exceedingly rapidly, or whether the physical force of the sound pressure waves triggers the formation of bubbles in the whale tissue. "This is the best data we've ever seen from a sonar-related stranding," said Roger Gentry, coordinator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries Acoustics Team. He said NOAA will hold a workshop this year with the authors and others in the field to assess the new information and try to reach scientific conclusions. Dr. Darlene Ketten, who has led teams investigating strandings in the Bahamas and Puget Sound, cautions that "There have been a number of strandings, including the Bahamas, Madeira, the Canaries and Greece. Amongst all the strandings, the findings are not consistent. In the Bahamian case, we do not find any of the (blood-vessel blockage) that were reported in the ... Nature paper. Consequently, it would be premature to say that we have one cause that explains all the traumas that have been reported." While the incident being investigated involved a mid-frequency active sonar system, it will doubtless affect consideration of the newer low-frequency active systems currently being tested by the US and British Navies. Sources: Nature Science News, 10/9/03 (best brief article) [READ ARTICLE] New Scientist, 10/9/03 (very clear details of various beachings) [READ ARTICLE] Los Angeles Times, 10/9/03 (detailed overview, many comments) [READ ARTICLE] San Francisco Chronical, 10/9/03 (best coverage of the likelihood that sound waves are directly triggering the bubbles to form, rather than being caused by a rapid ascent) Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 10/9/03 (extensive quotes from many sources) [READ ARTICLE] [READ ARTICLE] Washington Post, 10/9/03 (includes comment from NOAA and Navy) [READ ARTICLE]
[See AcousticEcology.Org Special Report: LFAS]

Navy, NRDC Agree on Limited LFAS Deployment - In an agreement that should end the ongoing legal battle over deployment of the Navy's Low Frequency Active Sonar, the litigants have agreed on a plan to allow deployment for training purposes in a relatively limited area of the western Pacific Ocean. The area was chosen because of the Navy's concerns about North Korean and Chinese subs, and relatively fewer resident populations of whales. The agreement specifies seasonal restrictions on sonar use to protect migrating and birthing whales, as well as restrictions in coastal areas. The agreement applies only to peacetime training and testing missions; during wartime, there will be no restrictions. (It is not clear whether the Navy regards the current worldwide "war on terror" to be a window for more widespread deployment). Source: Seattle Times, 10/12/03 [READ ARTICLE] Bremerton Sun/Washington Post, 10/14/03 [READ ARTICLE] (great overview): San Jose Mercury News, 10/21/03 [READ ARTICLE]
Related: Asian Groups Express Concern on LFA Sonar Testing - Asian environmental groups responded quickly to the Navy and NRDC settlement, which limits LFAS testing to the western Pacific. Whale advocates questioned whether the agreement takes into account important regional breeding and migration grounds; despite the agreement's provisions for suspending sonar activity at biologicallysignificant times of year and avoiding coastal zones, there remain many questions about how far from transmissions effects may be expected. Source: Stars and Stripes, 10/18/03 [READ ARTICLE] Grist, 10/23/03 [READ ARTICLE]
Related: NRDC has posted its summer 2003 legal brief online [READ BRIEF]
The Federal Court Ruling on the case is also available [DOWNLOAD RULING(pdf)]
The Navy plans to conduct tests as part of a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement on the sonar system. Source: Federal Register, 7/28/03 [SEE FEDERAL REGISTER NOTICE]
Related: European Parliament Members, Environmental Groups Call for NATO Ban on Active Sonar - Several members of the European Parliament, led by British MEP Carolline Lucas, have delivered to NATO headquarters in Brussels a petition with 100,000 signatures and supported by environmental organizations worldwide. They are calling for the EU and NATO to ban use of active sonars, due to concerns about the impact of the loud sounds on ocean life. Meanwhile, representatives of global environmental organizations presented petitions signed by groups representing over 8 million people. The MEPs and environmental representatives met with NATO's Marine Mammal specialist and external relations officer; the NATO representatives stressed the need for more research, while the environmental contingent called for more regulation and/or a moratorium until more is known. Source: Detailed press release, Ocean Mammal Institute, 10/03 [READ PRESS RELEASE]

Ocean Census Begins - A decade-long project to identify new species and learn more about the movements of others has begun off the California coast. The Census of Marine Life involves researchers a wide array of agencies and institutions, including Stanford, UCSanta Cruz, and the NMFS, and is designed to begin filling in huge gaps in our knowledge of ocean species. Among the early projects is one which will implant small transmitters in coho salmon; these finger-nail sized units will transmit a faint signal that will be monitored by a network of listening stations in Monterey Bay as they leave spawning grounds in creeks and head to sea, where their movements are largely unknown. Source: San Jose Mercury News, 10/03 [READ ARTICLE]

Quiet Subs Pose Threat - The proliferation of diesel-powered submarines, which make detectable noise only when surfacing, is driving the development of new submarine detection systems, including active sonar and a new enhanced optical system (see below). In recent wargames in Australia, a US sub was "sunk" by the HMAS Waller, a quiet deisel sub that was invisible to its standard passive acoustic detection systems; deisel subs now represent the majority of the world's 380 deployed subs, while the US's fleet, variously estimated at 50 to 80 submarines, is predominently nuclear. Source: Hawaii Star-Bulletin, 10/5/03 [READ ARTICLE]
Related: US Sub Development Slowed - Source: The Day, 9/25/03 [READ STORY]
Related: New Submarine Detection System Uses Sight, not Sound - A new submarine detection system will be tested this fall in the Sea of Japan. While previous sub-finding systems have relied on sonar and complex systems of microphones, the Littoral Airborne Hyperspectral, or LASH, system uses a high-tech camera that can process light at a wide variety of wavelengths, allowing it to "see" into and through murky waters. Since the Navy has encountered increasing legal hurdles to deployment of its Low Frequency Active Sonar System, the new optical system has taken on increased importance, especially in light of possible conflicts in the western Pacific. Military officials say that although many or most Chinese and North Korean submarines rely on technology that originated in World War II, advances in propellers, engines and electronics make these subs extremely quiet. Adding to detection challenges: The relatively shallow ocean waters over the continental shelf are so noisy that it's difficult to hear submarines there. "Sound waves are diffused and distorted in this coastal zone, and you have a huge number of vessels, motorboats, even whales (ed. note: Imagine that--even wildlife?!?) making noise," says Jonathan Gradie, chief technology officer for STI. "There is a cacophony of noise that reduces the effectiveness of acoustic systems." Source: Honolulu Advertiser/USA Today, 8/19/03 [READ ARTICLE]

Navy to Assess Impacts of Expanded Test Ranges in Northwest Waters - The Navy is conducting an environmental assessment of plans to expand underwater exercises near its Naval Undersea Warfare Center at Keyport, Washington. A series of public meetings will be held in November. Source: Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 9/17/03

Commission Wants to Study Acoustic Impacts of Dredging on Manatees - The Jacksonville Waterways Commission has requested $25,000 to deploy bouys that will record the sound of dredging equipment, in an attempt to determine whether noise from dredging operations may be contributing to an increase in manatees killed in collisions with boats. Source: Jacksonville Daily Record, 8/1/03 [READ ARTICLE]
Related: Study Explores Using Manatee Vocalizations to Locate Animals
- Research at Homosassa Springs in Florida is leading investigators to hope that playing tapes of manatee vocalizations may encourage wild manatees to call in response, helping boaters to know where they are. This and other research is aimed at creating "smart" speed zones for boaters, so that boat speed limits can be lowered when manatees are present, and increased when they are not. Source: Sarasota Herald Tribute, 8/10/03 [READ ARTICLE]

EU Mandates "Pingers" in European Waters - Extending rules already in existence in the Mediterranean and Atlantic, the European Union has reduced the allowable size of driftnets driftnets in the Baltic Sea. In addition, acoustic "pingers" will be required for all fishing vessels in the Baltic, the North Sea, the Channel and Celtic shelf. The moves will especially benefit harbour porpoises, the most "critically endangered" marine mammal in the Baltic. Source: Guardian, 7/25/03 [READ ARTICLE]

Testing Begins on Dolphins Beached After Puget Sound Sonar Incident - When the Navy destroyer Shoup turned on its mid-frequency active sonar in Haro Strait last May, pods of orcas gathered together in a defensive posture, then scattered, and scores of dolphins were seen dashing away (see below). Whale watching boats could hear the sonar pings while the ship was barely visible over the horizon. Now several dolphins that beached in the next few days are being examined for possible signs of acoustic trauma. Independent researcher Ken Balcomb examined two carcasses, and found possible indications of acoustic damage; meanwhile, the National Marine Fisheries Service planning CAT scans and necropsies during the week of July 21. Sources (NMFS testing):, July 23, 2003 [READ ARTICLE] Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 7/21/03 [READ ARTICLE] KOMO-TV, 7/03 [SEE STORY] Sources (Balcomb testing): Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 7/2/03 [READ ARTICLE] Seattle Times, 7/1/03 [READ ARTICLE]
Good Overview of the incident and related sonar events: Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 7/12/03 [READ ARTICLE]
Related: State Lawmakers Hold Hearing
- The Washington State House of Representatives held a hearing in Edmonds in late September, focusing on the effects of Navy Sonar on ocean life. "This issue isn't about assigning blame, or suggesting we get all the boats out of the water as fast as we can," Rep. Mike Cooper, Chariman of the Fisheries, Ecology and Parks Committee said. "But just as certainly, we want to understand what sonar means for our marine mammals." The hearing featured testimony from NMFS, the Navy, and state environmental agencies. Source: Herald, 9/25/03 [READ STORY] Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 10/2/03 [READ STORY]
KOMO-TV, 10/3/03 [SEE STORY]
Related: State Designates Aquatic Reserves - Washington Public Lands Commissioner Doug Sutherland yesterday designated four sensitive areas of Puget Sound as aquatic reserves. He also gave special protections to two spots in Commencement Bay. Source: Seattle Post-Intelligencer 9/29/03 [READ STORY]
Related: Divers Report Extreme Ear Pain During Sonar Incident - Lisa Martin was diving in the area of the Shoup sonar incident and reports that she not only heard, but felt, the sound. "It was a physical sensation, feeling the tones, it felt like you were being poked in the eardrum right through." Source: KOMO-TV, 8/28/03 [READ ARTICLE (LINK TO VIDEO)]
Sonar Triggers Whale, Dolphin Panic off Vancouver Island - On May 5th, the US Navy Guided Missile Destroyer "Shoup" DDG 86 conducted sonar operations for five hours in the Strait of Juan de Fuca and in Haro Strait near Vancouver Island, creating one of the most obvious displays of marine mammal harassment that experienced observers have ever seen, anywhere. After the Navy vessel fired up a mid-frequency active sonar system, dozens of dolphins were seen dashing away at high speed, while a resident orca pod broke off feeding, gathered together in a behavior normally used for defense against predators, then (very uncharacteristically) broke up and dashed away in two directions. Since the incident happened in an area popular among whale watchers, the eyewitness reports of extreme distress are among the most solid, direct evidence that high-intensity sounds disrupt cetacean behavior. Several days later, up to ten dolphins were found dead on beaches, some with bleeding from the eyes and mouth (which could indicate acoustic impact as the cause; autopsies are being done). Reports indicate that marine mammals up to 20 miles away were affected, though the Navy's standard procedure is to suspend operations only when cetaceans are sighted from the ship. The sounds of the sonar seem to have been gradually ramped up (again, standard procedure, intended to drive whales away from the noise before it can hurt them), increasing in intensity until they were audible through hulls of small craft, and by some reports, through the air. The sonar system was shut down after the ship received reports from other vessels about the disruptions being caused. The Navy is investigating the incident, while the NRDC suggests that any activity having such dramatic impacts should have been proceeded by an EIS. Sources: Bremerton Sun, 5/8/03 [READ ARTICLE] Bremerton Sun, 5/12/03 [READ ARTICLE] Seattle Times, 6/17/03 [READ ARTICLE] Center for Whale Research Press Release (includes photos), 5/12/03 [READ PRESS RELEASE]
Related: Field report of dead beaked whale beached 6 days after mid-range sonar was heard. Source: Center for Whale Research, 2/2/03 [READ REPORT]
Related?: Orca Pod Exposed to Mid-level Sonar Sees Population Drop - In the realm of speculation worth further consideration, some Puget Sound observers note that the orca pod which has experienced the most dramatic population drop since 1995, the L pod, winters outside of the Sound, yet nearby. Naval testing of the mid-frequency active sonar system that caused the May 2003 incident in Haro Strait began in this area during 1995.

Shock Waves Blamed for Squid Deaths - The head of CEPESMA, the Spanish marine protection agency, has blamed the death of four giant squid on shockwaves from Spanish Naval exercises. The nature of the shockwaves is not clear from the story; it appears likely that they may have been caused by some sort of explosives exercise. Source: Reuters/ENN, 9/19/03 [READ ARTICLE]

Ocean and Fisheries Health Spurs Rash of Reports and Calls to Action - A series of new and unrelated reports have been issued by commissions and researchers worldwide, all calling for increased study, more coordinated management, and changes the ways that humans utilize the ocean's vast resources. In May, new research reported in the journal Nature claimed that stocks of the the world's "big fish", such as tuna, swordfish, and marlin, are in precipitous decline. In early June, two commissions released complementary reports: one, funded by the Pew Charitible Trusts and including leading marine biologists and domestic politicians, called for the creation of a single federal agency to oversea ocean issues. Over a hundred scientists attending "Defying Ocean's End", an international conference sponsored by Conservation International, called for far greater international coordination, new global treaties, and the creation of vast new "no fishing" zones. While the focus of all three reports was overfishing, the effects of increased human noise should certainly be among the issues considered by the further research and new agencies that may be spurred by this increasing concern. Another commission, this one a US-government sponsored group begun in 2000, is expected to issue its ocean health and policy report later this year. Sources: Pew Commission: AP/ENN, 6/5/03 [READ STORY] Defying Ocean's End: San Jose Mercury News, 6/4/03 [READ STORY] Nature big fish study: AP/ENN, 5/15/03 [READ STORY]

Sonar to Help Boats Avoid Manatees - A new sonar system is being tested as one possible way to help boats avoid collisions with manatees. Researchers are checking to be sure the sonar does not cause stress on the manatees (it transmits at a frequency well above manatee hearing, but within the range of some open-water cetaceans in the vicinity); an additional challenge is identifying manatees amidst various floating debris. Source: AP, 6/25/03 [READ ARTICLE]

International Whaling Commission Moves Toward Conservation - Striking out into new territory, the International Whaling Commission established a Conservation Commitee, charged with studying the impacts on whale populations of ship collisions, fishing nets, sound, and other threats; previously, the IWC concerned itself only with regulating whaling. The 25-20 vote victory was hailed by environmental groups as a groundbreaking development. Sources: International Fund for Animal Welfare/ENN, 6/16/03 [READ ARTICLE], ECO#2, 6/16/03 [READ ARTICLE]
Related: Meanwhile, some environmentalists were skeptical of a new oversight panel to study acoustic threats, set to be led by a researcher who had previously been involved in naval sonar research. ECO #4, 6/18/03 [READ ARTICLE]

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