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Ocean Issues

Focusing on the effects of human noise on ocean life.
This is Ocean Issues Archive 4, containing items dated from March 2005 to March 2006.

Sonar-caused Injuries Likely Caused Strandings in Mediterranean; North Carolina Fatalities Do Not Show Similar Impacts, No Clear Cause Found - It's been a mixed month for mid-frequency active sonars. Four beaked whales that stranded off the Almeria coast of southern Spain in late January all showed physiological injuries consistent with past sonar casualties, while 36 whales stranded in January 2005 off North Carolina did not show the physiological damage seen in other sonar incidents. A consistent set of pathologies has been seen in several strandings coincident with high-intensity active sonar exercises over the past several years, and has garnered a new name: "gas and fat embolic syndrome." The Spanish whales showed these signs, including bleeding around the ears and brain, and tissue lesions in their livers and other organs, likely caused by expansion of nitrogen bubbles (most likely during rapid surfacing to escape noise, though perhaps by a direct acoustic triggering of bubble expansion). The UK Navy had conducted a sonar exercise in the area two days prior to the strandings; the UK Ministry of Defense responded by announcing that all sonar-equipped ships will be outfitted with a passive acoustic monitoring system capable of identifying any whales within two kilometers. Unfortunately, past studies, including the most complete analysis of beaked whale strandings (after an incident in the Bahamas in 2000), indicate that injury can occur at larger distances; beaked whales, the family apparently most susceptible to these effects, are also less vocal than most whales, so are difficult to find using listening systems. Meanwhile, the final report on a stranding a year earlier off the North Carolina coast was released by the NMFS. The "atypical" multi-species stranding showed no definitive or consistent signs of the "gas and fat embolic syndrome" pathologies (though two pilot whales had some internal tissue lesions), and some animals showed signs of other illness. However, the near-simultaneous live beaching of so many whales from several species remains unusual, and no non-acoustic cause of death was clearly identified. The report does not rule out sonar as a cause, but the "smoking gun" found in several other similar incidents is missing. It is possible that a behavioral response (avoiding the noise) was a factor in driving the deep-water whales toward shore (a "surface duct" that could have increased the range of the sound occurred on one day of the sonar training), though they do not appear to have sustained acoustic trauma-induced injury. High winds and ocean conditions could have contributed to the beachings, as well. Sources: Spain/UK incident: London Times, 3/26/06 [READ ARTICLE] The Independent, 3/19/06 [READ ARTICLE] NRDC Press Release, 3/17/06 [READ PRESS RELEASE] Las Palmas University Unit of Cetacean Research Preliminary pathology statement, 3/17/06 [DOWNLOAD REPORT(pdf) North Carolina Report: Reuters, 3/30/06 [READ ARTICLE] Executive Summary of NMFS report, 3/30/06 [READ SUMMARY] Full NMFS Report [DOWNLOAD REPORT (pdf)] MS-NBC, 3/30/06 [READ ARTICLE], 3/30/06 [READ ARTICLE] Washington Post, 3/30/06 [READ ARTICLE]

Navy Takes NC State Officials on a Sonar Training Mission - In an effort to stress the importance of sonar training and to counter local resistance to the proposed Undersea Warfare Training Range, state environmental officials and the press were invited to observe on a mission off the North Carolina coast. During the exercise, one of the three planned sonar emissions was cancelled when a pod of dolphins appeared. Officals noted that where they usually train now, off Jacksonville, Fla., or the Virginia Capes, there is no structured feedback from under water; the proposed network of sensors to be installed on the seafloor of the USWTR is one of its advantages. Response from state officals was mixed. “They’ve got to be able to train like that to know what they’ve got to do,” said Bryan Gillikin, N.C. Marine Fisheries Commission member. “I just would like to feel more comfortable that the concentration of active sonar use will not have significant impacts on our fisheries,” said Louis Daniel of the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries. Jene Nissen, with Fleet Forces Command Accoustics Policy Development, told the group that the Navy knows from public comments it received that it must expand its evaluation of acoustic impacts on fish, and the Navy has commissioned such a study from the University of Maryland that should yield some preliminary findings in a couple of months. Source: Sun-Journal, 3/21/06 [READ ARTICLE] Carteret County News-Times/, 3/17/06 [READ ARTICLE]
Related: Navy Official Says Draft EIS May Be Revised - The Navy is considering producing a Supplemental Draft EIS to address the many concerns that were raised in comments on the original DEIS, released in early 2006. This would provide an additional step in the process of moving toward a final EIS and decision on the proposed Undersea Warfare Training Range. "We don't want to be a bad neighbor," a Navy spokesman said. The author of a local editorial opined "That may be the most welcome news to come from the Navy since the range was first proposed." Source: News & Observer, 5/8/06 [READ ARTICLE]

Autonomous Gliders Used for Acoustic Monitoring - For the first time, researchers have used autonomous underwater "gliders" as a platform for recording whale vocalizations. Previously, acoustic monitoring relied on hydrophones installed on bouys or the ocean floor, or deployed from ships. Scientists at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) have reported the first use of passive acoustic recorders in an ocean glider, a type of AUV that looks like a large model airplane and can work in water depths to 1,000 meters (about 3,300 feet) or more. Gliders move both horizontally and vertically in the ocean and work around the clock in all weather conditions, typically up to a month or longer depending on the project. The vehicle carries a variety of high-resolution sensors to collect oceanographic measurements such as temperature, salinity, and fluorescence (a measure of phytoplankton abundance). Gliders also operate silently, which make them ideal for passive acoustics studies. Researchers say the gliders are a promising, cost-effective, and efficient alternative to long-term ship-based studies given ship costs in the thousands of dollars a day. Source: Eurekalert/WHOI Press Release, 2/21/06 [READ PRESS RELEASE] Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 3/4/06 [READ ARTICLE]

NOAA Objects to Navy Training Range Draft EIS - In an unusually direct and public rebuke to the Navy, the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration has filed comments on the Navy's proposed Undersea Warfare Training Range which suggest that the Navy has set its allowable levels of noise too high, has underestimated impacts on migrating right whales, and has neglected to consider the likelihood of whale deaths. The comments may highlight growing tensions between the civilian agency in charge of regulating ocean issues, and the Navy's approach to operating its mid-frequency active sonar systems. However, Brandon Southall, a NOAA acoustician, said last week the agency's remarks are part of a bureaucratic process still in its early stages and shouldn't be interpreted as a battle between the governmental agencies. "The hard thing for both sides is that we're operating with not enough information," Southall said, referring to the dearth of research on marine mammals' noise reactions. Meanwhile, it has taken nearly two dozen people an entire week to sort 40,000 pages of public comments on the Navy's plans; many were form letters, though environmental organizations and state agencies submitted detailed comments. Source: The Virginian-Pilot, 2/26/06 [READ ARTICLE] Washington Post, 2/18/06 [READ ARTICLE]

UK Commission Calls for Global Ocean Noise Mapping - A report from the Inter-agency Committee on Marine Science and Technology in the UK identifies shipping, naval sonars, and industrial activty as acoustic threats to sea life, and urges a commitment to new research to better determine how to minimize impacts. One of its key recommendations is that systematic and comprehensive mapping of noise in the ocean should be undertaken to better inform the framing of future legislation. Source: Guardian, 2/13/06 [READ ARTICLE] BBC, 2/13/06 [READ ARTICLE]

New Anti-Scuba-Terrorist System Triggers Nausea - A new acoustic weapon developed by Raytheon sends out sound waves that are tuned to cause severe nausea. It is designed to be used against scuba-diving terrorist threats; Al Qaida is known to have been exploring such options. Once a would-be attacker, well, loses it in their masks, "further underwater operations (are) difficult, if not impossible." Source:, 2/1/06 [READ ARTICLE]

LNG Terminal in Long Island Sound Raises Questions - After almost two years of preliminary sparring, developers of a proposed Liquified Natural Gas terminal are preparing to submit final plans. The Coast Guard, however, has said that it cannot complete the necessary safety and security assessment, because the company's submitted data is inadequate. Not only did the company, Broadwater, supply data for smaller cargo ships and storage tankers than will actually be used, it also supplied Baltimore weather data to evaluate how far a vapor cloud would travel if the natural gas were accidentally released. Local residents have challenged the project, saying that the industrialization of the sound is inappropriate. The offshore facility would be 1200 feet long, 180 feet wide, and 100 feet tall, and be the hub of large tankers traffic. Sources: Newsday, 1/19/06 [READ EDITORIAL] Hartford Courant, 1/22/06 [READ EDITORIAL] Broadwater Website [WEBSITE] Citizens Coalition Website [WEBSITE]
Related: "Whalewatching Capital of the World" Considering Large Tanker Port - Gloucester, Massachusetts, one of the the east coast's leading whale watching ports, is considering the development of two offshore liquified natural gas port. In the coming months, marine life in the waters north of Boston could be affected by a variety of noise-producing projects, including: the LNG unloading stations; a cruise ship terminal in Gloucester that, officials say, could bring as many as 40 ships to the city annually; a planned pier in Salem for a Boston-Salem ferry; and a pier in Winthrop that, officials hope, will one day include a commuter ferry service. Some local leaders and fishing groups fear that the projects, near prime fishing grounds, could harm the industry. Energy companies are still preparing information for regulators about potential environmental impacts from their projects, including noise levels. Still, spokesmen for both companies, Excelerate Energy LLC and Neptune LNG LLC, say they will take extra precautions to reduce noise. Neptune says it will require ships to shut down most of their engines while offloading. And Excelerate says it plans to study the noise levels emanating from a 900-foot-long ship at its LNG facility in the Gulf of Mexico to submit to regulators so scientists will have more concrete data to study when reviewing potential impacts of the project off the North Shore. The projects still need to be approved by a variety of federal and state authorities. Source: Boston Globe, 1/1/06 [READ ARTICLE]

NMFS Analysis of NC Strandings Nearing Completion, Sonar Questions Remain - A long-awaited study by NMFS biologists looking into the cause of a mulit-species stranding of cetaceans along the NC coast last January is nearing completion, amidst charges that sonar impacts are being edited out. A preliminary report, obtained by the National Resources Defense Council under a FOIA request, pointed toward early evidence that bubble-induced liver lesions were found in at least one carcass, consistent with past strandings caused by exposure to mid-frequency sonar. In a recent update released by NMFS, there is no mention of sonar-induced lesions; NMFS says that further study led to the conclusion that the presence of bubble lesions could not be conclusively confirmed. Other lesions and hemorrhages were found in a variety of organs of many stranded animals, which appeared otherwise healthy (no infections); these lesions are not as specific a "smoking gun" for acoustic impacts. NRDC attorney Andrew Wetzler said that the second report "seems a lot more like spin than science." NMFS strandings program director Teri Rowles countered that "Sonar has not been implicated or eliminated -- it remains one of many possible causes." A final version of the NMFS report is due to be released in March, after the public comment deadline for a proposed Navy Undersea Warfare Range in waters off the North Carolina coast [SEE BELOW]; research into the ears of stranded animals may well take longer. Sources: Washington Post (1/20/05) [READ ARTICLE] NMFS Updated Preliminary Report, 1/13/05 [READ REPORT]

Beluga Habitat to be Opened to Oil and Gas Exploration - Two large leases in the Canadian MacKenzie Delta region, in and near protected beluga whale habitat, are being opened to oil and gas exploration. The parcels comprise about 156,300 hectares. One is about 70 kilometres west of Tuktoyaktuk, and the other is off the northern coast of the Yukon. The government is offering nine-year exploration licences to the successful bidders, in consecutive terms of five and four years. It is typical to use seismic surveys during the exploration phase, to pinpoint areas likely to pay off for drilling. Between 20,000 and 40,000 beluga whales migrate into the area every summer because the shallow and relatively warm water offers them easy access to prey. While drilling will not be allowed in the most sensitive areas, nearby waters will be open. Government officials expect to limit all activity during migration times. Source: CBC, 1/5/06 [READ ARTICLE]

Luna Killed Playing with Boat - Luna, the juvenile killer whale from Washington waters who got lost in Canada's Nootka Sound five years ago, apparently died Friday when he was accidentally struck by a tugboat propeller, Canadian authorities said. Luna, known to scientists as L-98 and a member of one of Washington's three resident orca pods, or family groups, wandered into Nootka Sound on the west side of Vancouver Island in 2001 and stayed, worrying activists and annoying boaters and seaplane pilots with his friendly curiosity. The 1,700-horsepower seagoing tug had pulled into sheltered waters near Conception Point to escape rough weather in the Pacific Ocean. Luna, known to enjoy playing in boat wakes, "was swimming under the vessel and was hit by a propeller," Sloan said. "It was a really big tugboat — 104 feet," she said. The vessel was idling when Luna approached. "Luna came over as he does and was interacting — disappearing under the hull and so on. ... He must have gotten drawn into the propeller," said government research scientist and orca expert John Ford. The tug's big propeller, contained in a cylinder, "generates a lot of current. ... It would have been a sudden death." "The skipper is reported to be greatly distressed. He called the coast guard immediately after it happened," Sloan said from agency offices in Vancouver, B.C. "A lot of people here are pretty shocked and saddened." "It was one of our fears about what might happen to Luna," Ford said. "Of course he's been engaging in these risky interactions with boats for several years now." Source: Seattle Times, 3/11/06 [READ ARTICLE]
Related: Solitary Orca Continues to Perplex, Delight BC Fjord - A six year old orca that has been living in Nootka Sound on the west coast of British Columbia for over four years continues to stir controversy. Fishermen grumble about Luna's tendency to target and break their fish-finder sonar units, likely in response to being annoyed by the sounds, but many locals enjoy the friendly interactions that have become common at dockside and from boats. Local indigenous Mowachaht/Muchalaht band members resisted an attempted capture last summer; the Canadian DFO planned to try to reunite Luna with his family as it passed by in open waters, but there was much concern that if the attempt failed, Luna would end up in captivity. Band members "sang their hearts out" until Luna slipped from the net and took refuge among their canoes. A new plan being floated involves using acoustic stimulation to provide an engaging alternative to pestering fishermen; meanwhile, First Nation members have succeeded in encouraging Luna to explore beyond the mouth of the Sound, raising hopes for a natural encounter with his pod next summer. Source: LA Times, 12/25/05 [READ ARTICLE]

Offshore Sonar Training Range Stirs Controversy - The US Navy's plan to establish a 500 square mile training range, 50 miles off the coast of North Carolina has raised the hackles of many locals, especially fishermen. Filling a Naval desire for consistent anti-submarine warfare training opportunities in relatively shallow waters, the site, dubbed the Undersea Warfare Training Range, will be host to up to 48 mid-frequency active sonar exercises per year, plus 113 exercises using other, somewhat less intense acoustic sources. At a public hearing in Jacksonville, NC, locals raised many objections to the plan. "As charter boat captains, we have witnessed a complete shutdown of fishing in this area while the Navy was conducting training," said Stephen Draughon, a Morehead City charter boat captain who spoke on behalf of North Carolina Watermen United. Joe Shute, a bait and tackle shop owner, noted that during a weeklong blue marlin tournament in Morehead City, the first day of fishing was fine, but that "The second day they turned on their maneuvers, and we didn't catch any more fish until the end of the week until they quit." A NMFS report on the cause for a mass stranding in the area in early 2005, 50 miles from a sonar exercise, is due in January. The Navy hopes to move ahead with an Atlantic training range, to supplement two existing ranges, off Hawaii and California. At the end of December, the Navy extended the public comment period to the end of January, and announced plans to consolidate and make public the research behind its claim that fisheries will not be affected by the range. Among comments submitted are concerns that the Navy minimized the presence of right whales, and used outdated sources to estimate the amount of coral to be disturbed, and omitted any reference to the January strandings in the area. Sources: NCNews Observer, 1/31/06 (summarizes some comments submitted) [READ ARTICLE] NCNews Observer, 1/31/06 (Coast Guard Captain letter supporting sonar use) [READ ARTICLE] NC News Observer, 1/2/06 [READ ARTICLE] 12/20/05 [READ ARTICLE] Raleigh Daily News, 12/20/05 [READ ARTICLE] National Geographic, 11/3/05 [READ ARTICLE] The Virginian Post-Pilot, 10/22/05 [READ ARTICLE] The Navy Times, 10/21/05 [READ ARTICLE] Washington Post, 10/23/05 [READ ARTICLE] Navy Undersea Warfare EIS [DEIS WEBPAGE] Watchstander, Issue 1 (New Navy Newsletter on Sonar issues) [DOWNLOAD NEWSLETTER(pdf)] Jacksonville NC Daily News (report on public hearing), 11/18/05 [READ ARTICLE] Jacksonville NC Daily News (report prior to public hearing), 11/16/05 [READ ARTICLE]
RELATED: Diver Recounts Experiencing Active Sonar in the Water Source: Monterey County Weekly, 12/1/05 [READ ARTICLE]
By Sea and by Air: North Carolina Also Faces Jet Training Range -
The offshore sonar training range is not the only military expansion planned in North Carolina. The Navy plans to build a facility in Washington County for pilots to practice aircraft-carrier landings. “In a few years, the dominant sound heard in the skies near Pocosin Lakes will be the roar of F/A-18 Super Hornet fighter jets,” writes Greg Jenkins, associate editor of the state’s wildlife magazine. More than 100,000 snow geese and tundra swans overwinter in Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge, which neighbors the Navy site, and in several nearby Wildlife Commission-owned state game lands. Snow geese, especially, are easily spooked. If the jets chase away the big, white birds, they could have trouble finding new foraging grounds, which could damage the flocks’ health and reproduction. For those reasons, the Wildlife Commission has joined the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and several nonprofit organizations in opposing the Navy project. Navy environmental scientists report that noise levels on and off the site will be, on average, the equivalent of a normal conversation. But average noise levels, opponents argue, take into account the 99 percent of the time that a jet isn’t streaking overhead as loud as a power tool or approaching subway train. And considering the irregular schedule of flights—from none to hundreds, each day or night—skittish wildlife would have difficulty habituating. Source: North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission Press Release, 12/16/05 [READ PRESS RELEASE]

Noise at Shell Platform at Sakhalin Endangers Rare Whales - Construction of an oil platform at the controversial Sakhalin II oil and gas project in the Russian north Pacific appears to be causing the very endangered Pacific Gray Whales to avoid a key feeding ground. With only a hundred whales remaining in this population, any disruption is a concern. Results from the survey carried out from July to September — the whale's peak feeding period — showed fewer whales in the area closest to the platform, which covers a fifth of their only known feeding grounds. Noise from platform construction or ship traffic are the most likely causes for the shift. Earlier this year, Shell ignored the findings of an independent panel of distinguished scientists that recommended against constructing a platform near the whale's feeding area. "I am extremely concerned that the installation of the platform may have caused significant dislocation of the whales," said Richard Steiner, a professor at the University of Alaska. "This does not bode well for the future of the whales and calls into question Shell's professed commitment to the environment.” Source: M&C, 12/14/05 [READ ARTICLE] WWF Press Release, 12/14/05 [READ PRESS RELEASE]

Study Measures Impact of Boat Noise on Humpbacks - A multi-year study is underway in Alaskan waters, aimed at discovering how much impact boat noise has on humpback whale communication. Each year, they will make thousands of baseline recordings of humpback calls in the absence of vessel noise. They will compare those calls to whale vocalizations recorded when boats are systematically driven through areas where whales are present. The researchers will also outfit a handful of humpbacks with recoverable underwater microphones to record individual vocal samples and experience noise from a whale perspective. Source: UCDavis Press Release, 12/14/05 [READ PRESS RELEASE]

Navy Revamps LFAS Plans, EIS - In response to court-ordered limitations on training missions using the Low-Frequency Active Sonar system, which has kept the system confined to a remote area of the west Pacific for the past couple of years, the US Navy has released a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement that paves the way for worldwide deployment. The new EIS attempts to address environmental protection shortcomings in the previous operational standards, and proposes to allow four ships outfitted with LFAS to operate in the Pacific, Atlantic, Indian Oceans, and the Mediterranean Sea. The four alternatives include coastline standoff restrictions of 22 and 46 kilometers (12 and 25 nautical miles), seasonal variations, and additional offshore biologically important areas. Public comments are being accepted through February 10. Source: Hawaii Advertiser, 12/9/05 [READ ARTICLE], 12/17/05 (includes extensive objections by the indigenous King of Hawaii) [READ ARTICLE] US Navy LFA EIS Website, 11/14/05 [WEBSITE]

UN Report Raises Concern Over Ocean Noise - The United National Environment Program has released a report analyzing threats to marine species that includes ocean noise as a threat to some species. This marks the first time that the UN has addressed the impacts of ocean noise. The report, done in conjunction with the Convention on Migratory Species, notes that three species of whales are at risk from active sonars, and also notes that seismic exploration used in the hunt for undersea oil and gas and the increased movement of large ships may also cause problems for cetaceans. Source: Reuters, 11/24/05 [READ ARTICLE]

NRDC Releases Oceans of Noise Report - Increasing levels of ocean noise generated by military sonar, shipping, and oil and gas exploration are threatening dolphins and whales that rely on sound for mating, finding food and avoiding predators, according to a new report. The report released Monday by the Natural Resources Defense Council found that the effects of ocean noise on marine life range from long-term behavioral change to hearing loss to death. The report, a follow-up to a 1999 study, included details from necropsies performed on beached whales suspected of being exposed to Navy sonar. Sources: AP/Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 11/22/05 [READ ARTICLE] Virginian Post-Pilot, 11/23/05 [READ ARTICLE] ENS, 11/22/05 [READ ARTICLE(sub)]

Orca Listing Will Not Hamper Navy Sonar Tests - The recent endangered species listing of three resident ocra pods in the Pacific Northwest will not limit the Navy's use of mid-frequency sonar in the region, according to a tentative agreement with local orca watchdogs. The Navy is adding to its orca protection efforts by incorporating data gathered by the Orca Network, which tracks the movement of local pods, in order to better avoid activing sonar near them. In 2003, a test by a Navy vessel appeared to disturb nearby orcas. After that, Navy officials established regular communications with local private researchers. Howard Garrett, board president of Orca Network, based on Whidbey Island, says, "There hasn't been another incident that we know of. I can very cautiously say things seem to have improved." The Navy still needs to do more, said Fred Felleman, the Seattle-based northwest director of Ocean Advocates. The Navy has sophisticated equipment that listens for enemy vessels, and that equipment should also be used to track whales more effectively: "To have the third largest naval complex (of installations) in the world rely on Orca Network for their maps is embarrassing," Felleman said. Source: The Daily Herald (Everett, WA), 11/19/05 [READ ARTICLE]

New Zealand Seismic Surveys Raise Concerns for Hector's Dolphins - Plans for seismic prospecting off the west coast of New Zealand have raised the ire of conservationists. The federal government recently determined that the plans need not be subject to public comment. Endangered Hector's Dolphins, which only occur in New Zealand, use some of the areas planned for surveying as nurseries. "Surely the regional council, which is supposed to defend the environment, should have considered the impact of the prospecting on these fragile species and made sure that West Coast people had an opportunity to have a say," said a Green Party Spokesperson. Source: Green Party Press Release, 11/16/05 [READ PRESS RELEASE]

Canadian Seismic Survey Proceeds, Fish to be Tested - A seismic survey off the coast of Cape Breton in the Canadian Maritimes, long resisted by environmentalists, began on November 1. As part of its environmental monitoring, hatchery-reared Atlantic cod were to be held in crab cages at depths of 70 to 80 metres, and they will be sent to the University of Prince Edward Island labs for tests to see how the seismic affected them. Veterinarians will examine how liver, gonads, brains and other fish organs are impacted by the seismic testing. The ear tissue of fish will also be sent to the University of Maryland for analysis. Source: Canada East, 11/1/05 [READ ARTICLE]

US Navy Sued Over Mid-Frequency Sonar Operations - A consortium of environmental organizations led by the NRDC has challenged the Navy's use of mid-frequency active sonar. Claiming that relatively simple mitigation measures would protect whales from injury, the suit claims that the Navy’s use of mid-frequency sonar violates the National Environmental Policy Act, the Marine Mammal Protection Act and the Endangered Species Act. Those laws require the Navy to assess and mitigate the damage its activities cause; to obtain "take" permits for the animals its activities will necessarily harass, harm or kill; and to consult with the National Marine Fisheries Service and the Fish and Wildlife Service on the potential effects of mid-frequency sonar exercises on threatened or endangered species. "We're not trying to shut them down," NRDC spokesman Daniel Hinerfeld said. "There are all sorts of simple practices you can take to minimize the impact of sonar on whales and other marine life." Navy spokesman Lt. William Marks said the Navy already is doing many of the things demanded in the suit. Sources: ENS, 10/19/05 [READ ARTICLE] ENN/Reuters, 10/20/05 [READ ARTICLE] NRDC Press Release, 10/18/05 [READ PRESS RELEASE]
(Un)Related: Pilot Whales Strand in Tasmania - For the third straight year, over a hundred pilot whales have stranded on the coast of Tasmania. Last year's stranding was linked in some reports to seismic surveys taking place a hundred kilometers away (these surveys were likewise dubiously linked to the tsunami in the Indian Ocean). This year, Australian naval operations are being blamed; it appears that a high-frequency "fish-finder" type sonar was in use, but there is no indication that mid-frequency sonars were in operation. The high frequency sonar is not as intense as the mid and low frequency sonars, and high frequency sounds do not travel well in water, so the concerns appear unfounded. Source: common sense, and Mail & Guardian Online, 10/26/05 [READ ARTICLE]
See AEI Special Report: Active Sonars

Pulsed Acoustic Defense Being Developed for Subs - A powerful new acoustic system has been proposed to protect submarines from incoming torpedoes. The system, which so far exists only as simulations (with plans to build a quarter-scale test version), would use six rows of 60 transducers on each side of the ship; when fired, the cumulative action should generate a "destructive pressure pulse capable of disabling an enemy's torpedo", according to Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), which is funding the project. Source: New Scientist, 10/6/05 [READ ARTICLE]

Listening Network Aims to Reduce Whale Ship Strikes - A plan to deploy hydrophones in Cape Cod Bay could reduce ship strikes with endangered Right Whales. The project, led by Cornell's Christopher Clark, uses underwater microphones about the size of a soda can. When a right whale is heard, its location can be transmitted via cell phone or satellite phone. The hydrophones cover a radius of five to 10 miles, and relatively few could cover broad areas where the whales are known to congregate; three could cover all of Cape Cod Bay, where the whales migrate in late winter and spring. While initial tests are encouraging, full deployment is likely to be at least three years away. Source: AP/Fosters, 9/17/05 [READ ARTICLE]

Listening System Proposed to Help Ships Avoid Whales - A network of hydrophones designed to identify whale calls and broadcast their location to ships is being proposed for testing in Cape Cod Bay. As few as three hydrophones, each of which can listen in a radius of up to ten miles, could cover the busy shipping channel, where right whales are highly vulnerable to ship strikes. Source: AP/ENN, 8/8/05 [READ ARTICLE]

Australian Underwater Explosions Plan Draws Scrutiny - Australia's Minister of the Environment has asked the federal research agency Geoscience Australia for more details on a planned set of explosions off the west coast, set for the middle of next year. The detonation of up to 20 explosions, each using as much as 165kg of explosives, is designed to test a nuclear weapons detections system, and may also have some relevance to future tsunami predictions. Geoscience Australia says the experiment site, which is within Australia's economic exclusion zone, is away from "typical whale migration routes". Source: Herald Sun, 8/5/05 [READ ARTICLE]

Beaufort Sea Offshore Facility Moves Toward Renewal - The National Marine Fisheries Service has announced a proposed rule governing the continuing operation of an oil and gas facility that Alaskan Eskimo Whalers have claimed is routing whales offshore and away from subsistance hunters. Comments from the Eskimo Whaling Commission, the Marine Mammal Commission, and others can be read in the Federal Register Notice of the proposed rule. Source: Federal Register Notice, 7/25/05 [READ FEDERAL REGISTER NOTICE]

Final Energy Bill Calls for OCS Inventory - The Energy Bill passed by the US Congress mandates an inventory of the Outer Continental Shelf for new energy sources. Though a moratorium on drilling in the OCS is still in effect, the bill initiates a process that is designed to put pressure on state and federal governments to re-open offshore waters in the name of energy security. It is expected that some new seismic surveys would be needed to clarify the locations oil and gas reserves, though no money has yet been allocated to carry out the inventory or surveys. The Minerals Management Service plans to begin with a review of existing studies of oil and gas reserves, then target the most likely productive areas for a closer look. A report is due Congress in six months, making surveys unlikely unless later bills allocate funding for continued research and inventory work. Support for the inventory was not split along party lines, as Florida Republicans led the fight to stop the inventory, and many Democrats supported the amendment. Source: Christian Science Monitor, 8/2/05 [READ ARTICLE] MMS Press Release, 8/8/05 [READ PRESS RELEASE]
Georges Bank Fishing Grounds Possible Target for Surveys, Drilling Source: Boston Globe, 8/5/05 [READ ARTICLE] [READ ARTICLE(alternate link)]
Seismic Inventory Plan Spurs Proposed Expansion of Marine Sanctuaries off California Coast Source: San Francisco Chronicle, 7/6/05 [READ ARTICLE]

The Sound of Freedom Echoes Through the Seas - Several recent news items include unusual new applications and concerns about noisy military activities. The Swedish Navy has installed mid-frequency active sonars in some of their ships, which are participating in a mock attack on the US 3rd Fleet off San Diego. Source: Navy Times, 7/13/05 [READ ARTICLE] New South Wales Police have unveiled an underwater sonar scanning system they say will allow them to quickly check for terrorist threats in Sydney Harbour. The new digital system bounces acoustic signals around the harbour and checks the images they create against an existing database. Source: ABC, 7/13/05 [READ ARTICLE] Finally, a new concern has been flagged by the bid for UNOCAL buyout: Unocal had underwater terrain-mapping technology used for offshore oil exploration that might also be useful in navigation for the Chinese military's growing fleet of submarines. Source: Tuscaloosa Times/NYTimes, 7/13/05 [READ ARTICLE]

Beaufort Sea Marine Protected Area Agreement Clarify Oil, Gas Exploration Limits and Opportunities - Industry, government and environmentalist have signed a letter of intent to create the first Marine Protected Area in the ecologically sensitive Arctic. For nearly 20 years, companies looking for gas have voluntarily agreed to keep their distance in an area that includes part of the Beaufort Sea, where hundreds of beluga whales spend July and part of August in the shallow waters. The new agreement will give everyone a clearer picture of what's allowed and not allowed in the region. "I think it will be better for industry, because under the proposed management plans, it identifies those types of activities that would be allowed under certain conditions," said Ian Scott, who signed the letter on behalf of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers. Current regulations prohibit all industrial development, but are not legally binding. However, over the past few years, gas explorers have been getting anxious to see what's under the seabed. It could be more than a year before the minister of fisheries and oceans approves the new regulations. Until then, all industrial activity will continue to be prohibited in the area. Source: CBC, 7/11/05 [READ ARTICLE] The Globe and Mail, 7/11/05 [READ ARTICLE]

British Pressure Mounts on Low-Frequency Sonar 2087 - Environmental groups and the BBC have raised questions about possible links between testing of a mid-frequency active sonar system and whale beachings involving apparent signs of the bends, as well as reductions in whales seen in whale-watching areas. British conservationists are particularly concerned about the waters around the Hebrides, one of the most important areas both for whales and for naval exercises. Skippers of whale-watching boats report that sightings of the most common species, such as minke and humpback whales, seem to fall dramatically when there are naval exercises. They are also worried that a new, high-decibel system - called Sonar 2087 and due to be brought into service next year - will make the problem worse, and are calling on the Royal Navy to suspend trials. But the Royal Navy says the system is vital to protect its forces, that there are other sources of marine noise, and that there is no evidence that their ships are to blame. Alex Lochrane, a former submarine commander, says: "As a maritime nation we have to maintain our control of the seas. Sonar 2087 represents for us the culmination of many years of R&D and the best technological solution to the current threat." Source: The Independent, 6/27/05 [READ ARTICLE] Marine Connection Press Release, 7/5/05 [READ PRESS RELEASE] BBC, 6/19/05 [READ ARTICLE]

Another Deepwater Dolphin Strands on East Coast - The ninth stranding of a Risso's dolphin along the east coast has prompted NOAA to initiate specialized tests to determing whether an infection or naval sonar tests may be responsible. The Director of the Marine Mammal Stranding Center said that typically, only one Risso stranding is seen per year. Source: Cape May County Herald, 6/28/05 [READ ARTICLE] The Press of Atlantic City, 6/30/05 [READ ARTICLE]

Small Hydrophone Array Promises Easier Acoustic Monitoring - Jason Holmes, a mechanical engineering graduate student at Boston University and guest researcher at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, has devised a low-cost, highly sensitive hydrophone array that is perking up interest in both homeland security and ocean research circles. Holmes' underwater hydrophone array is designed to be towed by a small, autonomous submarine and can monitor for ocean-going threats to America's waterways or for sound for ocean acoustics studies. Holmes' prototype system comprises six underwater microphones, or hydrophones, spaced inside a 30-foot plastic tube filled with mineral oil. The array tube is filled with mineral oil to create neutral buoyancy, allowing the array to float behind the underwater towing vehicle. Signals from the hydrophones are captured and stored on mini-disc recorders aboard an unpiloted submarine called Remus. Designed by Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Remus looks like a small torpedo and can navigate autonomously underwater around obstacles and through harbours using GPS sensors, sonar, and electronic maps. Listening arrays typically used by the military and ocean scientists are towed behind ships and are very long, the shortest being around 1,500 feet long, and are several inches in diameter. Source: Graduate Engineer, 6/1/05 [READ ARTICLE]

Acoustic Deterrents Protect Salmon from Sea Lions at Bonneville Dam - Because the Marine Mammal Protection Act prohibits killing sea lions, USACE resorted to harassing them with pyrotechnics – basically firecrackers – which proved effective, but only in the short term. As a more high-tech deterrent, three underwater acoustic transponders were installed at a junction pool where the fish ladders meet. The devices emit high-frequency noise that sounds like clicking to humans but which sea lions find extremely irritating. Unfortunately, the company that manufactured the underwater acoustic transponders stopped producing them; the three devices at Bonneville were provided by the National Marine Fisheries Service. Clugston said that the USACE hopes to persuade the company to build more of the transponders to create additional barriers at the dam. Source: missing [READ ARTICLE]

UN Law of the Sea Urged to Monitor Ocean Noise - A coalition of environmental organizations is continuing its drive to encourage the UN to formally recognize ocean noise sources as pollutants under the Law of the Sea, a twenty-year old international set of agreements governing activities on the high seas. While it customarily takes at least five years to raise a new issue to the point of effecting concrete change, the coalition was pleased that the final report included the statement that "UNICPOLOS proposes that the UN General Assembly request further studies and consideration of the impacts of ocean noise on fisheries and living marine resources". The Ocean Noise Coalition, representing 120 organizations in the US, Europe, and South America, initiated dialogue at the 2004 Law of the Sea "Global Marine Assessment" meetings, and this year presented a formal petition/request for consideration. Shipping, oil and gas development, and naval activities have all received increased international scrutiny in the past year, with the International Whaling Commission, the EU Parliament, and the World Conservation Union all calling for more caution when humans add noise to the seas. Source: Reuters, 6/8/05 [READ ARTICLE] Reuters, 6/10/05 [READ ARTICLE] ABCNews, 6/9/05 [READ ARTICLE] NYDaily news, 6/10/05 [READ ARTICLE] [READ ONC STATEMENT] [DOWNLOAD ONC NOISE HANDOUT(pdf)] [LAW OF SEA HOME PAGE] [REPORTS FROM THE MEETINGS]
Related: New Zealand Says No Evidence of Strandings form Noise - Responding to the Ocean Noise Coalition UN initiative, a spokesman of the New Zealand Department of Conservation said he knew of no evidence of strandings in his country, though he recalled a period when whales dispersed from an area where a seismic survey was happening. A marine pathologist who examined beached whales, however, said that funding to look for evidence for acoustic trauma has never been available. Source: New Zealand Herald, 6/11/05 [READ ARTICLE], 6/10/05 [READ ARTICLE]

Pew Fellows Call for Large No-Take Marine Sanctuaries - No less than 10% and as much as 50% of each marine ecosystem worldwide should be protected as no-take zones, according to a statement on MPA policy released this month by 38 past and current Pew Marine Conservation Fellows, individuals from 24 countries recognized over the past decade for their global leadership in the field of marine conservation. Source: Pew Press Release, 6/6/05 [READ PRESS RELEASE] [DOWNLOAD STATEMENT(pdf)]

Suit Claims US is Witholding Evidence of Sonar Harm to Whales - The National Resource Defense Council has filed a lawsuit in federal court, seeking to obtain government records examining the impacts of mid-frequency active sonar on whales. NRDC filed a Freedom of Information Act request for material from the National Marine Fisheries Service and the U.S. Department of Commerce more than a year ago, but so far those agencies have turned over only 12 documents totaling fewer than 25 pages. Source: ENS, 6/3/05 [READ ARTICLE(sub)] NRDC Press Release, 6/1/05 [READ PRESS RELEASE] [READ FOIA REQUEST]

Canada Initiates Ocean Action Plan - Initial funding has been allocated for the development of a Canadian Ocean Action Plan, which will include integrated management, ocean health, and investment in science and technology. The initiative will include establishing a network of marine protected areas, implementing integrated management plans, and enhancing the enforcement of rules governing oceans and fisheries. Source: DFO Press Release, 5/27/05 [READ PRESS RELEASE] [OCEAN ACTION PLAN WEBSITE]

Sonar Training Ground Set to be Proposed - The Navy is preparing to release an draft Environmental Impact Statment for an active sonar training ground off the coast of North Carolina. The 660-square mile area would become a focal point for sonar training, perhaps reducing impacts in other areas, but increasing concerns here. Two other areas are under consideration for sonar training. Andy Read , an associate professor of marine conservation biology at Duke University, cautions that it will take great effort to make sure mammals aren't harmed if the range is put into use, probably no earlier than 2008 ."We shouldn't underestimate how much monitoring it's going to take to make sure there are no effects, or if there are effects, what those effects are," he said. Source: The Virginian-Pilot, 5/3/05 [READ ARTICLE]
Earlier coverage:
"It is a fairly confined area," said Ken Hollingshead of the NMFS, "It's an area of low marine mammal abundance." Michelle Duval, a scientist with the North Carolina office of Environmental Defense, said that beyond the well-known concerns about marine mammals, "we're concerned about less charismatic animals, the fish and invertebrates that are just as important." Source: News/Observer, 3/4/05 [READ ARTICLE] Washington Daily News, 3/6/05 [READ ARTICLE] [ALTERNATE LINK] Winston-Salem Journal editorial, 3/10/05 [READ ARTICLE]
Related: Florida Stranding Continues Sonar Concerns - Two months after a Florida stranding, NMFS scientists are still analyzing results of necropsies to try to determine if sound was a factor. ''I think many scientists are becoming increasingly concerned with this coincidence of stranding in time and space with the use of naval sonars,'' said Andrew J. Read, a Duke University professor considered a leading expert on the subject of sonar and dolphins. "This is one of those human activities that is rising to the top of our concerns.'' Navy scientists argue the science is still unfolding. ''Until you know what the effects are, everything is speculation,'' says Frank Stone, head of Marine Mammal Research and Development for the Chief of Naval Operations. Miami Herald, 5/1/05 [READ ARTICLE]
Related: US to Lease Swedish Air-propelled Sub - The US has leased a Swedish submarine and its crew of 25 for use in anti-submarine sonar training. The sub uses Air Independent Propulsion (AIP), which allows these submarine to run their diesel engines submerged using stored oxygen in a closed cycle. Anothe form of AIP permits the submarine to operate its electric motors on energy produced by fuel cells. The Navy is concerned that “rogue” states and terrorist organizations will acquire this capability because it is far less expensive to build and operate diesel-electric submarines with the AIP system than nuclear submarines. Countries that operate AIP-equipped submarines include Sweden, Germany, Greece, Italy, Pakistan, and Russia; Spain has one in development. Source: JINSA, 3/4/05 (very detailed, informative article) [READ ARTICLE]

Dock Noise Blamed for Belugas Moving Offshore - Native villagers have reacted with anger at claims by an Army Corps of Engineers official that the movement of annualo beluga whale migrations to a route far offshore is the result of hunting pressures; they point instead to noise and ship traffic around an offshore barge dock. Kivalina residents say the beluga used to pass right by the village on their migration. Recently, though, they say they have seen northbound belugas turn and head to sea when they get near the Red Dog port. "Our people have been, in their words, putting hunting pressure on the marine mammals for years before the port facilities were constructed," said village tribal administrator Colleen Swan. Source: Anchorage Daily News, 3/20/05 [READ ARTICLE]

Pentagon Sees Concern for Animals as Threat to National Security - America’s strength is being challenged by “a strategy of the weak,” a Pentagon document says, listing diplomatic and legal challenges in international forums in the same sentence with terrorism. “Our strength as a nation state will continue to be challenged by those who employ a strategy of the weak focusing on international fora, judicial processes and terrorism,” it says. Asked about the statement, Douglas Feith, the No. 3 official at the Pentagon, said during a news conference, “There are various actors around the world that are looking to either attack or constrain the United States, and they are going to find creative ways of doing that, that are not the obvious conventional military attacks.” The US has recently resisted international pressure (including initiatives in the EU, NATO, and UN) to reduce active sonar use in the face of concerns about its effects on wildlife. Source: AP/MSNBC, 3/18/05 [READ ARTICLE]

NOAA Report Confirms Sonar Disturbed Orcas - A 2003 incident in Puget Sound, during which an pod of orcas was observed to become agitated, was caused by Naval exercises using a mid-frequency active sonar, according to a report on issued by NOAA; while blaming the unusual behavior on the sonar, the report held that it caused no permanent or temporary hearing damage. The report contradicts an earlier Navy report that concluded that the unusual behavior was unrelated to the training. The beachings of 15 harbor porpoises, found in the weeks following the orca incident, spurred concern that they, too, may have been caused by the sonar. The NMFS report said scientists found no signs the porpoises' ears suffered any acoustical trauma, although decomposition hindered researchers' analysis, though did concede that the number of beached porpoises was "abnormally high." (15 were found in the month after the incident, compared to an average of 6 per year) "The thing that gripes me about this whole subject," said Ken Balcomb, a cetacean researcher, "is that the argument has been drafted in the form of whether there is hearing damage - disregarding the observed fact that these animals are fleeing from sources of sound. . . It is irrelevant whether they had hearing loss if they are dead." While the federal report doesn't show the killer whales were harmed by Navy sonar, University of Washington researcher Michael Bain believes a minke whale likely suffered permanent hearing loss. "We almost ran over it once, which makes me think it didn't hear us," Bain said. "It popped up 50 feet in front of us -- close enough that we could smell its breath. Minkes are usually not that approachable." Bain said the report didn't go far enough, and urged a more coordinated approach among scientists, particularly marine biologists. Source: Bermerton Sun, 3/16/05 [READ ARTICLE] Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 3/21/05 [READ ARTICLE] ENN/AP, 3/18/05 [READ ARTICLE] [DOWNLOAD REPORT(pdf)] See reports of original incident (allow time for full page to load, it's near the bottom) [GO THERE]
Related: Ocean Getting Noisier, Effects Unclear - A good overview of recent ocean noise concerns from a widely-published AP article: High profile whale beachings have been linked to sonar blasts and sparked fierce public debate over the military's use of sound in national defense. But a broader concern for scientists is rising levels of ocean background noise, much of it generated by commercial shipping, and whether it interferes with the way the entire sea has operated for eons. Hearing is the primary sense for marine life, which uses sound for navigation and communication. Some scientists believe the spreading "acoustic smog" is essentially blinding marine life, affecting feeding, breeding and other crucial activities."Their world is just being collapsed," Clark said. "They rely so heavily on sound. They can't see anything." Source: AP/Boston Globe, 3/19/05 [READ ARTICLE] MS/NBC, 4/18/05 [READ ARTICLE]
Related: original article on Clark's research [READ ARTICLE]
Related: NPR Radio Expedition Feature on Right Whales featuring Dr. Chris Clark - ALSO INCLUDES LINKS TO MANY OTHER WHALE-RELATED STORIES, AND TO STREAMING AUDIO VERSION Source: NPR Morning Edition, 5/23/05 [READ ARTICLE]

British Columbia Joins Eastern Provinces to Develop Seismic Survey Regulations - The British Columbian government is negotiating with federal authorities in Ottowa to develop regulations to govern new seismic surveys off the west coast of Canada, in hopes of lifting a 33-year ban on west coast oil and gas drilling (oil and gas development are permitted off the east coast and in the Great Lakes). BC Oil and Gas Minisster Richard Neufield is aiming to have the offshore oil and gas industry "up and running" by 2010. He told a British Columbia Oil & Gas Summit in Victoria, British Columbia, on March 1 that the offshore is an opportunity the province should seize. "We ought not to be shy about exploiting those resources," he said. To that end, Neufeld's instruction to his offshore team is to "eat, breathe and sleep oil and gas, day after day." The main area being targeted is the Queen Charlotte Basin, which is estimated to contain $110 billion of oil and gas; the Basin is a rich biological zone which environmentalists are determined to protect. Sources:, 3/1/05 [READ ARTICLE] Petroleum News, 3/6/05 [READ ARTICLE]
Related: Proposed Seismic Regulations Released [SEE REGULATIONS AND SCIENCE REPORT]
Nova Scotia News, 4/26/05 [READ ARTICLE]

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