A new report issued in the wake of an active sonar mitigation workshop held by the European Cetacean Society calls unequivocally for sonar training to be limited to relatively small dedicated areas. By contrast, the US Navy continues to insist that it needs access to nearly the entire eastern seaboard and most of the west coast as well, in order to have enough flexibility to train “realisically.” The ECS working group report, by an impressively diverse set of researchers ranging from NRDC’s Michael Jasny to Woods Hole scientist Peter Tyack, calls on the world’s navies to “commit without delay” to “minimum procedures” including: Read the rest of this entry »
Representative Neil Abercrombie (D-HI) marked Earth Day by announcing the introduction of a bill that would provide $25 million per year to the Marine Mammal Commission to fund new research into the effects of human activities on whales and dolphins, with a particular focus on the effects of active sonar. “We need to end the fighting and resolve these issues, but we can’t really do that until we’re sure we all know what we’re talking about,” Abercrombie said in a statement. “We have to fully understand the effects of human activities, including underwater sound, on marine mammals and determine how to mitigate any harmful impact. That requires expanded and focused research.” By comparison, the Navy, currently the largest source of research funding, spends $26 million per year on its marine mammal research programs, which include studies of the effects of sound as well as many other topics, including a wide range of population studies, and a recent agreement between the Navy and NRDC will devote $5 million per year to several topic of mutual interest. For several years, the MMC has recommended that an independent research initiative such as the one proposed by Abercrombie be established; many environmental advocates have also long called for research funding to be more independent of the Navy and the perceived constraints that its priorities impose on research topics. Abercrombie is serving what is likely to be his last of ten terms as an Hawaiian congressman; he has announced plans to run for Governor in 2010.
An earlier version of the bill, HR 5106, was introduced in January 2008; it appears likely that the new bill is substantially similar. Read the old bill here.
This is kinda cool, though apparently will not be fleshed out as fully as it may deserve: Bruce Heald, a sound designer/composer created a soundtrack for an ad using orchestral instrumentalists to mimic the various sounds found in humpback whale songs. The ad (for a cell phone company) creates the impression that an orchestra actually went out to play for and with the whales; while compelling, this was purely staged (near a dock, no less). An email exchange with the composer confirms that there are at present no plans to create a full-blown version of the work (the 90-second commercial contains what is for now the complete composition), though he’d love to find funding for that. But the website the company created includes a nifty Flash interface in which we can trigger the individual sounds ourselves, creating a whalesong composition in real time, as well as some short films with whale researchers and the musicians. Check out Heald’s sound design site here and play with whale sounds by clicking on “Inspiration” at: http://www.optuswhalesong.com.au/
Earlier this month, the US Navy spent a night testing sonar and communications systems on the USS San Francisco, a submarine that had recently completed major repairs to its sonar dome after crashing into a seamount in 2006.
The sub was doing “required training dives” in the Strait of Juan de Fuca, between Vancouver Island and the Olympic Peninsula, with an escort ship also present; the Navy ships did not enter Haro Strait, a more constrained channel where sonar training stirred up considerable controversy in 2003. Orca researchers throughout the region picked up unusual sounds (sonar pings and human voices) from 7pm to 3am on the night of April 6-7; the sounds were audible from San Juan Island to Whidbey Island and Port Washington and Port Townsend.
A study published this week in the British journal Biology Letters has raised a bit of a ruckus, with headlines suggesting that it confirms that sonar can deafen dolphins (even Nature and New Scientist ran such heads). The paper is a brief report (3pp) on a study in which a captive dolphin was exposed to recordings of actual mid-frequency active sonar signals (5.6kHz) at gradually increasing volumes until a consistent temporary threshold shift (TTS) was induced. Surprisingly, considering the long-running controversies over these sonars, this is the first study to use actual sonar sounds in this way, rather than generic stand-in sounds. The researchers found that they had to ramp up the sonar sounds to 203dB SPL rms (214dB SEL) to “consistently” induce a TTS of 6db; such exposures would occur only within about 40m of sonar vessels, though in some situations (multiple ships, clear sound propagation conditions), could occur at greater distances. This shift faded rather rapidly, to 4dB at 10 minutes, and back to baseline hearing in 20 to 40 minutes. This is not “deafness,” but rather what one of the researchers termed a “rock concert effect” Read the rest of this entry »
An AEI book review of:
One Square Inch of Silence: One Man’s Quest for Natural Silence in a Noisy World
Gordon Hempton and John Grossman
Free Press, 2009
After a quarter century of listening to and recording the sounds of the world around him, along the way becoming one of the most respected natural sound producers on the planet, Gordon Hempton has written a book-length reflection on the perilous state of our natural soundscapes. The story is shaped around a cross-country journey during which Hempton visits a variety of American landscapes, visits allies old and new in his quest to raise awareness about the insidious expansion of human noise, and finally arranges a series of meetings with “movers and shakers” in Washington, DC, to press his cause of creating the nation’s first noise-free zone in Olympic National Park.
Hempton is, of course, a sensitive listener. The book is best read, it seems to me, as three related but distinct threads, interwoven throughout the telling. The first is the raison d’etre for the project: to make a case for actively protecting natural quiet (rather than simply reducing noise); here Hempton draws on the voices of a dozen or so other careful listeners, Read the rest of this entry »
Public hearings on the US Navy’s Northwest Training Range Complex have turned, predictably enough, into a circus of public outrage and Navy insistence that no big changes are planned. While it’s true that the training being proposed is little different than that which has been ongoing for many years (decades) off the Pacific Northwest coast, with little indication of major impacts on wildlife or fisheries, the public is making the most of the first opportunity for public comment, now that the Navy is finally conducting full Environmental Impact Statements to assess their offshore training activities. Read the rest of this entry »
The University of Utah’s free digital archive of recordings from wild habitats in the American West has grown to over a thousand items. “Our premise is that the sounds of the west are unique and that they deserve a closer listen,” says research librarian Jeff Rice. “As our lives become more urbanized, we are losing our connection to the natural world and its rich sounds. There are whole generations of kids growing up that have never heard coyotes, or even frogs, in the wild. This is our heritage and we want to help restore some of that connection.” By focusing on the sounds of the western U.S., the archive emphasizes the connection between sound and place—something that is not only culturally valuable, but also biologically crucial, say scientists. Scientists recognize that even the same species of animals can sound different based on their geography. Birds, especially, can sing in dialects unique to their areas“Frequent recordings in many areas help create a database that will give insight into how the ‘singing culture’ of birds changes over time and space,” says Dr. Franz Goller, a biologist at the University of Utah. “Efforts like the Western Soundscape Archive are therefore very important in documenting acoustic behavior.” Source: Innovations Report, 3/18/09 [READ ARTICLE]
Western Soundscape Project Website: [MAIN SITE] [VIDEO INTRODUCTION]
Increasingly, local regulators are settling on a half-mile setback for wind turbines, despite many reports of noise issues beyond that distance. At the Willow Creek Wind Farm in Morrow County, Oregon, local residents raised concerns in November when the developer’s noise models indicated that the farm would not meet the relatively stringent 36dB noise limit. The company responded with new noise modeling that indicated they would indeed be quiet enough to meet this standard. However, once the turbines began turning in December, neighbors found that the typical promise of not being any louder than a refrigerator in the kitchen “was a crock,” and they fired up their own hand-held decibel meters, regularly recording levels of 40-50dB, peaking to 67dB at the worst. The county is now requiring the company to do real-world sound measurements. The nearby neighbors insisted they aren’t against wind towers and are all for green energy, just not so close to their homes. “If they had just used a little foresight and moved these back a little farther…,” Michael Eaton said wistfully, “but they didn’t.”