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Seismic Survey Planned for Cascadia is Postponed - CASSIS, a geologcal survey planned for late August and early September around the southern coast of Vancouver Island, has been postponed until at least a month; the onset of winter weather may well push the tests back nearly a year. George Spence, lead researcher from the Univeristy of Victoria (BC), stated "a need to present more information regarding the project to the government and public prior to it going ahead." The Canadian government has initiated a more complete, while fast-tracked, environmental review. Ralph Currie, head of the Pacific Geoscience Centre, assigned to draw up the Environmental Assessment, said "There has been significant concern raised by members of the public and non-governmental organizations." The decision whether or not to continue with the research proposal will likely be made by September. Source: email communication, Marine Connection 7/25/03
Background: In an effort to better understand earthquake dynamics in this volatile zone, sounds from an air cannon sited in the sea (projected at 243dB) will be monitored from several on-shore locations. Planned mitigation measures include keeping the cannon 10 miles offshore (many marine mammals concentrate near shore at this season), suspending operation when marine mammals are sighted within 200m, and making adjustments in the operation if marine mammals "appear to be disturbed" within 2km. Preliminary approval granted by the Canadian government is being reconsidered (especially the fairly lax mitigation standards); US regulators at NOAA are discussing the project. Given the extreme responses to orcas and dolphins last May in the same area after exposure to less-intense sonar broadcasts (see below), it seems prudent to proceed with extreme caution in introducing such extreme sounds to this biologically rich area. Source: Orca Network, 7/8/03 [READ PRESS RELEASE] CASSIS Project website [WEBSITE] Radio news report, KPLU, 7/14/03 [LISTEN(ra/mp)]

Miami Harbor Plans for Explosive Dredging - Plans to deepen the entrance to Biscayne Bay in Miami involve using explosives to remove a rocky ledge that halted earlier mechanical dredging. This stage of the project would deepen the port's south channel from 34 to 42 feet; further plans are in the works to create a 50-foot clearance, aimed at keeping the port economically competetive. As currently constituted, the plans calls on contractors to monitor an area four times larger than the blast zone for marine mammals. While this should protect them from sheer concussion, the sound impacts would likely travel much farther. The Army Corps of Engineers is accepting public comments. Source: Miami Today, 7/3/03 [READ ARTICLE]

Shipping Lanes Shift to Give Whales some Rights - Shipping lanes in the Bay of Fundy shifted four miles at the end of June, so as to avoid the feeding grounds of Right Whales. The shift, in the planning for five years, is designed to reduce collisions with whales; no doubt they will appreciate the relative quiet as well. Source: Boston Globe, 6/30/03 [READ ARTICLE]

Study Underway in Marine Protected Area off Cape Canaveral - A survey is underway off the coast of Florida, aiming to create benchmarks for further study of the ability of damaged marine ecosystems to recover. The survey area, a 300 square mile area near Cape Canaveral, is the first Marine Protected Area designated along the southeast US coast; more such designations are expected in the near future. Trawling has damaged the reef ecosystem here, while ship traffic and rocket launches are among the likely sonic impacts on fish populations. The research can be followed on web sites set up by the research team. Source: ENN, 4/22/03 [READ ARTICLE] Florida Today, 5/5/03 [READ ARTICLE] [RESEARCH TEAM WEBSITE](click on Oculina Coral Banks 2003 button)

Collateral Damage? - After discovering a vessel loaded with a dozen 500 pound sea mines in the Persian Gulf, Navy SEALS disposed of them in dramatic fashion: by blowing them up in a blast that could be heard 50 miles away in Kuwait. Any sea life nearby must have had a bit of an acoustic shock at that moment. . . Here at, we wonder about not only physical concussion, but damage to hearing systems in fish and other ocean dwellers throughout the area. Is this the only option for disposal? Source: Contra Costa Times/NY Times story, 3/28/03 [READ ARTICLE]
Related: WWII Torpedo Blown Up in Monterey Bay -
After the discovery of an 800 pound discarded WWII era torpedo in the Monterey Bay Marine Sanctuary, the Navy moved the device 60 miles (into a section of shoreline water excluded from the sanctuary, but bounded by it) and let 'er blow, spawning a plume 30 feet high and a hundred feet across. Source: Tri-Valley Herald, 6/13/03 [READ ARTICLE] [SEE MAP]

First Fuel Cell Sub Launched - Germany has launched the world's most silent submarine, powered by fuel cells. Nuclear subs are quiet and fast, but very expensive, and the need for radiation shields makes them too big for shallow, in-shore waters. The new sub runs on a diesel engine when stealth is not crucial, and switches to fuel cells as needed. It has a far longer range than the diesel-electric subs which they replace. Source: Reuters, 4/7/03 [READ ARTICLE]

Wolfowitz Calls for Military Chiefs to Compile Requests for Presidential Exemptions to Enviro Laws - Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz has directed the secretaries of the Army, Navy, and Air Force to forward to him specific requests for exemptions from environmental laws, in preparation for the issuance of Presidential national security exemptions. While the Noise Control Act has been left out of current congressional initiatives, it is included in Wolfowitz's list of regulations that may be exempted. Wolfowitz suggested that the Pentagon should consider reversing its "past restraint" against having the president invoke national security exemption provisions available in some environmental laws. He said those exemptions have never been used. In a March 7 memo to the chiefs of the Army, Navy, and Air Force, Wolfowitz said, "It is time for us to give greater consideration to requesting such exemptions" in cases where the laws threaten military training and readiness. The lack of such action in the past is used by opponents of broad exemptions as a refutation of the Pentagon's stated need for relief. Source: Environmental News Network/AP, 3/21/03 [READ ARTICLE] [DOWNLOAD MEMO(pdf)] (leaked by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, 3/20/03)
Related: Bills Introduced to Give Military "Flexibility" With Marine Mammal Protection Act - The Pentagon's battle to win broader exemptions from environmental regulations has begun for this Congressional session. Two of the many initiatives are aimed at weakening the Marine Mammal Protection Act, which officials said would provide needed flexibility to sonar and underwater bombing exercises. "Fundamentally, these proposals are designed to ensure that the Defense Department can execute its military missions while still protecting the environment," a senior Pentagon official said. "They are mostly designed to confirm existing and longstanding policies that are under challenge in a variety of court cases." The Bush administration has submitted three bills deserving public scrutiny: the first is a re-authorization of the MMPA, containing a new definition of "harassment" which raises the bar for showing damaging effects on cetaceans, as well as a blanket clause allowing the Pentagon 2-year exemptions from any regulation, upon request. Second is amendments to the Defense Authorization Bill that would implement similar changes. Third and most recent is a Rumsfield initiative to restructure the military, which contains identical exemption language. Source: Washington Post, 3/5/03 [READ ARTICLE] New York Times, 3/6/03 [READ ARTICLE]

United Kingdom Considers Mandatory Use of "Pingers" to Protect Dolphins - In effort to reduce the numbers of dolphins accidentally killed by fishermen's nets, the UK's Fisheries Ministry has released a proposed new rule to mandate the use of acoustic signals to warn dolphins away; public comments will be accepted for three months. Andy Smerdon, of Aquatec, the firm which makes the pingers, said: "They're designed to warn the animals, not to scare them. "The pingers emit less noise than most mobile phones - but presumably for the cetaceans they're just as annoying." The devices emit random signals, at intervals ranging from five to 30 seconds, and most are in the ultrasonic range, beyond human hearing. Source: BBC, 3/20/03 [READ ARTICLE]

Navy Funds Study of Beaked Whale Hearing - Two Boston University professors have received a 700,000 grant from the US Navy to study the auditory systems of beaked whales, the cetacean family that seems to be the most affected by the Navy's active sonar systems. Source: Boston University Bridge, 3/13/03 [READ ARTICLE]

Watching Right Whales from Airships - A new system has been developed which aims to allow closer study of endangered Right Whales, using airships rather than planes or helicopters. Detection can occur far down field; then the quiet airship moves over the whales and peers down from an altitude that is high enough to avoid impacting them. the wildcard is the new system they peer down with: the Littoral Airborne Sensor Hyper-spectral system, which can locate and track whales 50 feet below the surface. Little information is availble about the components of this system. The Airship Whale Search Network, formed by a Woods Hole marine biologits, tests new ways and means for the Navy to mitigate the risk of harm to marine mammals by improving knowledge of whale migration patterns, life history, and related behaviors. Source: DC, 3/27/03 [READ ARTICLE]

Whale Finding System Helps Ships Avoid Collisions with Hearing-impared Whales - Dr. Michael Andre has been awarded a Rolex Award for Enterprise to support development of a revolutionary system designed to help whales avoid collisions with ships. According to Dr. Andre, "active" systems that warn whales of the approach of ships (or, similarly, of seismic testing or high-powered sonar blasts) are often ineffective, because many whales have sustained a degree of hearing loss, likely due to exposure to ocean noise, and so cannot hear the warning signals. “The analysis of (two beached sperm) whales’ inner ear structure indicated they could not hear the low-frequency sounds from the ship and thus could not avoid the accident,” recounts the Rolex Laureate. The new system consists of a series of buoys equipped with hydrophones, designed to be deployed along busy shipping lanes; a prototype is being tested in the Canary Islands. Source: Rolex Press Release, 10/23/02 [READ PRESS RELEASE] [DOWNLOAD REPORT ON ANDRE'S RESEARCH (pdf)]

National Academies of Science Calls for Comprehensive Study of the Effects of Human Noise on Ocean Life - A single federal agency should be put in charge of monitoring marine noise and should fund research into how human-generated sounds may affect marine mammals and other sea life, says a new report from the National Academies' Ocean Studies Board. This agency's priorities should include investigating possible links between the use of high-energy midrange sonars and mass beachings of marine mammals and studying whether human-generated sound induces stress or subtle behavioral changes in these animals. Environmental advocates, while agreeing with the need for more coordination of research, express concern about past approval of sound projects by NMFS, NOAA, and ONR, the likely agencies to oversee the research agenda, and have called for any such program to include independent researchers. Source: National Academies of Science Press Release, 2/10/03 [WEBSITE] [FULL REPORT] [DOWNLOAD REPORT BRIEF(pdf)]

New Ocean Noise Report Released - The UK-based Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society has posted "Oceans of Noise," a 165 page report, on its website; it has a primary focus on taking action to protect sea life from damaging impacts. Source: Press releases, May 2003. [READ WDCS REPORT]
Related: Office of Naval Research Conference "Ecological Consequences of Underwater Sound" List of Papers, Abstracts now online [WEBSITE]

Western Grey Whales Population Steady With Oil, Gas Development - A five-year study of western grey whale populations in an active industrial zone off the coast of Siberia has shown no decrease in population numbers. "This is one of the most oil-rich areas on the earth, where ExxonMobil, Shell and others are exploring. There is quite a bit of seismic activity and accompanying loud noises, such as periodic drilling on the ocean floor, ships in the area and helicopters," according to Bernd Würsig, Texas A&M researcher. "For the short term, at least, we know the effects of oil exploration appear to be minimal," said Würsig, "But the cumulative effects of searching and drilling for oil could take years, and the results of many of those studies have yet to be seen." The population remained steady at about 100 individuals during the five year study. "However," Würsig commented, "for a population so endangered, we would of course love to see numbers actually increase." Source: AScribe Newswire, 2/25/03 [READ ARTICLE]

Dolphin Census Seeks Answers in Mediterranean - Are dolphin populations falling in the Mediterranean Sea, or are they just moving? Is the extreme acoustic pollution a factor? The Alboran Sea, between Spain and Morocco, plays a crucial role for dolphin and man. Every year, 20 percent of the world's maritime traffic passes through the Alboran—which also happens to be what the researchers call "a regeneration zone" for Mediterranean marine life. Researchers based at the University of Madrid, want to know how the cetaceans are faring in this heavily trafficked but biodiversity-rich region of the Mediterranean. Source: National Geographic News, 2/28/03 [READ ARTICLE]
Related: Feds Fund Studies of Orca Population Drops - After a population drop from 99 to 78 over five years, the federal government has funded studies of Puget Sound orcas to help determine the causes of the decline. Toxicity and stress from the noise and harassment of whale watching ships are the leading suspects. Sources: Bremerton Times, 2/19/03 [READ ARTICLE] Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 2/20/03 [READ ARTICLE]

Seismic Exploration off Australia Threat to Blue Whales and Krill? - Australian whale researchers have objected to recent seismic explorations for natural gas off the southwest coast, claiming that part of the area is an important feeding ground for blue whales. "It beggars belief that we can allow this to happen when we don't know the impact," says McCauley, Senior research fellow and acoustic expert at the Centre for Marine Science and Technology at Curtin University, "Krill also have sophisticated sensory systems. The noise effects on blue whales and krill and their interactions, have not been investigated.'' The company conducting the tests, Santos, adjusted their exploration schedule to be done in the most sensitive areas by December 1, when blues begin arriving; tests continued about 30km away for three more weeks. Source: The Standard, 2/14/03 [READ ARTICLE] WDCS news [READ ARTICLE]

New Navy Copter-based Sonar Tested - A new low-frequency sonar system was recently tested by the Naval Air Systems Command. The new system is designed to find enemy submarines during warfare, by deploying sonar buoys from hovering helicopters. This was the first time the system located a submarine using airborne low frequency sonar (ALFS) and at the same time conducted a radar sweep of the surface environment using the multi mode radar and electronic surveillance measures (ESM). Source: Navy NewsStand, 2/28/03 [READ ARTICLE]

Bubble Curtain Shields Fish from Damaging Bridge Construction Noise - Construction of new bridge pilings in the San Francisco Bay Area began again after being temporarily halted because the sound of driving the pilings had killed fish nearby. Sound tests in the Carquinez Strait revealed that jets of air bubbles in the water were enough to dampen the deadly underwater sound of pile driving, which can explode the internal organs of endangered salmon, trout and smelt. Such destruction caused work on a new Benicia Bridge to halt twice last year. The bubble curtain technology will also be used while driving pilings on the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge and a new leg of the Bay Bridge. There remains some question as to whether the curtain will be fully effective when driving piles into especially hard bedrock; fish nearby will be monitored and construction halted if more fish die. Source: Tri-Valley Herald, 2/14/03 [READ ARTICLE]

Navy Working With Park Service to Study Effects of Cruise Ship Noise on Glacier Bay Wildlife - The Navy's Bremerton Detachment is working with the National Park Service to obtain baseline data on how much noise cruise ships add to the ambient natural sound of Glacier Bay. This information will be used as the Park Service tries to determine whether the increasing cruise ship traffic may pose acoustic hazards to the sea life of the area. Source: NavyNews site, 2/28/03 [READ ARTICLE]

Grey Whale Sound Tests Alarm Activists - A series of tests scheduled to take place off the California coast in January have triggered outrage from cetacean advocates. Sonic blasts of up to 180dB will be directed toward migrating grey whales, and other species, to test proposed mitigation measures designed to encourage whales to move away from loud Navy and seismic exploration noises. The January tests are part of a five-year research project which has been granted the right to "take" (harass or accidently kill) up to 3000 grey whales and 700 sea lions and seals in California, as well as tens of thousands of various species of cetaceans in the North Atlantic and Mediterranean. Scientists will tag some whales with acoustic monitors, to determine the levels of sound they hear, then track their responses to a range of sound emissions (none of which will be low frequency); they will also be testing whether a high-frequency sonar is effective in spotting whales. Navy and industrial programs have proposed that "warning" cetaceans with such a ramp-up of sound, and using sonar to spy them, will protect them from the more dangerous low-freqency sounds of sonar and seismic testing. The fragile state of the Pacific grey whale population, which has seen a dramatic drop in population over recent years, is cause for concern to many activists, who only recently became aware of the scope of the tests and the approved "take" (which is, in the eyes of researchers and the National Marine Fisheries Service, issuer of the permit, considered a worst case scenario of numbers being harassed, with death considered not likely but possible). Many feel that the scale of the impact (affecting a large proportion of the fragile population) demands a full Environmental Impact process. Source: various email and listserv corrospondence, December 2002. Original permit online (Yahoo groups registration required): [READ PERMIT] Press Release announcing suit to halt tests, 1/6/03 [READ PRESS RELEASE]
Update: Grey Whale Sound Tests Halted - A federal judge ruled on January 24 that a research project designed to test a new whale-finding sonar system should be postponed until a more complete environmental impact assessment has been completed. Source: San Francisco Chronicle, 1/24/03 [READ ARTICLE] Reuters, 1/27/03 [READ ARTICLE] ENS, 1/27/03 [READ ARTICLE]

Preliminary tests show no effect on whales exposed to seismic exploration (NOTE: Partial-truth Headline Alert)- Preliminary experiments by researchers in the Gulf of Mexico showed no behavioral response in sperm whales exposed to seismic airgun detonations. However, the whales were 4-10 miles away, and the sound bursts were in the 145dB range, far below the 180dB peak planned for the testing (8-10 times louder than the initial tests), and the 230dB peak used in practice by seismic exploration teams (over 200 times louder than the initial tests), making headlines such as the one used here--and in other media reports--rather misleading. As the lead researcher noted, "We're still at the anecdotal stage. We do not draw conclusions from this." Why such preliminary results became news is unclear, since they are relatively meaningless in regard to the real-world questions being investigated (though they do represent necessary first steps to study low-level response patterns and establish the relative safety of moving to louder tests). In any case, the press ran with it, countering media focus on the recent caution exhibited by the courts in cases involving underwater sound. Source: New Orleans NOLA, 1/27/03 [READ ARTICLE]

Grey Whale Sound Tests Halted - A federal judge ruled on January 24 that a research project designed to test a new whale-finding sonar system should be postponed until a more complete environmental impact assessment has been completed. Environmental advocates hailed the ruling, after contending that the sound levels proposed by researchers would have posed unnecessary and dangerous risks to pregnant whales migrating to birthing lagoons. Researchers contend that the tests are designed to determine effective levels for whale-protection systems to be used by ships, Navy active sonar vessels, and seismic exploration teams. Source: San Francisco Chronicle, 1/24/03 [READ ARTICLE] Reuters, 1/27/03 [READ ARTICLE] ENS, 1/27/03 [READ ARTICLE]

PEER Calls for Investigation of Navy Training Fish Kills - Tests of underwater explosives in Puget sound are likely causing thousands of fish fatalities, and perhaps causing hearing loss. Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility has called on the Navy to subject the testing to NEPA standards, including the creation of an environmental impact statement. Federal fisheries biologists observed a detonation last year using five pounds of C4 explosive in Puget Sound. The biologists estimated that 5,000 fish died. A more lethal 20-pound charge is commonly used. Source: The Olympian/AP, 12/26/03 [READ ARTICLE]
The Navy has notified PEER that it will begin a process of complying with NEPA; presumably, this will mean initiating an Environmental Impact Process or formally stating why it feels such a process is unnecessary. Despite the NEPA requirement to consider alternative courses of action prior to initiating any action, apparently the Navy plans to continue its demolition exercises, and to better track fish kills. Source: NEPA newsletter, Winter 2003.

European LFA Sonar Outpaces closely-watched US version - While the US Navy's deployment of new generation active sonars is slowed by active public participation, European allies are proceeding with much larger sonar programs. France, Germany, and the UK all have active sonar programs. The UK is buying 21 LFA sonars to equip 23 frigates, as compared to only four LFA-equipped ships from the US (and only two in the immediate future). British tests took place this summer in the Bay of Biscay, while American active sonars were being tested off the Kyle of Lochalsh in Scotland. Britain's Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society worries that this might explain why sperm whales are now avoiding that ancient western migration route and ending up in the North Sea. Source: The Guardian, 10/30/02 [READ ARTICLE]
Related: 60 Members of the European Union Parliament Call for LFAS Moratorium -
Source: Press release from MP Caroline Lucas, 1/13/03 [READ PRESS RELEASE]
Related: European group plans NATO petition drive for global environmental assessment of LFAS
Related: European Cetacean Society Plans Conference on Marine Mammals and Sound -
A conference planned for March in the Canary Islands will focus on sound issues and cetaceans. A one-day workshop on Active Sonar will precede the conference. For more information, see the conference website: [WEBSITE]

Court Sets Limits on LFAS Pending Full Trial - A federal court judge has signed off on an agreement between the US Navy and a consortium of environmental groups that will limit deployment of the Low Frequency Active Sonar system to a relatively small, remote area of the Pacific Ocean, around the Mariana Islands. The limited deployment (covering 1 million square miles of ocean, rather then the planned 14 million square miles) will continue until the full trial on the plaintiff's lawsuit challenging the system's legality; the trial is scheduled for next summer. The judged approved a temporary restraining order in late October, stating that a preliminary survey of the evidence suggested that the plaintiffs were likely to prevail on the merits of the law. Source: Reuters/CNN, 11/18/02 [READ ARTICLE] AP, 11/15/02 [READ ARTICLE]
[See Special Report: LFAS]
New LA Times Magazine feature on LFA 12/8/02 [READ ARTICLE]
New US and World Report article on LFA and ocean noise 12/23/02 [READ ARTICLE]
Related: Court stops Sea of Cortez seismic survey, calls for EIS: The discovery of two dead whales near a research vessel engaged in mapping the sea floor has prompted a federal court to call for the suspension of seismic exploration in the area until the environmental impacts can be assessed. Source: AP, 10/28/02 [READ ARTICLE] ENS, 10/29/02 [READ ARTICLE] Earlier Coverage: Sea of Cortez Strandings Raise Concern about Seismic Mapping - The discovery of two dead whales near a research vessel engaged in mapping the sea floor has prompted environmentalists to call for the suspension of seismic exploration in the area until the environmental impacts can be assessed. The whales are of the same family (beaked whales) that seem to have a special sensitivity to high intensity acoustic impacts; only beaked whales have been associated with organ damage from exposure to navy sonar systems with similar intensities. The research is aimed at mapping an undersea rift that is thought to be connected to the San Andreas fault; 20 powerful airguns project sound at up to 220dB in the course of mapping. In the wake of the discovery of the dead whales, Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, which is conducting the research under the auspices of the National Science Foundation, altered the research methods in several ways, including reducing the intensity of the sounds and limiting research to daylight hours, when whale movements can be better tracked. Meanwhile, the Center for Biological Diversity filed suit on October 18 to force the NSF to prepare environmental impact statements on the research. The whales were too decomposed to allow for autopsies, which are necessary to pinpoint whether the cause of death was related to acoustic shock. Source: Los Angeles Times , 10/16/02, 10/19/02. [READ 10/19 ARTICLE] [READ 10/16 ARTICLE] AP, 10/16/02 [READ ARTICLE] Center for Biological Diversity, 10/18/02 [READ PRESS RELEASE] Columbia University Response to CBD concerns, CBD, 10/17/02 [READ LETTER (pdf)]

Air Force Plans Research on Effects of Rocket Noise on Pinipeds - An Air Force researcher has applied to the National Marine Fisheries Service for permission to "take" several hundred seals of 4 species near Vandenberg Air Force Base as part of research into the effects on seal behavior of noise from rocket launches and sonic booms. Comments, including requests for public hearings, must be received by November 12, 2002. Source: Federal Register, 10/10/02 (Volume 67, Number 197) [Notices] [Page 63079] [DOCID:fr10oc02-24] FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Tammy Adams or Amy Sloan, (301)713-2289. Copies of documents are available from: Permits, Conservation and Education Division, Office of Protected Resources, NMFS, 1315 East-West Highway, Room 13705, Silver Spring, MD 20910; phone (301)713-2289; fax (301)713-0376; and Southwest Region, NMFS, 501 West Ocean Blvd., Suite 4200, Long Beach, CA 90802-4213; phone (562)980-4001; fax (562)980-4018.

Quiet Ship Launched to Study Sonic Impacts on Whales - The Leonardo, a ship that is up to ten times quieter than average vessels, was launched in the UK by McTay Marine, with partial funding help from the UK Navy, which hopes that the ship can be a useful tool in studying the sonic impacts of sonar systems on whales. Source: Scotland Sunday, 10/13/03 [READ ARTICLE]

Canary Island Beached Whales Show Signs of Acoustic Impact - Preliminary autopsy results indicate that six beaked whales which died September 24 during military exercises in the Canary Islands were healthy, and point toward cerebral hemorraging as a likely cause of the beaching. Dr. Michael Andre, a veterinarian leading the investigation, said September 30 that "necropsies showed the presence of unspecific lesions, including in the brain and the hearing system, consistent with acoustic impact." If this is confirmed, and if the Spanish navy exercises, involving ships and personnel from several NATO countries, including a US Navy anti-submarine warfare vessel, was using high-power sonar, then this could be the first confirmation of concerns raised by a similar beaching of beaked whales in the Bahamas after Navy sonar tests in 2000. Initial reaction from the US Navy claimed that the controversial LFA Sonar was not in use during the exercises; whether other sonar systems or a confluence of other acoustic effects caused the injuries remains to be determined. Canary Island officials acted promptly and properly by freezing the heads of the dead whales, and necropsies were performed late last week under the guidance of US National Marine Fisheries Service stranding response team. Source: Numerous media reports, September 25-October 10, 2002. ENN (AP Story), 10/10/02 [READ ARTICLE]
Reuters, 10/1/02 [READ ARTICLE]

River Noise Disturbing Beluga Communication? - Canadian government researchers have begun a sound survey in the St. Lawrence River to determine how increased underwater noise is creating behavioral disturbances in the resident beluga whales. Previous research has shown that when boats pass nearby, the belugas behave much like people in a bar with loud music, said Véronique Lesage, a Department of Fisheries and Oceans scientist. "They start to repeat themselves, and then yell and then move to higher frequencies to avoid the band where the noise is louder," she said. "And, at some point, they just shut up and say, 'Let's talk later,' I guess." Source: National Post, 8/17/02 [READ FULL ARTICLE] Montreal Gazette, 8/21/02 [READ FULL ARTICLE]

Industry Successfully Weakens Sperm Whale Protections on Seismic Exploration in Gulf of Mexico - New regulations issued by the US Minerals Management Service (MMS) to protect sperm whales from loud seismic survey vessels in the Gulf of Mexico are significantly weaker than the mitigation measures proposed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The new regulations do call for on-board observers and a ramp-up of sound (designed to give the whales a chance to move farther away). They will not impose restrictions on operations during times of limited visibility (including nighttime), and the effective exclusion zone (area within which no marine mammals may be present) was set at 500 meters, smaller than NOAA's biological opinion proposed. The International Association of Geophysical Contractors was engaged in an active dialogue with the MSS in order to bring the new regulations more in line with standards in force in other regions, including the North Sea. Seismic survey vessels use sound pulses of up to 180 dB, one of the loudest sound sources in the ocean; recent studies have indicated that surveys in the midst of whale foraging grounds do not cause dramatic behavioral changes, though the effects of frequent exposure to seismic testing (including stress and modest changes in position) are not easily quantified. Source: Oil and Gas Journal, 8/19/02
Related: Research Underway to Study Effects of Seismic Surveys on Gulf Sperm Whales - Scientists tagged 38 sperm whales this summer in an effort to determine how their movements are affected by seismic exploration. Recent changes in survey patterns have begun to move the surveys into deeper water locations frequented by the whales. Source: AP, 10/29/02 [READ ARTICLE]
UPDATE: Preliminary tests show no effect on whales exposed to modest sound levels - Preliminary experiments by researchers in the Gulf of Mexico showed no behavioral response in sperm whales exposed to seismic airgun detonations. However, the whales were 4-10 miles away, and the sound bursts were in the 145dB range, far below the 180dB peak planned for the testing (8-10 times louder than the initial tests), and the 230dB peak used in practice by seismic exploration teams (over 200 times louder than the initial tests), making headlines such as the one used here--and in other media reports--potentially misleading. Source: New Orleans NOLA, 1/27/03 [READ ARTICLE]

Court Rejects US Government Claim that Environmental Laws Only Apply Within 3 Miles of Shore - A Federal Court in San Diego has rejected a radical new interpretation of environmental law favored by the Bush Administration. The Justice Department had argued in court that the National Environmental Policy Act, and possibly other environmental laws, do not apply in waters outside the 3-mile territorial limit. The Defense Department and other agencies have lined up behind this new interpretation by the Department of Justice, first revealed in a court challenge to new tests of a LWAD Sonar system (a variation on the LFAS designed for use closer to shore). Source: The Los Angeles Times, 9/20/02 [READ FULL ARTICLE]

Oil and Gas Exploration Cited as Threat to Nova Scotia Whales - A dwindling population of beaked whales living around a deep water canyon off Nova Scotia is being threatened by increased seismic exploration for oil and gas. The process of designating protected areas, and designation of the bottlenosed whale as endangerd, is proceeding even as new areas frequented by the whales are being opened to exploration. Source: Ottowa Citizen, 11/2/02 [READ ARTICLE]
Related: Orcas May be threatened by new pipeline -
Scientists have raised questions about the acoustic impacts of a new natural gas pipeline planned for the Georgia Strait, an area recently designated as a new national marine preservation area. Park Canada research advisors, environmental advocates, and researchers all expressed doubts about the project. "The pipeline is likely to be noisy enough for it to be hard for the orcas to find enough already scarce food to survive - this might be a matter of life or death for them" said David Bain, Professor at the University of Washington. Source: Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society press release, 11/17/02 [READ PRESS RELEASE]

Radar System Planned to Protect Whales - Dr. Michael Andre, a Spanish researcher, plans to deploy a new radar system designed to protect whales from collisions with ships in the vicinity of the Canary Islands. Dr. Andre reports that autopsies done on sperm whales killed in 1996 indicated inner ear problems that may have inhibited their ability to hear the ships; he suspects that underwater noise may be the cause of the ear damage. The new system uses an array of buoys to spot the whales, and notify ship captains of their whereabouts; the present system of warning signals from the boats does not seem to be working and may be adding to the acoustic damage to the whales. Source: Ananove, 10/28/02 [READ ARTICLE]

Sonar Tests Move to Inshore Waters - In the midst of a media uproar over NMFS approval of the LFAS deployment, the Navy is preparing to test a related system in much more heavily-populated inshore waters. The Littoral Warfare Advanced Development (LWAD) tests are scheduled to take place over the next three months in both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. The tests would employ a sonar system similar to that which the Navy has acknowledged as responsible for whale strandings in March of 2001 in the Bahamas. Source: Wired News, July 25, 2002. [READ FULL ARTICLE]
A recent NRDC court challenge to these tests, calling for a comprehensive Environmental Impact assessment, failed; the court ruled that the Navy's approach of assessing the environmental impacts for single tests, rather than for the whole testing program, was legal. Source: the New Orleans Times-Picayune, 9/20/02 [READ FULL ARTICLE]

South African Navy Suspends Gun Training During Whale Season - Rear Admiral Koos Louw, flag officer commanding South Africa's largest naval base at Simon's Town in the Western Cape, has stopped shooting exercises and underwater explosions during the peak whale season between mid-September and early November. He added that the navy had also ordered all ships and shore units to report whale sightings so that ships near them could be warned. Nan Rice, a conservationist and founder of the Save the Whales Campaign, said: "We asked the navy to stop the underwater detonations because it came to the fore that this was disturbing the whales. The navy has agreed and has been extremely cooperative with us all the way." Source: Johannesburg Times, 7/7/02 [NOT ON WEB]

US Commission on Ocean Policy Seeking Public Input - A policy-recommendation commission led by William Ruckelshaus, the first director of the EPA, is holding public hearings and seeking online input from citizens. The 16-member commission will make recommendations on fisheries management, coastal environmental regulations and other issues. According to commission members and witnesses, both scientific research programs and regulatory processes are in need of much more of a unifying focus and coordination. Source: Seattle Post-Intelligencer, June 14, 2002. [READ FULL ARTICLE] [SUBMIT WRITTEN COMMENTS TO COMMISSION]

Whale watching Boats Stressing Orcas - New research points to the close to 100 boats watching orcas in Puget Sound as the source of physical stress that may be at the root of an increase in mortality. University of Washington researchers reported noise from boat traffic may degrade the orcas' sonar efficiency by 95 percent to 99 percent. Another University of Washington study found a "strong statistical correlation between whale population decline and boat activity." The third study, conducted by an ORCA official, concluded that adult whales were burning nearly 20 percent more energy than they did before whale watching became popular. Source: Reuters/CBS News, June 3, 2002 [READ ARTICLE]

New Study of Effects of Boat Noise on Orcas - A new study suggests that noise from whale watching and other boats may have a larger impact than previously believed on orca behavior. Superimposed noise levels of a number of boats circulating around or following the whales were close to the critical level assumed to cause a permanent hearing loss over prolonged exposure. Source: Marine Mammal Science: Vol. 18, No. 2, pp. 394–418. [READ ABSTRACT]

Sonar Affecting Fish in UK? - Fishermen are reporting a drop in fish stocks in areas where the British Navy is conducting sonar exercises (it is not clear what type of sonar is being used in these waters). According the BBC, "Dave Cuthbert from the Plymouth Fisherman's Association believes the facts speak for themselves. 'As soon as they come out of Plymouth on goes the sonar right away, you can even hear it from our boats,' he said. 'The evidence we have is that since the Navy Sea Training moved from Portsmouth to Plymouth there's been a decline in fish stocks in Plymouth and an increase in the Portsmouth area.'" British fisheries officials expressed surprise, noting a lack of research on non-cetacean species. Source: BBC, April 17, 2002. [READ FULL ARTICLE]
Related: Possible effects on fish subject of new comments to NMFS on US Navy LFAS permits.
The Biodiversity Legal Foundation has filed a new letter pointing to recent research that they want the NMFS to consider in making its final decision on LFAS. [READ LETTER]

Manatee hearing limits usefulness of "slow idling" rules aimed to prevent collisions - One of the first bioacoustics studies to investigate the hearing of manatees and their environment indicates that manatees are often unable to determine the location of slow idling boats, thus remaining in their path, resulting in injury or death. Among the new findings are that manatee hearing systems are not well-tuned to the low frequency sounds of boats, and that acoustic masking can make locating the sound difficult. The researchers suggest a design for a directional acoustic warning device that could be more effective at preventing collisions. Source: American Scientist, Vol90, March-April 2002 [READ ARTICLE]
Related: See lay-language paper by the researchers, with photos and video Source: Acoustical Society of America Meeting Proceedings, 12/01 [WEBPAGE]

Ambient Noise Levels in Ocean Double in a Generation - Research conducted between 1994 and 2001 reveals that ambient (overall background) noise levels off the California coast have increased by 10dB since the 1960's. On the logarithmic scale of dB measurement, this represents a doubling of the sound levels. The University of Washington researchers suspect that this increase, measured at Point Sur, can be largely attributed to increased ship traffic, which can be audible over great distances. Source: Acoustic Research Letters Online, April 2002. [READ ABSTRACT or DOWNLOAD PDF]

Acoustic Climate Research to Continue in Pacific - The US Navy has released its final Record of Decision, authorizing the continuance of the Acoustic Thermography and Ocean Climate (ATOC) program under a new name: North Pacific Acoustic Laboratory (NPAL). This program sends low-frequency sounds through the deep ocean from two sources (near San Francisco and Hawaii); they are received at numerous sites, with the resultant data offering clues to ocean temperatures. Subtle but noticeable avoidance behavior has been noted in whale populations near transmitters, but the navy considers the effects to be insignificant. Of course, environmental advocates are not so sanguine. NOAA has authorized "incidental take" of marine mammals in association with this research (ie, acceptance of some deaths). Source: Federal Register, February 2002
For more information, see AcousticEcology Ocean Issues/Acoustic Research page [GO THERE]

New Five Year Offshore Oil and Gas Leasing Program in planning stages - The Interior Department's Minerals Management Service is preparing a nationwide Leasing Program for the years 2002-2007. Among the twenty "lease sales" being proposed for offshore exploration and drilling are the southern Alaskan coast and the eastern Gulf of Mexico, neither of which has been impacted by mineral exploration up till now. The seismic exploration and ship traffic associated with the leases would be new for whales and other marine life in these areas (see this [ARTICLE] on research into effects of seismic exploration on sperm whales). Source: Action Network, January 2002. [MORE INFO]

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