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Ocean Issues

Focusing on the effects of human noise on ocean life.
This page contains archives from October 2004 through February 2005.

[SEE OCEAN ISSUES ARCHIVES 1: Prior to August 2003]

US to Resist International Efforts to Limit Sonar Use - The Bush administration is strongly opposing international efforts to restrict the Navy's use of active sonar anywhere in the world, putting it at odds with European allies and several key ocean-protection organizations. Although allies have become increasingly concerned about research indicating a link between the mass strandings of whales and nearby naval use of sonar, the new U.S. position, being finalized last week, puts national security first. The new position is described as a "consensus" agreement among government agencies, but it touched off a contentious internal debate -- one primarily between military officials who say unrestricted sonar is needed to train sailors and protect ships, and wildlife specialists who believe the sonar may be killing whales and other marine mammals with its loud bursts of sound. An official who participated in the discussion and was told not to
discuss it publicly said the debate got "very heated." But the major recommendation remains what the Navy initially proposed: that any efforts to limit the global use of sonar through international negotiations should and will be actively resisted. The military also succeeded in resisting efforts to leave the policy open for changes if evidence of harm becomes more conclusive. Michael Jasny, a senior consultant with the Natural Resources Defense Council, said last week that he -- and some government officials involved in the debate -- were disappointed that the Navy opposed international efforts to address and better control sonar use. "This was an opportunity for the Navy to lead the international community in stopping this needless assault on whales and other marine life," he said. "Instead, the Navy is turning the clock backwards and is dragging the rest of the U.S. government along with it." Source: Washington Post, 2/27/05 [READ ARTICLE]
Related: Senators, Congressmen Ask for Review of Sonar Policy - Two Senators and two Congressmen have called for a review of the new administration policy of resisting any international efforts to limit sonar deployment. Senators Boxer and Lutenberg joined Representatives Farr and Rahall in questioning the inflexibility of the policy, given that several scientific studies, including ones carried out by the Navy, have linked sonar use with marine mammal beachings. Source: Bay City News Wire, 4/18/05 [READ ARTICLE]
Related: Groups Press NATO on Active Sonars - A coalition of environmental organizations, including the US-based NRDC and UK-based WDCS have released a letter sent to NATO, encouraging their governing board to follow through on recent calls from the EU Parliament and International Whaling Commission to do closer and more comprehensive analysis of increasing evidence of the damaging impacts of active sonars on cetaceans and fish. The letter includes a concise, yet detailed, overview of strandings associated with mid-frequency active sonar use, and of initiatives already undertaken by some countries, including Spain and the US, to try to reduce the impacts of these sonars. Source: Press Release, 2/10/05 [READ PRESS RELEASE] [DOWNLOAD LETTER(pdf)]
Related: European Coalition, World Conservation Union Call for Caution on Sound
In the Ocean Issues News Archive [GO THERE]

Whales Listen for Echoes Oven Hundreds of Miles - Research using Cold War-era recorders at sea have confirmed what scientists have long suspected: great whales use sound to naviagate over great distances. New evidence shows that whales will listen for echoes of their own vocalizations, bounced off seafloor features such as seamounts, from hundreds of miles away, and use these sounds to guide them in their migrations. Christopher Clark, from Cornell University in New York, had been listening to whale songs for nine years when he realised he had been thinking about the giant creatures in the wrong time scale. "There is a time delay in the water, and the response times for their communication are not the same as ours," he said. "Suddenly you realise that their behaviour is defined not by my scale, or any other whale researcher's scale, but by a whale's sense of scale - ocean-basin sized." During the research Clark obtained thousands of acoustical tracks of singing whales for different species throughout the year.  The recordings confirmed that whales were also using their songs to talk to one other, again often over vast distances. Clark and other scientists are concerned that the growing "acoustic smog" in the world's oceans, and particularly the waters near popular migration and feeding routes, is interfering with whales' ability to communicate with songs. "A blue whale, which lives 100 years, that was born in 1940, today has had his acoustic bubble shrunken from 1,000 miles to 100 miles because of noise pollution," said Clark. "The noise pollution is estimated to be at the industrial noise level where OSHA would require us to wear headphones." Noise pollution is doubling every decade in an urbanized marine environment, Clark claims, mostly due to shipping traffic. Sources: MSNBC, 2/20/05 [READ ARTICLE] London Sunday Times, 2/20/05 [READ ARTICLE] London Observer, 2/20/05 [READ ARTICLE]
Related: The Fading Songs of Whales -
Most people know the modern world is a noisy place, but they might not be aware the oceans have gotten to be considerably noisy as well -- and they are getting noisier, to the detriment of whales and other marine mammals. Payne, who has studied the behavior of whales for nearly 40 years, discovered that humpback whales sing songs, and that the sounds of finback and blue whales can carry great distances underwater. "The sounds made by whales propagate across oceans," Payne told UPI's Blue Planet. "Blue whales make a low moan, which would be heard thousands of miles away -- before the ocean was polluted with ship traffic." Source: UPI/Seaflow, 2/21/05 [READ ARTICLE]

NMFS Begins Developing New Noise Exposure Criteria - The US National Marine Fisheries Service, a division of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, is revamping its noise exposure criteria governing the effects of human noise on marine mammals and endangered species. Currently, a single "one size fits all" criteria is used; NMFS is proposing 5 alternatives that will attempt to differentiate between the hearing sensitivites of different animals and the sound characteristics of various noise sources, and one alternative that is based on assuring that human noise does not significantly alter current ambient noise levels.
For more information, see: Special Report: Ocean Noise Criteria EIS

Seismic Surveys and the Asian Tsunami - In the wake of the Christmas tsunami, speculation spread in cyberspace that seismic surveys taking place off southern Australia, which some observers blamed for whale beachings in early December, may have triggered the earthquake that caused the devastation. Several journalists contacted AEI for our input, and Executive Director Jim Cummings was quoted in some online stories. By and large, these stories presented our comments in context, though none gave our bottom line: it is highly unlikely--as close to impossible as you can get--that earthquakes are triggered by airguns. Regarding other research noted in these stories: There is some evidence that some oil and gas extraction activities (mainly injecting mass quantities of fluids into depleted fields to increase their pressure, and perhaps also subsiding of ground over depleted reservoirs) can cause very small earthquakes (in the 1 to 2 range on the Riechter scale), but seismic activity has not been seen associated with airgun blasts. And yes, during WWII some research was done toward using explosives to trigger tsunamis (great idea, eh?), but this used the explosive blasts to directly create waves, not to trigger earth movements. While we will never know everything about the subtle effects of our actions, or the indirect links along seismic faults, that doesn't mean we should take the leap to saying "anything's possible." Jim Cummings, AEI Founder
RELATED: Animals Escape Tsunami- The death toll from the Asian tsunami was conspicuously short on non-human victims. How did other animals escape? Elephants, for one, can perceive infrasonic sound, which may have cued them in to the oncoming wave. Source: ChannelAsia News, 1/4/05 [READ ARTICLE]

Florida Strandings Followed Navy Exercises - Seventy rough-toothed dolphins beached on the Florida Keys on March 2, during Navy submarine exercises 45 miles away. The Navy used a high-frequency sonar several times before the strandings, and a mid-frequency sonar the day before the strandings; an internal investigation has been launched and will include necropsies of some dead animals. "It's fair to say we will be looking at any potential contributing factors, and that's everything," said Laura Engleby, a biologist with NOAA Fisheries, which is coordinating the stranding response. "We aren't ruling anything out."Rough-tooth dolphins normally inhabit deep, offshore waters in the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean; it's quite unusual to see them so close to shore. About 20 of the initial group of stranded Keys dolphins made their way back to sea by early Thursday, while 14 were euthanized because of their poor condition. Others remained in care of biologists and volunteers, from where they were expected to be transferred to rehabilitation facilities. Whale and dolphin strandings are not uncommon in Florida and elsewhere. Various factors have been blamed -- from a few sick animals luring an entire pod toward land, to pollution and algae blooms. This is the fourth such mass stranding of rough-tooth dolphins since July. Source: AP/Reuters/MSNBC, 3/8/05 [READ ARTICLE] Miami Herald, 3/8/05 [READ ARTICLE] NPR Morning Edition, 3/9/05 [STORY LINK]
Followup: A message from an AEI friend in Florida reports that initial necropsy results seem to point to chronic stress and other pathologies, rather than acoustic trauma, in the deaths of these dolphins (and an unrelated cluster of recent manatee deaths). He reports: "Some of the animals had moderate lung pathology and gastric ulcers, commonly seen in compromised/stressed cetaceans. Some of the animals also had some interesting skin lesions, resembling ulcers. We are awaiting the histopathology data to further examine the animals. Also the Florida Marine Research Inst. has had numerous manatee mortalities, 40 since early March I think, and is linking possible ride tide association to these deaths." While not ruling out sound as a causitive factor in the actual strandings, there appears to be no obvious "smoking gun"
Related: North Carolina Whale Beaching Spurs Scrutiny of Naval Sonars - The beaching of three dozen whales on North Carolina's outer banks in mid January has once again raised questions about naval mid-frequency active sonar tests. In the two days before the beachings, exercises were underway 240 nautical miles from the beaching location; Naval spokesman say that no sonars were used any closer than 50 miles from the beachings, and that any possible connection is "unlikely." Most of the beachings involved pilot whales, who do wash ashore relatively often, but the presence of two other species of whales, both normally deep divers from far offshore, make this event unusual. Source: Washington Post, 1/28/05 [READ ARTICLE] [READ ARTICLE(ALTERNATE LINK, SHORTER VERSION]
Related: UK Reports Doubling in Strandings - Cetacean strandings have apparently doubled in the past ten years on the coasts of the United Kingdom, accoridng to a new report from the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society. Most of the blame for the increase is placed on incidental catch (and injury) from fishing nets, though acoustic effects are also a factor. Source: BBC, 3/9/05 [READ ARTICLE]

NATO Exercises in Canaries to Include Vessel to watch for Whales - After incidents involving mid-frequency sonar and beachings of whales in two previous NATO exercises, the Spanish governemment will dedicate one frigate in an upcoming April NATO exercise to watching for whales. (note: since previous beachings have centered on deep-diving beaked whales, it remains unclear how the frigate will spot them) This article describes the exercise in some detail. Source: Radio Netherlands, 3/1/05 [READ ARTICLE]

Yucatan Survey Proceeds - A five-week academic seismic survey off the Yucatan coast got underway in late January, under intense scrutiny by animal rights activists and local opposition. The survey, which will take place in shallow shelf waters and is designed to study the Chicxulub impact crater (widely considered the likely source of the dinosaur-killing extinction 60 million years ago), was originally scheduled for early 2004, but the Mexican government denied some of the permits shortly before the cruise was to commence. This year, Animal Welfare Institute activist Ben White, who led last year's opposition, returned to the Yucatan; his hoped-for direct intervention of getting into the water near the seismic vessel was stymied by port authorities who would not authorize the boat's launch. While rumors among locals and activists hold that the Mexican Navy is maintaining a 40-mile exclusion zone around the survey vessel, operations managers maintain that they are merely doing standard scouting to be sure fishermen don't accidentally run into their several-km-long hydrophone streamers, and to try to clear the way in front of the boat to maintain the planned straight lines of travel. White says that "it makes no sense to me, just playing it out logically, how the discharge of that amount of acoustic energy is just hunky dory." Researchers and government permitting agencies are relying on past evidence that fish, turtles, and whales move far enough away from airguns to avoid injury; bottom-dwelling creatures are likely more susceptible to injury, though evidence of this is limited (due to a lack of study). Local fishermen are concerned about a large fish die-off that took place as the survey began (turtles, too, were found), though this is being blamed on a namptha spill by Pemex, the Mexican oil and gas company, in a river near Veracruz. Sources: Personal communication, 1/6-31/05; MSNBC, 1/13/05 [READ ARTICLE] Guardian, 1/12/05 [READ ARTICLE] Comments from AEI addressing the project: [READ LETTER]
Update: Survey Ship Strikes Reef, Heads Home - In a bizarre final twist of a mission dogged by delays, the R/V Ewing struck a submerged reef, damaging an area about 3 feet square. The Mexican government suspended permits for the survey, and after a few days, the ship headed back for the US, where it is scheduled to be decommissioned and replaced by a new vessel. Source: AP, 3/1/05 [READ ARTICLE]

Paint Chemical May Harm Whale Hearing - A chemical in barnacle-resistant paint used on large vessels has been shown to damage outer-ear hair cells, which amplify and pass on auditory information to the inner ear in mammals, including whales and dolphins. The chemical, TBT, was already known to disrupt the immune and hormonal systems of marine mammals, but this is the first evidence that it may have direct auditory effects. "This observation identifies a new environmental threat for marine mammals by TBT, which is known to accumulate in the food chain," researcher Joseph Santos-Sacchi said. "It also is now important to assess the impact of TBT exposure on marine mammal communication. It's well established that if you lose your outer hair cells you would have a hearing loss of 40 to 60 decibels." In 1999, the International Maritime Organization passed a resolution urging governments to ban the painting of vessels with TBT-based coatings. The organization sought a complete removal of TBT-based paints from all ships by 2008. The resolution hasn't gone into effect because the International Maritime Organization can't convince the required 25 nations to recognize it, spokeswoman Natasha Brown said in an interview. The chemical may enter whale bodies through their food. Source: Bloomberg, 1/27/05 [READ ARTICLE] Newsday/AP, 1/27/05 [READ ARTICLE] Science Daily, 12/31/04 [READ ARTICLE] Read research paper: web page triggers automatic pdf download: [DOWNLOAD PAPER(pdf)]

Sperm Whales Can Suffer Bends - A new study by a Woods Hole biologist suggests that sperm whale bones bear evidence of nitrogen bubble damage that has thus far only been associated with the effects of rising too rapidly to the surface after deep dives. This is the first direct evidence that whales can be affected by the bends; previously, many researchers had assumed that they were evolutionarily adapted in ways that would allow them to rise as needed to the surface. The whale bones showed signs of mild, but chronic decompression sickness; bones as old as 100 years old had similar damage, suggesting that the problem has not gotten noticably worse in the 20th century. The new research has implications in concerns about behavioral disruptions of whales by loud human noises in the sea, including naval sonars, explosions, and seismic surveys, suggesting that the observed mid-water stops common as sperm whales ascend is an important for minimizing these effects. Sources: BBC, 12/23/04 [READ ARTICLE] Newsday, 12/24/04 [READ ARTICLE] Nature News, 12/20/04 [READ ARTICLE] NZHerald/The Independent, 12/25/04 [READ ARTICLE] NPR (audio available), 12/24/04 [HEAR STORY] WHOI Press Release, 12/23/04 [READ PRESS RELEASE]

World Conservation Union Targets Underwater Noise - The World Conservation Union (IUCN) adopted a significant resolution that recognizes noise as a form of pollution; calls on governments to apply the precautionary principle in assessing the impacts of noise generated by commercial, military, and industrial activities; and to avoid the use of powerful noise sources in habitat fop vulnerable species and in areas where marine mammals or endangered species may be concentrated. The Resolution also acknowledges that ocean noise degrades habitat and has adverse effects on marine life ranging from disturbance to injury and mortality, and expresses concern that over the last century, the world’s oceans have become polluted by acoustic energy from many human activities, including oil and gas exploration, commercial shipping, and military testing and training. Notably, the United States, one of the world's leading authorities and one of the largest contributors to man-made ocean noise, decided not to participate in the discussions and took no position on the resolution. Source: AWI Press Release, 11/24/04 [READ PRESS RELEASE]

European Union Parliament Calls for Sonar Action - In the most dramatic legislative action yet to address ocean noise concerns, the European Parliament adopted a resolution aimed at developing new regulations to address environmental concerns. The resolution calls for EU countries to pursue the adoption of moratoriums and restrictions on the use of high-intensity active sonars in naval operations (including within the framework of NATO), develop alternative technologies, and immediately restrict the use of high-intensity active sonars in waters under their jurisdiction. The resolution also urges the European Commission to conduct studies on the potential impact of active sonar on the marine environment, to assess the effects of current practices in EU waters and develop legislation for the European Union. The current resolution, while unlikely to create instant changes in member countries' operations, will spur continued action within member countries and the EU as a whole. Source: USNewwire, 10/28/04 [READ ARTICLE] Reuters, 10/28/04 [READ ARTICLE] EU Archives, full text of resolution: [DOWNLOAD RESOLUTION(pdf)]
Related: Baltic/Mediterranean Consortium Adopts Noise Provision- The 16 member states of the Agreement on the Conservation of Cetaceans in the Black Sea, Mediterranean Sea and contiguous Atlantic area (ACCOBAMS) have approved a resolution calling for "extreme caution" in conducting activities that produce intense underwater noise, including military sonar activities. The ACCOBAMS Scientific Committee was charged to consider current understanding of the impacts of noise, and to produce a recommended set of standards for use by member states, which include Spain, France, Italy, and others. Source: NRDC Press Release, 11/15/04 [READ PRESS RELEASE]
UK Navy Moves Forward With Low Frequency Sonar, Admits It Can Kill Whales - Three years after announcing that their new Sonar 2087, the UK's version of low-frequency active sonar, would be the world's first "whale-friendly" active sonar, the British Navy has admitted that they cannot be sure that the system will not harm whales, and while mitigation measures will be imposed, defense of the realm is their overarching priority. Sixteen British warships are expected to be outfitted with the new sonar. Meanwhile, further impact analysis is underway off Scotland, with results expected soon. The commander of a UK Navy ship outfitted with the Sonar 2087, Andrew Bettom, announced that the MoD did not recognise a moratorium on the use of sonar equipment called for by the European Parliament. He added: "We are trying to be as environmentally responsible as we can. Before we embark on any mission or training we carry out a full environmental impact assessment." In addition, crew would be posted as look-outs for whales and dolphins, and passive sonar sensors, which can detect sea mammal activity, would also be used. Source: The Scotsman, 12/6/04 (SYSTEM DEPLOYED) [READ ARTICLE] Source: The Scotsman, 9/26/04 [READ ARTICLE] The Scotsman, 11/25/04 [READ ARTICLE]
Related: Scottish Enviromentalists, Scientists Work to Ban Subs and Active Sonar in Whale Habitat - Scottish environmental organizations are in discussions with the UK Ministry of Defense; they hope to convince the MoD and NATO to keep their subs and active sonars, both low and mid-frequency, out of important whale habitat off the Scottish coast. Dr. Peter Evans, director of the Sea Watch Foundation and one of the country's leading cetacean experts, said: 'We are due to have another meeting with the MoD and the ideal solution would be not to have military exercises in these whale areas. 'Mid-frequency sonar is a major problem. We want it not used in known whale areas off Scotland and better surveys carried out by the Navy of places where it intends to use the sonar. Source: The Daily Record, 9/29/04 [READ ARTICLE]

President Creates Committee on Ocean Policy - In response to the recent Ocean Commission report, which called for a unified management of ocean policy, President Bush has announced a new Cabinet-level Committee on Ocean Policy. The Committee's membership consists largely of Cabinet Secretaries and other high-level administrators. It is charged with creating an 18-month work plan to address ocean policy needs in line with the Commission's recommendations, including the establishment of sub-committees on oceans science integration and science technology. Source: NOAA Press Release, 12/17/04 [READ PRESS RELEASE] Executive Order, 12/17/04 [READ EXECUTIVE ORDER] Action Plan, 12/17/04 [DOWNLOAD ACTION PLAN(pdf)] NRDC Press Release. 12/17/04 ("Modest Step Forward") [READ PRESS RELEASE] Environmental Health Perspectives, 2/05 (good overview and background) [READ ARTICLE]

Mystery Whale Voice Tracked in Pacific - A lone whale with a mysterious voice that matches no other species has been discovered roaming the Pacific. The whale has been wandering across the ocean for the past 12 years. Researchers identified it after listening to recordings made by the United States Navy’s submarine-tracking hydrophones. The voice is low frequency, 52Hz, slightly higher than blue whales and out of the range of other baleen whales as well. Over the years, the calls have deepened slightly, perhaps because the whale has aged, but its voice is still recognisable. Researchers doubts that the whale belongs to a new species, although no similar call has been found anywhere else, despite careful monitoring. Source: The Scotsman, 12/9/04 [READ ARTICLE] Hear Mystery Voice on NOAA site: [WEBSITE]

Australia Strandings Raise Questions - A series of marine mammal strandings around southeastern Australia, have raised questions about whether industrial seismic surveys underway in the region may be involved. Similar strandings and questions occurred last year at about this time, as well. A survey was completed in late November off the southern coast of Victoria, about 300 km west of Kings' Island, where 100 pilot whales and dolphins stranded on November 27. At least 30 bottom-feeding Banjo sharks also stranded there, while 19 whales beached in Tasmania. The strandings took place far outside the generally considered "danger zone" for impacts from seismic surveys; both strandings took place on the east, or far, side of islands. Reports also surfaced in early December that the Australian and US Navies were carrying on exercises prior to the beachings, including a short test of an active sonar system (likely a mid-frequency one). Other possible causes of the strandings include a shift in cold currents, which carry whale prey, to the north close to the coastlines, or the herding of whales into near shore areas by predators. Compound factors, in which exposure to loud sounds is one element, are also possible. Necropsies will be performed on some whale heads in an effort to determine whether signs of acoustic trauma are present. Sources: ABCNews, 11/28/04 [READ ARTICLE] Mercury News, 12/1/04 (contains conflicting statements from Resources Minister and Santos Oil about locations of surveys) [READ ARTICLE] Essential Petroleum Press Release, with map of area surveyed [READ PRESS RELEASE] Map showing bigger picture including location of strandings on King Island [SEE MAP] The Australian, 12/1/04 (focus on climate/current theory and predator theories) [READ ARTICLE] Sydney Morning Herald, 12/3/04 (mention of sonar testing) [READ ARTICLE] Coverage from last year, 12/6/03 [READ ARTICLE]
Followup: Ketten Examines Bodies - A HARVARD professor is examining beached whales in Tasmania for clues about their health and reasons for stranding. Darlene Ketten has studied how under-water noises -- including military sonar -- affect marine mammals' acute hearing. An expert in whale hearing, she is in Hobart examining the remains of 20 whales and training Tasmanian biologists how to scan and examine the heads of whales. "We look at everything, at the eyes for evidence of haemorrhage or other trauma, and any kind of abnormality, whether a significant trauma or pathology, or disease process," said Prof Ketten, who uses MRI and CT scans. Source: The Mercury News, 5/13/05 [READ ARTICLE]
Related: WDCS Calls for National Study of Strandings - The Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society has called for Australia's Federal Government to bring in a national approach to strandings and to urgently step up research efforts into possible causes. "Tasmania is the strandings hot-spot of Australia", said Michelle Grady, WDCS Australasia spokesperson. "The magnitude of this problem begs the need for a National Strandings Network in Australia to ensure that Tasmania and those other states in which strandings occur, do not have to face this complex and distressing matter without national support." In the past 9 years, 2768 long finned pilot whales and 146 bottlenose dolphins have stranded in Tasmania, amongst a total of 4661 whales and dolphins overall, with the total number of standings events being 556 over that period of time. Source: Businesswire, 11/29/04 [READ PRESS RELEASE]

Loud Sounds May Trigger Bubble Formation in Whales - Since last year's reports of massive tissue lesions, caused by rapidly expanding bubbles of nitrogen, may be involved in beachings of whales exposed to naval sonars, there has been much speculation as to whether the bubbles are formed by rapid surfacing (as in humans with "the bends"), or were somehow triggered by exposure to sound waves themselves. Lawrence Crum of the University of Washington presented a paper at the fall meeting of the Acoustical Society of America that sugggests that sonar itself can destabilize nitrogen that is supersaturated in the blood of marine mammals, triggering the formation of nitrogen bubbles that block blood flow and cause hemorrhaging. In a series of experiments, Crum showed that even modest levels of underwater sound could trigger bubble formation. He tested liquid supersaturated with nitrogen and a sample of cow liver tissue supersaturated with air. By itself, surfacing quickly would not cause the gas-bubble disease seen in the stranded whales, Crum said. "There are lots of scenarios, natural scenarios, that would cause a whale to get frightened and flee to the surface," he said. If that alone caused decompression sickness, he said, "evolution would select against those whales and you wouldn't have any beaked whales left." Other scientists at the meeting agreed with Crum, but they said more study is needed to bear out his hypothesis. Crum agreed that more needs to be known about the basic physiology of marine mammals before his studies can draw definite conclusions. Source: San Diego Union-Tribune, 11/21/04 [READ ARTICLE]

Bush Administration Said to Nix Ocean Policy Recommendations - Despite warnings that the nation's ocean territories are facing an ecological crisis, President Bush is unlikely to endorse major reforms in federal oceans management recommended by a landmark commission. Instead, the White House appears to be leaning toward "giving us a menu of all the wonderful things they are doing right now and saying they believe they can handle it within the current (government) structure and so forth," said retired Adm. James Watkins, a former secretary of Energy who chaired the oceans commission. "We would be very upset to see the status quo being delivered publicly as an adequate response," Watkins said. Source: ScrippsHoward News Service, 11/19/04 [READ ARTICLE]

Fish Sang Through Hurricane Charley - Fish in Charlotte harbor were unperturbed by the passage of Hurricane Charley, according to bioacousticians studying their nightly courtship calls. University of South Florida College of Marine Science biological oceanographers David Mann and
James Locascio regularly eavesdrop on the unique sounds fish make during spawning. They went
back to their recorded data after Charley's fury and found the hurricane did not inhibit the nightly chorus of singing, love-struck fish. Fish sound levels on the evening of Charley - and for three days thereafter - were higher than the days prior to the storm. Source: Science Daily, 11/17/04 [READ ARTICLE]

Bioacoustics Pioneer, First to Record Whales, Dies - Dr. William Watkins would do anything to capture the sounds of whales, porpoises, seals and dolphins on tape in their natural habitats. In the Arctic Ocean's Beaufort Sea, north of Alaska and Canada, he hopped with his recording gear from one iceberg to another to collect the whistles, clicks, snorts and chatterings of marine mammals. Watkins, 78, a pioneer in marine mammal bioacoustics and a senior research specialist at Woods Hole, died of multiple myeloma Sept. 24. Bill Watkins built the first tape recorder capable of recording marine mammals at sea, enabling a sudden blossoming of field studies, Peter Tyack, a colleague, said in an e-mail. He gave the voices of marine mammals to the world. Source: Charlotte Observer/Boston Globe, 10/7/04 [READ ARTICLE]

Snow Crabs Show Damage From Airguns - The first controlled study of snow crabs exposed to an active seismic survey has revealed a surprising amount of physiological damage. Crabs, which were caged on the seafloor as airguns passed 40meters above them, exhibited tissue and organ damage, slightly poorer reproduction, and an increased number of lost legs. Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans researchers, who did the study, noted that there was no significant change in mortality or feeding patterns in crabs exposed to airguns, but that hemorrhaging and membrane detachment in the crabs' ovaries was noted, and that the condition intensified between December (when the crabs were exposed to the airguns) and May. Similarly long-lasting and worsening effects were also detected in the hepatopancreas, which functions like a liver in a crab, with abnormal cell structure, swelling and stress detected. While the scientists cautioned that temperature differences or handling in the cages may have been responsible for some of the physical damage observed, and called for further study, environmental groups expressed shock at the results and called for consideration of an immediate moratorium on seismic testing. Sources: Halifax Herald, 10/2/04 [READ ARTICLE] Halifax Herald, 10/7/04 (more on various interpretations) [READ ARTICLE] Sierra Club Press Release, 10/4/04 [READ PRESS RELEASE]
Related: Squid Show Signs of Acoustic Trauma - Several beachings of giant squid along the coast of Spain have raised concerns that their deaths may have been caused by exposure to loud sounds, possibly seismic survey airguns. Unusual numbers of stranded squid appeared during seismic surveys in both 2001 and 2003, according to researcher Angel Guerra. None had signs of superficial damage, but all had internal injuries. Ear damage was present in all specimens, with further organ and tissue damage in some. "No one has ever seen this before in giant squid,” says Guerra, who fears there might be many more victims. Local fishermen also reported seeing large numbers of dead fish floating at sea during the surveys. These were the first seismic surveys in the area, but Guerra says the surveyors, led by geologists from the University of Orviedo and affiliated with the Spanish oil company Repsol, plan to continue in 2005. Source: New Scientist, 9/22/04 [READ ARTICLE]
Related: Deafening Sounds of the Seas -
The UK-based Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society has released an updated version of their wide-ranging report Oceans of Noise. the WDCS pinpoints seismic surveys, shipping, and naval sonars as sources of potentially damaging high-intensity sound. Source: BBC, 9/23/04 [READ ARTICLE] WDCS Press Release, 9/22/04, with link to report [READ PRESS RELEASE]

World Conservation Union to Study Western Pacific Gray Whale Threat - Responding to concerns from environmental advocates, the International Whaling Commission, and potential funders, the Sakhalin Energy Investment Company has contracted with the World Conservation Union to convene an independent scientific review panel to look at the biodiversity effects of a controversial oil and gas development project off the Pacific Coast of Russia. The Sakhalin project bisects a critical habitat of the whales, which have dwindled in number in recent years. A report is due at the end of November. Source: Reuters, 8/26/04 [READ ARTICLE] Green Consumer Guide, 8/31/04 [READ ARTICLE]
Related: Pressure Mounts on Ministers to Protect Gray Whale Sanctuary - Source: The Observer, 2/2/04 [READ ARTICLE]

Mid-Frequency Sonar in Spotlight after Whale Incidents - The US Navy and NATO are under pressure after two incidents this past summer. In July, a pod of close to 200 melon-headed whales was seen in a shallow-water bay while Naval exercises took place offshore. While the Navy initially claimed that the sonar was not turned on until after the whales appeared inshore, more recent information released by the Navy indicates that it was used periodically for up to 20 hours before the deep-water whales were observed, seemingly agitated, near shore. While the Navy maintains that the ships were too far away (30-37 miles) to have caused the problem, Donna Wieting, chief of the Marine Mammal Conservation Division of NOAA's National Marine Fisheries Service said, "At this point, we still know very little about what might have made those whales behave so unusually. But saying that sonar played no role might be a premature determination. Even if we can't establish a clear cause and effect, we're having these coincidences of (unusual and sometimes deadly) marine mammal behavior around sonar, and we have to ask why." Meanwhile, for the second time in three summers, beaked whales appear to have died off the Canary Islands during NATO exercises involving the same mid-frequency active sonar system. The local government demanded an inquiry from the Spanish Ministry. And, a consortium of environmental organizations has formally demanded that the Defense Department engage in discussions aimed at creating operational and mitigation measures that can minimize such effects on whales. Sources:
Hawaii event: Common Dreams/Washington Post, 9/1/04 [READ ARTICLE] [ALTERNATE LINK] Honolulu Advertiser, 9/1/04 [READ ARTICLE] (initial reports): Washington Post, 7/11/04 [READ ARTICLE] Kauai World, 7/5/04 [READ ARTICLE] Honolulu Advertiser, 7/29/04 [READ ARTICLE]
Canary event: Source: Reuters, 7/23/04 [READ ARTICLE] Brunei, 7/26/04 [READ ARTICLE]
Coalition letter: Reuters/Common Dreams, 7/16/04 [READ ARTICLE] NRDC, et al letter, 7/15/04 [DOWNLOAD LETTER(pdf)] NRDC Press Release, 7/15/04 [READ PRESS RELEASE]
Related: CBC Audio Program on Ocean Noise - A detailed story on ocean noise, titled Sonic Gloom, was broadcast in August by the Canadian Broadcasting Company's science show Quirks and Quarks, and can be heard online. [REAL AUDIO LINK] [MP3 LINK] [CBC RADIO LINK]

Group Urges Orca Watchers to Stay Ashore - A local San Juan Islands initiative is urging tourists who want to view orcas to visit a popular park where the whales swim near to shore nearly daily, rather than going on whale watch boats. The group, Orca Relief Citizen's Alliance, says that there are at least 83 commercial whale-watching boats following the 83 orcas that call the Islands' waters home, and that the whales are often surrounded by boats 12 hours a day, all summer long. Source: ENS, 8/20/04 [READ ARTICLE(sub)] Orca Relief Research Reports: [WEBSITE]

Greenpeace Calls for 40% of North Sea to be Off-Limits To Fishing, Ships, Seismic Surveys - In a dramatic protest against bottom-trawling fishing, Greenpeace activists dumped 11,000 dead sea creatures at Germany's Brandenberg Gate; the sea urchins, squid, crabs, rays, and other animals were the "waste" of a single two-hour cruise by a commercial bottom-trawling boat. Greenpeace called for 40% of the North Sea to be set aside as a preserve, where commercial fishing, oil and gas development, and shipping would all be banned. Source: AFP/Yahoo, 8/17/04 [READ ARTICLE]

International Whaling Commission Addresses Noise Issues - During the 2004 meeting of the IWC, held in Sorrento, Italy, Commissioners endorsed several forward-looking statements and reports regarding ocean noise. Strong concern was voiced about ongoing seismic surveys and contruction activity in an area off the Pacific coast of Russia that is home to a very threatened population of gray whales; the IWC's recommendations regarding mitigation of harm from industrial seismic surveys included calls for continous biological monitoring by independent researchers. The IWC also hosted a symposium on ocean noise which attracted important new papers, including one that suggests that seismic surveys along coastal margins may increase the ambient background noise in the mid Atlantic by enough to reduce the effective distance at which whales can hear each other to dangerously low levels. The IWC proposals carry no legal or regulatory force, though such agreement on the need for far more caution in our noise-making is a positive sign for UN and other international ocean agreements. For more info, see the new Acoustic Ecology Institute Special Report on the IWC 2004 Meeting.
Related: IWC Calls for Western Pacific Oil/Gas Development to Halt - The 57 nations of the International Whaling Commission called on Exxon, Royal Shell, and BP to suspend seismic exploration activities off the Pacific coast of Russia, in order to protect a dwindling population of Pacific Grey Whales. Only a hundred animals remain in this population; an ambitous new oil and gas field development project runs directly through a small (60km by 5km/37mi by 3mi) strip that is the only known coastal feeding habitat for females and calves. Any displacement that may be caused as the whales avoid the noise of the surveys could easily have dire consequences for the population's survival. Concerns extend to the possiblity of oil spills once the field is operational. Exxon and Shell have delayed construction plans until 2005, but BP plans to drill its first well this summer. Source: AFP/Yahoo, 7/20/04 [READ ARTICLE]

US Ratification of Law of the Sea Stymied by Conservative Opponents - Despite backing from the Departments of State and Defense, the oil and gas industry, and environmental groups, and unanimous approval by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the Senate will not vote on ratification of the UN Law of the Sea after all this year. The Law of the Sea offers the best promise for creating an international response to and standards governing ocean noise, a crucial point since sound in the sea is largely trans-national in scope. Despite the fact that President Bush asked for ratification of the accord last year, the White House apparently has bowed to pressure from groups that oppose any multilateral agreements. When Richard Lugar (R-PA) appealed to President Bush recently to save the treaty, the president merely nodded, according to Mark Helmke, an aide to Lugar. He said national security advisor Condoleezza Rice gave Lugar a noncommittal "we'll take it under advisement." The administration, Helmke said, is "letting a bunch of right-wing isolationist groups use the United Nations as a way to beat up on the treaty." Although the conservative groups' objections were expected, he said, "what did surprise us is that the administration kowtowed to them so quickly." Lugar argues that the U.S. must ratify the treaty before January, when the countries that have done so will meet to consider amending it. But the conservative groups predict that they'll be able to stall a vote at least until next year. Frist spokeswoman Amy Call said that, given the controversy the accord had generated, "it's probably not something we have time to do this year." Source: LA Times, 6/1/04 [READ ARTICLE]
Background: UN Law of Sea Nears US Ratification Vote - 22 years after its adoption at the UN, and 10 years after it became a binding international convention, the US Senate is poised to finally vote on ratifying this crucial international protocol for managing the shared resources of the ocean. While the Reagan and Bush I teams simply let it languish, and Clinton's attempt to get it ratified died in Jesse Helm's committee, the current Bush team is behind passage, since the member nations are embarking on the first round of amendments. Many in the GOP still resist passage, thanks to concerns about ceding sovereignty to the UN; these opponents have forced hearings on the issue rather than allowing the ratification to move to the floor for a simple, and anonymous, voice vote. Source: Devon Western Morning News 3/17/04 [READ STORY] WorldNet Daily 3/23/04 (detailed history and anti-treaty arguments) [READ ARTICLE] See UN Law of Sea pages: [WEBSITE]

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