Low Frequency Active Sonar Kills Whales and Dolphins
Paul Jepson, a marine scientist with the Zoological Society of London reports in Nature Magazine that post-mortem examination of 10 beaked whales found conclusive evidence of “the bends.” Jepson, along with other scientists, studied the bodies of the whales that stranded on the beaches of the Canary Islands in September 2002.
The stranding began within four hours of the onset of multi-national naval low frequency active sonar exercises. Among human divers, Decompression Sickness, also known as “the bends,” occurs when a diver surfaces too quickly, thus preventing the off-gassing of nitrogen bubbles that collect in the blood during diving.
Decompression Sickness in humans can lead to permanent physical injury including deafness, blindness and paralysis along with strokes, heart attacks, and death. Jepson and the other scientists who examined the Canary Island whales found clear signs of gas bubble formation in the whales’ blood vessels as well as hemorrhaging in their vital organs.
While Decompression Sickness does not normally affect marine mammals, it is felt by many marine scientists and environmentalists that LFA sonar disrupts the mammals’ highly sensitive navigational abilities. Previous studies of suspected sonar-related beachings have found ruptured blood vessels and damaged bones within the whales’ and dolphins’ echo-location organs.
Jepson’s findings indicate that the beaked whales surfaced too quickly in order to escape an anomaly underwater. Previous strandings of multiple species of whales in the Bahamas in March 2000, and the following disappearance of all beaked whales in the same waters, coincided with naval sonar testing. A subsequent Federal investigation concluded that the sonar was responsible for the deaths and disappearance.
In late 2003, 12 harbor porpoises were found dead on a beach in the San Juan Islands shortly after sonar testing in that area. According to the Ocean Futures Society, founded by Jean Michel Cousteau, a video of an Orca pod shows them behaving erratically as a nearby U.S. Navy vessel emitted underwater sonar signals. Scientists in Hawaii have observed that Humpback whales stop singing and hunting when LFA is in use, and often leave the area for extended periods of time.
On March 2, 2005, a pod of rough-toothed dolphins beached themselves on Marathon Key in the Florida Keys. Of the 70 that beached, over half died during the stranding. Many of the remaining 30 dolphins died or were euthanized during rehabilitation attempts. To date, only nine of the surviving dolphins have been released. Five adult females are scheduled for release in the future while a young calf will remain in captivity permanently, having lost its mother who would have taught it hunting and survival skills.
This tragic beaching and horrific loss of life occurred during Navy testing of LFA in the Keys, almost two years after a Federal Judge’s ruling that the Navy’s use of low frequency active sonar was in violation of several Federal laws enacted to protect marine life.
Federal Judge Elizabeth Laporte ruled in August 2003 that the U.S. Navy’s plan to deploy Low Frequency Active Sonar was in violation of the Marine Mammal Protection Act, the Endangered Species Act, and the National Environmental Protection Act. The ruling was set forth as a result of a suit filed by the National Resources Defense Council, the Humane Society, the League for Coastal Protection, the Cetacean Society International, and the Ocean Futures Society and its president, Jean-Michel Cousteau.
“The science is clear — intense active sonar can kill whales, porpoises and fish,” said Naomi Rose, a marine mammal scientist with the Humane Society of the United States, one of the co-plaintiffs. “The Navy must find ways to test and train with the LFA system that do not needlessly damage marine life.”
Yet, the testing continues and 55 rough-toothed dolphins were added to the death list only four months ago. How many more whales and dolphins will die, and for what?