Tag Archives: Navy sonar

Local Orca Researcher Ken Balcomb Featured in True-life Legal Thriller, “War of the Whales”

Ken Balcomb, senior research scientist at the Center for Whale Research on San Juan Island, Washington, is a nationally recognized pioneer in marine mammal photo identification.
His is a familiar face on the local news, he is generous with his time and his dedication the survival of the Pacific Northwest Southern Resident Killer Whales (Orcas) who frequent the Puget Sound and Salish Sea ensures that he is usually available to answer questions for the media.
And now he is about to become famous in a whole new way – as the principal character in the legal thriller by Joshua Horwitz, War of the Whales. Available in bookstores and online on July 1st, 2014. Amazon has chosen it as the best book of July!
 
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War Of the Whales is the surprising and untold story of how two individuals united in a desperate fight to protect dolphins and whales from the deadly acoustic assault of navy sonar.
Deeply researched, and brimming with colorful and interesting detail, Joshua Horwitz’s gripping book reads like a thriller but, in the tradition of the best non-fiction writing, brings to light the secret history of military sonar and its devastating connection to traumatized whales and dolphins stranding and dying on beaches around the world.”

– TIM ZIMMERMANN, Associate Producer and Co-Writer of Blackfish and author of The Killer In The Pool.

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Ken Balcomb, senior researcher at the Center for Whale Research

For the last forty plus years Balcomb has patiently built a database on the Southern Resident orca population;  in Seattle and along much of the west coast even children are familiar with these whales and even know some of them by name. These whale families are iconic to our region, and while we owe much of our knowledge about them to Balcomb, the orcas themselves owe their chance at continued survival to man who has dedicated his life to them.
But the orca’s presence is seasonal and when winter approaches and the orcas spend less time in the nearshore waters, Balcomb focuses on the intermittent winter sightings, and pursues his interest in other species. For years his winters were spent in the Bahamas studying elusive beaked whales.
This is where War of the Whales begins.

In the early hours of March 15, 2000, the paths of the world’s most powerful navy and the ocean’s most mysterious species of whales were about to converge. Though on the calm surface of the Great Bahama Canyon, nothing hinted at anything amiss.
It was just another morning in paradise, the day the whales came ashore.
(Excerpt, War of the Whales.)

Balcomb was unaware that the lull of his idyllic island time would precede a personal hurricane of hard choices on a scale that most of us never have to face. His was a Sophie’s Choice that demanded he choose between the well-being of the whales, and his dedication and sense of honor towards the Navy where he had served two tours of duty. Author Joshua Horwitz artfully puts the reader in the scene as Balcomb struggles in an internal battle that will transfix and engage you, and leave you wondering if you would have the fortitude to do what he did – most of us ultimately choose to do the right thing, but are not faced with choices where both options are right.

 
Whether we believe in war readiness or not, it is the world we live in, and the men and women who risk their lives in the military deserve as much protection as we can provide. But do we allow the oceans to be ravaged for our human drama?  Where do we draw the line? It is a complex and often emotional debate, and Horowitz’s brilliant handling of the events allows it to unfold in an organic blend of data points and drama.

Joel Reynolds, attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council.
Joel Reynolds, attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council.

In an interview for The Planet, author Joshua Horwitz explains his interest in and dedication to bringing this story to light:

Horwitz says he hopes what readers will take away from War of the Whales is an understanding of the importance of tenacity in social change. “The book is really a story about two individuals who stood up to the most powerful navy in the world. I think that they are real role models for anyone, particularly young people, who really want to fight for change.”

The second individual who along with Balcomb faced the navy in the battle to mitigate sonar in the oceans is Joel Reynolds, senior attorney and director of the Los Angeles office of Natural ResourcesDefense Council (NRDC); and founder and director of the Marine Mammal Protection Project. Horwitz shows both the integrity and the complex character of this man who followed his beliefs and fought (and continues to fight) the navy in a court of law. His efforts to protect the whales from Navy sonar laid the foundation for what was to come, without it Balcomb may not have thought to take the actions he did.

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Ken Balcomb with his son Kelly. (War of the Whales photo)

But it is Ken Balcomb who Horwitz finds most intriguing. Most people are unaware of how important Balcomb’s time serving the Navy is to him, and his fundamental loyalty to the agency that can wreak havoc on the whales that Balcomb has dedicated his life to studying. Horowitz does a masterful job of engaging the reader in Balcomb’s conflict, and in illustrating the cost of standing up for what you believe.
The story is so artfully constructed that you are drawn in and forget that you are not reading a novel. With the index, end notes and list of characters it isn’t necessary to recall each of bit players, since it is easy to find them again.  Horwitz keeps the main focus on the internal conflicts of Balcomb and Reynolds, and creates a story that is fascinating even if you have no interest in whales or navy sonar.
From The Planet:

Horwitz: For me, this story is only partly about naval sonar and whales. At heart it addresses the question: what makes an effective change agent? My two protagonists — the environmental attorney and the marine biologist– are in many ways polar opposites. The lawyer is an institutional player who works inside the system in collaboration with other organizations and activists, with scientists and celebrities; whatever will get the job done. The whale scientist is a true maverick who’s never had any institutional affiliation, and who’s not very good a working collaboratively. One’s an extrovert, and the other’s an introvert who seems to enjoy the company of whales over humans.
But they share several important traits that make them highly effective when it comes to forcing change. They’re both tenacious and totally committed to the fighting the fight for as long as it takes — often at a cost to their personal lives. They don’t allow cynicism to erode their fundamental idealism or sense of purpose — which is a big challenge in a field like environmental law where you’re typically outgunned by deep-pocketed adversaries or facing judicial panels who defer to the military, especially during wartime. Tenacity, it turns out, is as important as intelligence or tactical decisions when it comes to fights over threatened species and environments. By the end of the book, their antagonists at the Navy, at the regulatory agencies, and on Capitol Hill have long ago cycled out of service and into other careers. But Balcomb and Reynolds are still at it, still fighting for the whales.

And Horwitz? The six years he spent researching this story led to a passion for the whales themselves. His first close encounter with friendly gray whales helped propel him to write the book, but along the way he came to understand the unique adaptations of these intelligent animals and is now focusing on a petition drive to continue the battle to protect whales and other marine life from the effects of Navy sonar.
Ultimately, increased awareness of the whales and what is happening to their environment is the happy ending we would all like to see and this masterfully crafted book is guaranteed to bring the issues to a larger audience.

The author petting a friendly gray whale in Baja, Mexico
The author petting a friendly gray whale in Baja, Mexico

NBC News Reports 27 Million Marine Mammals May Be Impacted By Navy Practice – Comment Period Extended

NAVY EXTENDS PUBLIC COMMENT PERIOD FOR NORTHWEST TRAINING AND TESTING. Please take a minute to express your opinion to the navy on their planned activities, using logical and factual arguments.

The Navy estimates that its activities could inadvertently kill 186 whales and dolphins off the East Coast and 155 off Hawaii and Southern California, mostly from explosives. 

It calculates more than 11,000 serious injuries off the East Coast and 2,000 off Hawaii and Southern California, along with nearly 2 million minor injuries, such as temporary hearing loss, off each coast. It also predicts marine mammals might change their behavior — such as swimming in a different direction — in 27 million instances.  (NBCnews)

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PRESS RELEASE:

SILVERDALE, Wash. – The U.S. Navy is extending the public comment period for the Northwest Training and Testing (NWTT) Draft Environmental Impact Statement/Overseas Environmental Impact Statement (EIS/OEIS) until April 15, 2014, to allow the public more time to submit comments.
The Navy prepared the Draft EIS/OEIS to evaluate the potential environmental impacts associated with military readiness training and testing activities conducted primarily within existing range complexes, operating areas and testing ranges in the NWTT Study Area. The Navy invites the public to submit comments on the Proposed Action and alternatives, and the accuracy and adequacy of the Draft EIS/OEIS analysis. The Draft EIS/OEIS is available for public review online at www.NWTTEIS.com.
The Navy is accepting comments throughout the extended public comment period, which began Jan. 24, 2014, and now runs until April 15, 2014. All comments must be postmarked or received online by April 15, 2014, for consideration in the Final EIS/OEIS. Written comments may be submitted via the project website at www.NWTTEIS.com or by mail to:
Naval Facilities Engineering Command Northwest
Attention: Ms. Kimberly Kler – NWTT EIS/OEIS Project Manager
1101 Tautog Circle, Suite 203
Silverdale, WA 98315-1101

Eight public meetings were recently held in Washington, Oregon, Northern California and Southeastern Alaska to inform the public about the Navy’s Proposed Action and findings in the Draft EIS/OEIS. Public comments on the environmental analysis were accepted during the public meetings. All comments received by April 15, 2014, will be considered in the development of the Final EIS/OEIS.
The Navy’s Proposed Action is to conduct training and testing activities, to include the use of active sonar and explosives, within the NWTT Study Area. The Proposed Action also includes pierside sonar maintenance and testing within the NWTT Study Area.
The purpose of the Proposed Action is to ensure that the Navy accomplishes its mission to maintain, train and equip combat-ready naval forces capable of winning wars, deterring aggression and maintaining freedom of the seas. This mission is achieved in part by training and testing within the NWTT Study Area. The NWTT EIS/OEIS also supports the renewal of federal regulatory permits and authorizations for current training and testing activities and future activities requiring environmental analysis.
The NWTT Study Area is composed of Navy training and testing range complexes, operating areas, testing facilities, and select Navy pierside locations in the Pacific Northwest. Aircraft training and testing activities that take place on or within established Navy airfields at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island, Wash., or Naval Weapons Systems Training Facility Boardman, Ore., are not included in this NWTT EIS/OEIS.
Visit the project website at www.NWTTEIS.com to download the Draft EIS/OEIS, view a map of the NWTT Study Area, learn more about the project and submit comments online.

So, the question is…HAS BEING PREPARED FOR WAR EVER PREVENTED WAR? World War I was to be the war that ended all wars – one hundred years and many wars later here we are.  It is time for a new world strategy, but until we figure that out please take action to help minimize our impact on the environment.

The war to end war” (sometimes called “The war to end all wars“) was a term for World War I. Originally idealistic, it is now used mainly in a disparaging way.In later years, the term became associated with Woodrow Wilson, despite the fact that Wilson used the phrase only once. Along with the phrase “make the world safe for democracy,” it embodied Wilson’s conviction that America’s entry into the war was necessary to preserve human freedom. (Wikipedia)

“Strange game. The only way to win is not to play.”.

Hear Ear-splitting Navy Sonar, and Watch the Orca Whales Respond

From Beautiful Whale Courtesy of Beautiful Whale
Imagine that you are walking down a city street at night – suddenly an ear-splitting siren goes off and simultaneously you find yourself in pitch black darkness, so dark that you can’t see your hands in front of your face or find your companions. What would you do? Most likely, if you knew how you would run for where you thought you could find light to see, and away from the noise.
Similarly, when loud noise from sonar or seismic surveys suddenly goes off, whales and dolphins have no ability to “see” since their sonar is useless, so they panic and head for the surface – often separated from pod members and calves. And sometimes they destroy their hearing apparatus and body tissues in the process.
Warning – this noise is loud and it is recommended that you turn the volume down if you are listening on earphones. 

A Navy destroyer, the USS Shoup, was using active sonar as part of an exercise in Haro Strait, generating pulses of 140 decibels or more. That’s as loud as standing near a fighter jet during take-off.
In the following days, at least 10 harbor porpoises were found dead in the area, some with blood coming from their heads. Some frozen bodies were sent for analysis, but it couldn’t be conclusively determined if the sonar contributed to the deaths.
For Ken Balcomb, it felt like deja vu. Three years earlier, he’d studied a mass stranding of dolphins following a Navy sonar exercise in the Bahamas. Balcomb says he suspected the intense pressure of the sonar pulses played a role.
Balcomb explained, “So I collected and froze heads and took them to Harvard Medical School and we CAT scanned them and showed they had hemorrhagic damage in the brain and ears.” (OPR, see below).

 

While the event involving J-pod of the Southern Resident orcas occurred a few years ago and the Navy no longer uses this type of sonar when the orcas are present in the Salish Sea, Navy exercises using loud sonar and explosives still go on anywhere in the ocean where safeguards are not in place. In spite of the best available science that shows the negative impact of these activities on marine life, in December the National Marine Fisheries Service approved the Navy’s request for a permit that appears to be in violation of the law.
At the end of February 2014, the Natural Resources Defense Council filed a lawsuit against the National Marine Fisheries Service and the Navy.  “Court documents can be found here, where it is stated:

In authorizing the Navy’s training and testing activities, the Service and the
Navy have committed these and other specific violations of the Marine Mammal
Protection Act, the Endangered Species Act, the Coastal Zone Management Act, and the
Administrative Procedure Act.

The lawsuit clearly says that the NRDC does not seek to stop the military from essential practice, but instead want to see that strong mitigation measures are implemented.

The Natural Resources Defense Council has been in court for several years, trying to force the government to put stricter limits on the Navy’s use of sonar in coastal waters where whales are present. Smith points to documents in which the Navy concedes that, despite its efforts to avoid harm, it expects to impact marine mammals hundreds of thousands of times over the five-year permit period. He says that shows the effect of the Navy’s safety measures is limited.
Smith explained, “And that limitation is, it only really works to limit the most serious harm.”
Smith says the number of whales and other marine mammals outright killed or permanently deafened may be decreased by the lookouts and other Navy precautions, but other impacts that damage the animals’ ability to feed or reproduce won’t.
Smith said, “Temporary hearing loss will continue, behavioral disruption will continue, and their lookout regime doesn’t do anything to limit that.”
Smith says the Navy should be restricted from using sonar during times of the year when seasonal migrations bring concentrations of whales into coastal waters.
The Navy is holding a series of public meetings on the environmental impact statement for the Northwest Training and Testing Area. Meetings will be held in communities from Oak Harbor, Washington to Fort Bragg California.

Although the public meetings were few and far between (remaining meetings are listed below), you can still express your thoughts. Please remember to use logical and provable points, and make comments here – the deadline for comment is March 25.

(From Oregon Public Broadcasting  (OPR)-  full audio is below.)

REMAINING PUBLIC MEETINGS (Oregon and California)
Open House Information Sessions: 5-8 p.m. Navy Presentation: 6:30 p.m.
-Oregon:
Monday, March 3, 2014 Astoria High School Student Commons, 1001 W. Marine Drive Astoria, OR
Tuesday, March 4, 2014, Isaac Newton Magnet School Gym 825 NE 7th St., Newport, OR
-California:
Thursday, March 6, 2014, Red Lion Hotel Redwood Ballroom, 1929 4th St.Eureka, CA
Friday, March 7, 2014, Redwood Coast Senior Center West Room, 490 N. Harold St., Fort Bragg, CA

Navy to Hold Public Meetings On Their Impact on Ocean Life, Starting February 26th, 2014

When giant squid were found dead off Spain about a decade ago, scientists suspected that powerful sound pulses from ships had harmed the animals. Now the evidence may be in. A new study says low-frequency sounds from human activities can affect squid and other cephalopods, not just whales and other marine mammals, which have long been thought to be vulnerable to such pulses.
When giant squid were found dead off Spain about a decade ago, scientists suspected that powerful sound pulses from ships had harmed the animals. Now the evidence may be in. A new study says low-frequency sounds from human activities can affect squid and other cephalopods, not just whales and other marine mammals, which have long been thought to be vulnerable to such pulses.

 
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Feb. 18, 2014
NAVY TO HOLD PUBLIC MEETINGS FOR THE NORTHWEST TRAINING AND TESTING DRAFT ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT STATEMENT/ OVERSEAS ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT STATEMENT
SILVERDALE, Wash. – The U.S. Navy invites the public to attend public meetings for the Northwest Training and Testing (NWTT) Draft Environmental Impact Statement/Overseas Environmental Impact Statement (EIS/OEIS). The Navy has prepared the Draft EIS/OEIS to evaluate the potential environmental impacts of military readiness training and testing activities conducted primarily within existing range complexes, operating areas and testing ranges in the NWTT Study Area. The Navy invites you to comment on the NWTT Draft EIS/OEIS.
Public Meetings
Eight public meetings will be held to inform the public about the Navy’s Proposed Action and findings in the Draft EIS/OEIS, and solicit public comments on the environmental analysis. The public meetings will include an open house information session starting at 5 p.m. During this time, Navy representatives will provide information and answer questions about the Proposed Action and Draft EIS/OEIS. A short presentation by the Navy will begin at 6:30 p.m. Comments will be accepted throughout the public meeting. The public meetings will be held at the following locations and times:
Open House Information Sessions: 5-8 p.m.
Navy Presentation: 6:30 p.m.
Washington:     Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2014
Oak Harbor High School
Student Union Building
1 Wildcat Way
Oak Harbor, WA
Thursday, Feb. 27, 2014
Cascade High School Student Commons
801 E. Casino Road
Everett, WA
Friday, Feb. 28, 2014
North Kitsap High School Commons
1780 NE Hostmark St.
Poulsbo, WA
Oregon: Monday, March 3, 2014
Astoria High School Student Commons
1001 W. Marine Drive
Astoria, OR
Tuesday, March 4, 2014
Isaac Newton Magnet School Gym
825 NE 7th St.
Newport, OR
California:     Thursday, March 6, 2014
Red Lion Hotel Redwood Ballroom
1929 4th St.
Eureka, CA
Friday, March 7, 2014
Redwood Coast Senior Center West Room
490 N. Harold St.
Fort Bragg, CA
Alaska:         Tuesday, March 11, 2014
Southeast Alaska Discovery Center Lobby
50 Main St.
Ketchikan, AK
Individuals requiring reasonable accommodations, please contact Liane Nakahara, Navy Region Northwest Public Affairs Specialist, at 360-396-1630 or liane.nakahara [at] navy.mil.
Availability of Draft EIS/OEIS and Public Comment Period:
The Navy is seeking public input on the Proposed Action and alternatives, and the accuracy and adequacy of the Draft EIS/OEIS. The Draft EIS/OEIS is available for public review online at www.NWTTEIS.com and at the following locations:
Washington:
. Everett Main Library
. Gig Harbor Library
. Jefferson County Library – Port Hadlock
. Kitsap Regional Library – Poulsbo
. Kitsap Regional Library – Sylvan Way (Bremerton)
. Oak Harbor Public Library
. Port Angeles Main Library
. Port Townsend Public Library
. Timberland Regional Library  – Aberdeen
.Timberland Regional Library – Hoquiam
Oregon:
. Astoria Public Library
. Driftwood Public Library
. Newport Public Library
. Tillamook Main Library
Northern California:
. Fort Bragg Branch Library
. Humboldt County Public Library,
Arcata Main Library
. Humboldt County Public Library,
Eureka Main Library
Southeastern Alaska:
. Juneau Public Library,
Downtown Branch
. Ketchikan Public Library
The Navy is accepting comments throughout the 60-day public comment period, from Jan. 24, 2014, to March 25, 2014. All comments must be postmarked or received online by March 25, 2014, for consideration in the Final EIS/OEIS. Written comments may be submitted via the project website at www.NWTTEIS.com, in person at the public meetings or by mail to:
Naval Facilities Engineering Command Northwest
Attention: Ms. Kimberly Kler – NWTT EIS/OEIS Project Manager
1101 Tautog Circle, Suite 203
Silverdale, WA 98315-1101
Proposed Action
The Navy proposes to conduct training and testing activities, to include the use of active sonar and explosives, within the NWTT Study Area. The Proposed Action also includes pierside sonar maintenance and testing within the NWTT Study Area.
The purpose of the Proposed Action is to ensure that the Navy accomplishes its mission to maintain, train and equip combat-ready naval forces capable of winning wars, deterring aggression and maintaining freedom of the seas. This mission is achieved in part by training and testing within the NWTT Study Area. The NWTT EIS/OEIS also supports the renewal of federal regulatory permits and authorizations for current training and testing activities and future activities requiring environmental analysis.
The NWTT Study Area is composed of Navy training and testing range complexes, operating areas, testing facilities, and select Navy pierside locations in the Pacific Northwest.  Aircraft training and testing activities that take place on or within established Navy airfields at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island, Wash. or Naval Weapons Systems Training Facility Boardman, Ore. are not included in this NWTT EIS/OEIS.
Visit the project website at www.NWTTEIS.com to download the Draft EIS/OEIS, view a map of the NWTT Study Area, learn more about the project and submit comments online.
-USN-

Orca Whale Killed by Explosives – Will NOAA’s Scandal Beleaguered Office of Law Enforcement Do Anything?

An endangered Southern Resident Orca, L112 (“Victoria”), was found on the shores of Long Beach, Washington State on February 11 , 2012. (See Orca Killed by Blast for more background information).

L112 with big brother L106 (Photo by Ken Balcomb on September 11, 2011)

Ken Balcomb, senior scientist at the Center for Whale Research has been actively pressing to determine the source of the explosion that caused her death before the trail of accountability can be obliterated:
“The final results of analysis of her tissues and fluids found in her cranium may take some time”, he writes, “but it is important to note that ALL of the expert observations of her bloody and bruised carcass, and her head, concluded that there is strong evidence of near instantaneous lethal destruction of tissues, mostly on one side, consistent with blast trauma, as already reported. Her death was undoubtedly caused by humans, and we have to look for the source of the blast.”
“I have asked the Law Enforcement division of the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) to investigate so that there will be a clear set of rules concerning withholding, filtering, or losing evidence in this case.”
And finally, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Office of Law Enforcement (NOAA OLE) has launched an investigation. Vicki Nomura is heading the effort.  “The toughest part of conducting an investigation like that is proving the actual violation. When you have a dead marine mammal there’s very little information.”
Of course it does not help that there was a two month delay, and that this response came only after considerable pressure by Balcomb, the media, and the public.
Congressman Sherrod Brown & NOAA party boat

Worse is the fact that NOAA’s law enforcement is under current investigation by the Senate for misappropriations of funds and of turning an ill begotten boat into a “party boat’.  There has been a lack of transparency and accountability in the investigation that has shaken up that office.

Feb 20th 2012, New York Daily News: [Congressman] Tierney also pressed Bryson with questions about the misuse of the fund by NOAA’s Seattle Office of Law Enforcement, which drew $300,787 from the fund in 2008 to acquire a 35-foot luxury cabin boat with flat screen TV and built-in bar for undercover operations — then used it mostly for pleasure cruising in Puget Sound by law enforcement officials, friends and family, the Inspector General found.
NOAA conceded that the purchase violated the “spirit” of federal procurement law; The Inspector General’s report described the events as involving “misconduct.”
Tierney and U.S. Sen. Scott Brown, who separately obtained and released the IG’s report last week under the Freedom of Information Act, characterized the transaction as filled with improprieties, dishonesty and corruption.

March 8th:  At a budget hearing yesterday before the Senate Subcommittee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco was asked about the boat scandal in Seattle, but except for describing herself as “appalled” to learn about the episode, she provided no details.
Lubchenco reiterated information issued in a NOAA press release last month that the boat had been “surplussed,” and that the incident had sparked improved vessel acquisition policy and retraining. But, as she has done in multiple congressional hearings, Lubchenco cited “the Privacy Act” as a bar to informing Congress about any personnel punishment.
She described herself as frustrated by the impediment to providing a public report, while emphasizing a “top-to-bottom” overhaul of policy and personnel — though key figures have been given new jobs.

March 28–Questioning its “accountability and integrity,” U.S. Sen. Susan Collins has launched an effort to break through a wall of silence erected by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration surrounding the abuses of its authority while overseeing the nation’s fishing industry.
Collins has requested a meeting at the staff level between the administration and Senate and House Appropriations and Oversight committees in an effort to crack the silence she said has been erected via the misuse of the Privacy Act.
Among the overriding questions posed by Collins, a Maine Republican, in her March 22 letter to Commerce Secretary John Bryson was abuse of the Asset Forfeiture Fund, made up of fines paid by fishermen, and an apparent lack of consequences for abuses by NOAA law enforcers identified by the Commerce Department inspector general’s office in multiple reports beginning January 2010 through late last year.

…U.S. Sen. Tom Carper, a Delaware Democrat, chaired the hearing that was organized by U.S. Sen. Scott Brown of Massachusetts, the ranking Republican.
Collins said Carper and Brown, among “several of my colleagues, … have experienced considerable difficulties getting answers from NOAA regarding the management of the Asset Forfeiture Fund, the integrity and accountability of those managing the fund, the disposition of the $300,000 luxury boat and what, if any disciplinary actions have been taken against employees found culpable in the misuse of the fund.”
Collins made a point of questioning the chronic use of the Privacy Act by NOAA to insulate itself against congressional inquiries. “NOAA officials’ use of the Privacy Act as a sword to protect its reputation rather than as a shield, as Congress intended, to protect the privacy rights of private citizens, is unacceptable,” she wrote.

I have omitted the names of people who may have been involved, there is no point and this kind of boondoggle is rampant in government and in industry.  But NOAA’s law office has a prime opportunity to demonstrate that it can operate effectively, openly, and transparently by engaging in a thorough investigation that does not cover up, mislead, or otherwise try to protect those who were involved in the death of one, or maybe all, of a family of highly endangered whales.

If One Orca Whale Was Blown Out of the Water, How Many More Died?

Note – the official cause of death has not been reported, the scientists have to be thorough and meticulous in their work, but it should be available soon. In the meantime, it would be wise for any work with underwater explosives or loud sonar to be suspended while this is sorted out, and the point of this article is to encourage people to contact authorities and ask them to intercede.
I wonder now, as I stare at this photo, if the young whale L -112 was alone when the blast that took her life ripped through the chill Pacific waters, or was she in the company of her extended family.  It is not often that young Southern Resident orcas find themselves separated and lost from their families, but it does happen – and when it does, the chances are fairly high that it is because noise from ships or sonar make it difficult for the whales to communicate and find each other.

These orcas often travel in large groups. (L pod in California, photo by Nancy Black)

These whales are familiar to those who live in the Pacific Northwest – the orcas spend much of the summer in the inland waters of the southern Salish Sea, and cruise down to the Seattle area in the fall.  They swim close to shore and up to our boats, and we know them all by name or number. They have received endangered status and as such are highly protected as well as highly cherished, but their population hovers below 90 total, stubbornly refusing to grow. Some years they are thin and suffer from a shortage of salmon, but this year have appeared to be robust, signalling that they are finding fish (these whales never eat marine mammals).
Their Canadian cousins, the Northern Resident orcas – who also eat fish, who also suffered the travails of being shot, netted, or captured for entertainment – have recovered significantly in numbers. But not the Southern Resident orcas.
The Southern Resident orcas are barely holding steady while the Canadian orca population grows

L pod makes up almost half of the remaining 86 Southern Resident orcas, of which 10 are  in L-112’s family group.  In the winter they range out into the ocean and as far south as central California…and that takes them over huge expanses where arsenal is a danger.  Where they can be exposed to deafening sonar and practice explosives. Where old unexploded bombs litter the ocean floor.
Notice the faint print in this map of tagged J -27, also a Southern Resident orca - it says "Dumping Ground Explosives Military"

I wonder, now, as I look at the graph and the map – are we struggling to save them with one hand, and destroying them with the other? Could it be that with all the sophisticated sonar systems the Navy uses for security that they can’t locate a pod of whales?  Or perhaps a curious young whale explored the wrong thing…
A lawsuit has been filed to protect the marine life along the western U.S., but in the meantime please contact members of congress and ask them to put a halt to this situation:

Jan 20 2012:  A coalition of conservation and American Indian groups today sued the National Marine Fisheries Service for failing to protect thousands of whales, dolphins, porpoises, seals, and sea lions from U.S. Navy warfare training exercises along the coasts of California, Oregon, and Washington.  (San Juan Journal)