Tag Archives: sonar

The Navy and the Blob 2.0 will impact the lives of whales, dolphins, and seals. Here’s what you can do about it.

We need the military to keep us safe,  most of us get that. We also understand that the Navy has vitally important activities that – however unfortunately – can lead to injury and death of marine mammals. The government goes to some length to insure that those Navy activities have a minimum impact by requiring them to submit fairly complex documents every five years, based in part on what impact they had in the previous five-year period.
At issue here is that although the Navy and NOAA Fisheries have already established allowable “takes” (marine mammals that can be killed or displaced) for 2019 through 2023, they now want to extend the period an additional two years without having to reassess the effect they are having on marine mammal populations. 
In other words, the Navy won’t have to take into account how much changing ocean conditions will alter the statistics – we have already seen that population distributions are changing for many whale and dolphin species as they follow their prey. For instance, gray whales appear to be starving in some cases, humpback entanglements have risen as they come in closer to shore and encounter crab pots, and diseases such as the morbillivirus decimate cetaceans in parts of their range. Young California sea lions are stranding in unprecedented numbers.
Complicating everything is that Blob 2.0 is forming off the West Coast which is expected to further alter marine mammal health and distribution (graphic and original NOAA data are below).

Comments to NOAA can be made here by October 15th:
Taking and Importing Marine Mammals; Taking Marine Mammals Incidental to the U.S. Navy Training and Testing Activities in the Hawaii-Southern California Training and Testing Study Area
Please take a few minutes to submit your comment to NOAA, the process is simple but be aware that NOAA will only consider well-grounded comments in their decision making. There’s no harm in venting your feelings though, and NOAA needs to know how the public feels so any comment you care to make will be read.

Data from NOAA documents

“NMFS has reviewed the Navy’s data and analysis and determined that it is complete and accurate, and NMFS agrees that the following stressors have the potential to result in takes of marine mammals from the Navy’s planned activities:

Acoustics (sonar and other transducers; air guns; pile driving/extraction);

Explosives (explosive shock wave and sound, assumed to encompass the risk due to fragmentation); and

Physical Disturbance and Strike (vessel strike).”

Photo Credit: Alaska Magazine

(Level A takes are possibly lethal, Level B takes disturb or disrupt):

3,162 potentially lethal  10,775,414 disturbed/displaced during TESTING

1,598 potentially lethal   7,187,158 disturbed/displaced during TRAINING

The following is a list of species that can possibly be killed in BOTH Navy training and Navy testing activities; alarming because some species (such as dwarf sperm whales) are impacted out of scale to what is known about them:

Comments to NOAA can be made here by October 15th:
Taking and Importing Marine Mammals; Taking Marine Mammals Incidental to the U.S. Navy Training and Testing Activities in the Hawaii-Southern California Training and Testing Study Area

The following shows the both Level A and Level B “takes” for each species in Navy testing, followed by the list of “takes” in  Navy training activities:

Expected takes during Testing Exercises:

Level A  Level B  Species  Stock

0             205        Blue whale *      Central North Pacific
6             7,116     Blue whale *      Eastern North Pacific
0             167        Bryde’s whale † Eastern Tropical Pacific
0             631        Bryde’s whale † Hawaiian †
0             7,731     Fin whale *         California, Oregon, & Washington
0             197        Fin whale *         Hawaiian
7             7,962     Humpback whale †          California, Oregon, & Washington †
12           34,437   Humpback whale †          Central North Pacific
7             4,119     Minke whale      California, Oregon, & Washington
6             20,237   Minke whale      Hawaiian
0             333        Sei whale *         Eastern North Pacific
0             677        Sei whale *         Hawaiian
27           16,703   Gray whale †      Eastern North Pacific
0             19           Gray whale †      Western North Pacific †
0             8,834     Sperm whale *  California, Oregon, & Washington
0             10,341   Sperm whale *  Hawaiian
215        84,232   Dwarf sperm whale         Hawaiian
94           33,431   Pygmy sperm whale        Hawaiian
149        38,609   Kogia whales      California, Oregon, & Washington
0             8,524     Baird’s beaked whale      California, Oregon, & Washington
0             23,491   Blainville’s beaked whale              Hawaiian
0             47,178   Cuvier’s beaked whale    California, Oregon, & Washington
0             7,898     Cuvier’s beaked whale    Hawaiian
0             82,293   Longman’s beaked whale             Hawaiian
0             25,404   Mesoplodon spp (beaked whale guild)    California, Oregon, & Washington
0             1,295     Bottlenose dolphin          California Coastal
13           201,619               Bottlenose dolphin          California, Oregon, & Washington Offshore
0             13,080   Bottlenose dolphin          Hawaiian Pelagic
0             500        Bottlenose dolphin          Kauai & Niihau
10           57,288   Bottlenose dolphin          Oahu
0             1,052     Bottlenose dolphin          4-Island
0             291        Bottlenose dolphin          Hawaii
0             4,353     False killer whale †          Hawaii Pelagic
0             2,710     False killer whale †          Main Hawaiian Islands Insular †
0             1,585     False killer whale †          Northwestern Hawaiian Islands
4             177,198               Fraser’s dolphin Hawaiian
0             460        Killer whale         Eastern North Pacific Offshore
0             855        Killer whale         Eastern North Pacific Transient/West Coast Transient
0             513        Killer whale         Hawaiian
99           784,965               Long-beaked common dolphin    California
0             14,137   Melon-headed whale      Hawaiian Islands
0             1,278     Melon-headed whale      Kohala Resident
57           357,001               Northern right whale dolphin      California, Oregon, & Washington
19           274,892               Pacific white-sided dolphin           California, Oregon, & Washington
0             17,739   Pantropical spotted dolphin         Hawaii Island
0             42,318   Pantropical spotted dolphin         Hawaii Pelagic
0             28,860   Pantropical spotted dolphin         Oahu
0             1,816     Pantropical spotted dolphin         4-Island
0             35,531   Pygmy killer whale          Hawaiian
0             2,977     Pygmy killer whale          Tropical
45           477,389               Risso’s dolphin   California, Oregon, & Washington
0             40,800   Risso’s dolphin   Hawaiian
0             26,769   Rough-toothed dolphin  Hawaiian
0             0             Rough-toothed dolphin  NSD
307        5,875,431            Short-beaked common dolphin   California, Oregon, & Washington
6             6,341     Short-finned pilot whale               California, Oregon, & Washington
0             53,627   Short-finned pilot whale               Hawaiian
0             609        Spinner dolphin Hawaii Island
0             18,870   Spinner dolphin Hawaii Pelagic
0             1,961     Spinner dolphin Kauai & Niihau
8             10,424   Spinner dolphin Oahu & 4-Island
5             777,001               Striped dolphin  California, Oregon, & Washington
0             32,806   Striped dolphin  Hawaiian
894        171,250               Dall’s porpoise   California, Oregon, & Washington
629        460,145               California sea lion            U.S
0             3,342     Guadalupe fur seal *       Mexico
0             62,138   Northern fur seal             California
48           19,214   Harbor seal         California
5             938        Hawaiian monk seal *     Hawaiian
490        241,277               Northern elephant seal  California
Totals: 3,162 potentially lethal   10,775,414 disturbed/displaced during Testing Exercises
* ESA-listed species (all stocks) within the             HSTT Study Area.
† Only designated stocks are ESA-listed.

Expected takes during Training Exercises: 

Level A  Level B  Species  Stock

0             93           Blue whale *      Central North Pacific
0             5,679     Blue whale *      Eastern North Pacific
0             97           Bryde’s whale † Eastern Tropical Pacific
0             278        Bryde’s whale † Hawaiian †
7             6,662     Fin whale *         California, Oregon, & Washington
0             108        Fin whale *         Hawaiian
0             4,961     Humpback whale †          California, Oregon, & Washington †
19           23,750   Humpback whale †          Central North Pacific
0             1,855     Minke whale      California, Oregon, & Washington
0             9,822     Minke whale      Hawaiian
0             178        Sei whale *         Eastern North Pacific
0             329        Sei whale *         Hawaiian
0             13,077   Gray whale †      Eastern North Pacific
0             15           Gray whale †      Western North Pacific †
0             7,409     Sperm whale *  California, Oregon, & Washington
0             5,269     Sperm whale *  Hawaiian
197        43,374   Dwarf sperm whale         Hawaiian
83           17,396   Pygmy sperm whale        Hawaiian
94           20,766   Kogia whales      California, Oregon, & Washington
0             4,841     Baird’s beaked whale      California, Oregon, & Washington
0             11,455   Blainville’s beaked whale              Hawaiian
28           30,180   Cuvier’s beaked whale    California, Oregon, & Washington
0             3,784     Cuvier’s beaked whale    Hawaiian
0             41,965   Longman’s beaked whale             Hawaiian
15           16,383   Mesoplodon spp (beaked whale guild)    California, Oregon, & Washington
0             11,158   Bottlenose dolphin          California Coastal
8             158,700               Bottlenose dolphin          California, Oregon, & Washington Offshore
0             8,469     Bottlenose dolphin          Hawaiian Pelagic
0             3,091     Bottlenose dolphin          Kauai & Niihau
0             3,230     Bottlenose dolphin          Oahu
0             1,129     Bottlenose dolphin          4-Island
0             260        Bottlenose dolphin          Hawaii
0             2,287     False killer whale †          Hawaii Pelagic
0             1,256     False killer whale †          Main Hawaiian Islands Insular †
0             837        False killer whale †          Northwestern Hawaiian Islands
9             85,193   Fraser’s dolphin Hawaiian
0             236        Killer whale         Eastern North Pacific Offshore
0             438        Killer whale         Eastern North Pacific Transient/West Coast Transient
0             279        Killer whale         Hawaiian
34           805,063               Long-beaked common dolphin    California
0             7,678     Melon-headed whale      Hawaiian Islands
0             1,119     Melon-headed whale      Kohala Resident
22           280,066               Northern right whale dolphin      California, Oregon, & Washington
14           213,380               Pacific white-sided dolphin           California, Oregon, & Washington
0             9,568     Pantropical spotted dolphin         Hawaii Island
0             24,805   Pantropical spotted dolphin         Hawaii Pelagic
0             1,349     Pantropical spotted dolphin         Oahu
0             2,513     Pantropical spotted dolphin         4-Island
0             18,347   Pygmy killer whale          Hawaiian
0             1,928     Pygmy killer whale          Tropical
24           339,334               Risso’s dolphin   California, Oregon, & Washington
0             19,027   Risso’s dolphin   Hawaiian
0             14,851   Rough-toothed dolphin  Hawaiian
0             0             Rough-toothed dolphin  NSD
304        3,795,732            Short-beaked common dolphin   California, Oregon, & Washington
0             6,253     Short-finned pilot whale               California, Oregon, & Washington
0             29,269   Short-finned pilot whale               Hawaiian
0             1,394     Spinner dolphin Hawaii Island
0             9,534     Spinner dolphin Hawaii Pelagic
0             9,277     Spinner dolphin Kauai & Niihau
0             1,987     Spinner dolphin Oahu & 4-Island
20           371,328               Striped dolphin  California, Oregon, & Washington
0             16,270   Striped dolphin  Hawaiian
478        115,353               Dall’s porpoise   California, Oregon, & Washington
36           334,332               California sea lion            U.S
0             6,167     Guadalupe fur seal          Mexico
7             36,921   Northern fur seal             California
12           15,898   Harbor seal         California
0             372        Hawaiian monk seal        Hawaiian
187        151,754               Northern elephant seal  California
1,598 potentially lethal   7,187,158 disturbed/displaced during Training Exercises                       

Changing ocean conditions are impacting everything in the Navy permit area (and beyond)

from plankton to blue whales (the graphic is from NOAA).

The Blob 2.0


Mass Dolphin Deaths in Peru Caused by Acoustic Trauma

Mass dolphin deaths in Peru caused by acoustic trauma

 [Photo-Image: Dead dolphins discovered on Chiclayo shore of Peru, Photo source: ITN News]
[Photo-Image: Dead dolphins discovered on Chiclayo shore of Peru, Photo source: ITN News]
Dr. Carlos Yaipen Llanos of ORCA in Peru informed Hardy Jones of Blue Voice that acoustical trauma is the cause of the Mass Mortality Event (MME) that killed an estimated one thousand dolphins along the coast of northern Peru in March 2012.
In her article, Hundreds of dead dolphins wash up along the coastline in Peru, Elizabeth Batt describes the devastating loss of the dolphins and porpoises, and the swift action by filmmaker and author Hardy Jones to document the event.
Now the necropsy results are in, and there is unequivocal evidence that the dolphins were killed by an acoustic trauma, such as loud sonar or explosive blasts (more information on potential sources of the loud sound in that region can be found here). Dr. Llanos doesn’t identify the source of the trauma, but all other tests (virus, contaminants, parasites etc) are not considered factors.
The following tissue samples, provided to Blue voice by Dr. Llanos show evidence of rapid ascent, (though the scientists are not willing to speculate on what caused the dolphins to race to the surface, their bodies are adapted to adjust to depth, and normally do not aggregate bubbles in their tissues).
Bubbles replaced normal tissue in the dolphin’s liver.
Blue Voice


 bubbles 2
A large bubble is compressing a vein and artery in this dolphin’s bladder.
Blue Voice
bubbles 3
The jaw blubber of this baby porpoise is spread by bubbles. The blood vessels show congestion and hemorrhage.
Blue Voice
Necropsies were performed on site. Macroscopic findings include: hemorrhagic lesions in the middle including the acoustic chamber, fractures in the periotic bones, bubbles in blood filling liver and kidneys (animals were diving, so the main organs were congested), lesion in the lungs compatible with pulmonary emphysema, sponge-like liver. So far we have 12 periotic samples from different animals, all with different degree of fractures and 80% of them with fracture in the right periotic bones, compatible with acoustic impact and decompression syndrome.
In a February stranding in the same region of Peru, Dr. Llanos found that:
10 of the 17 animals found dead had broken periotic bones, that is, due to acoustic impact. The source of the impact was from the right side of the pod, since hemorragic internal ear was found in the right side of the stranded animals.
We know that the use of dynamite is common among fishermen, and that fishermen are taking the meat of the stranded dolphins. This could be the cause of death of the animals…however, the signs do not correspond to that of explosive impact in their bodies. We talked today with people from the oil company and they say they haven’t performed any seismic exploration in the area this month. However, here in Peru these companies don’t need to do the seismic assessment themselves.
Update 5/18/12 : Dynamite has been ruled out as a possible cause (via Hardy Jones),
To compare with some of the stranded dolphins Dr. Llanos examined the remains of healthy dolphins that had been stabbed at sea and eaten by the local fishermen and found “intact periotic (ear) bones, (with no fractures), so it was a good “control” sample to compare with previously collected (and fractured) ones.”
Hardy Jones explained to Digital Journal that “traveling to and within Peru is expensive and testing samples from the dead dolphins is very costly, yet highly important.” Blue Voice and Dr. Llanos (ORCA) will continue to investigate the mortality event, and will post updates.

These whales can avoid Navy sonar from ships but not from helicopters – public opinion sought on Naval exercises

A recent Navy-funded research paper on Cuvier’s beaked whales and military sonar reveals that in one location these whales have learned coping strategies to avoid ship-mounted sonar – but those strategies can only go so far to protect them.


The whales’ behavior is nuanced and more complex than previously known, which demonstrates their remarkable intelligence and adaptability.

The longest deep dive in this study, lasting 163 min, occurred while the whale was intermittently exposed to mid-power MFAS at distances of 8–12 km.
While it may be possible for a whale to avoid conducting a deep dive while a surface ship is nearby, the same is not true for helicopters, which acoustically may appear without warning. Surface ships typically broadcast MFAS for extended periods while moving; thus whales probably know roughly where the ship is when exposure begins and how the ship’s position is changing through time, and can use this knowledge to mediate their response.
Helicopters deploy MFAS from a hover in bouts generally lasting under 20 min, moving rapidly between sequential deployments in an unpredictable pattern, and thus whales may react more strongly to these sudden, close-range exposures even though their duration of use and source level (217 dB) are generally well below those of a ship’s MFAS (235 dB) [27]. The difference in these responses underscores the importance of how the source is used, in addition to sound levels (source or received) and distance, in predicting whale behaviour, particularly for whales that are probably familiar with both MFAS types.

This study suggests that while these whales recognize Navy vessels and have adopted a suite of behaviors to avoid the sonar, they may be impacted by the unpredictable nature of aerial sonar. Long term, the avoidance behaviors may accumulate into loss of sustainability.
The paper is publicly available online, below is the abstract. Diving behaviour of Cuvier’s beaked whales exposed to two types of military sonar:

Cuvier’s beaked whales (Ziphius cavirostris) have stranded in association with mid-frequency active sonar (MFAS) use, and though the causative mechanism linking these events remains unclear, it is believed to be behaviourally mediated. To determine whether MFAS use was associated with behavioural changes in this species, satellite tags were used to record the diving and movements of 16 Cuvier’s beaked whales for up to 88 days in a region of frequent MFAS training off the coast of Southern California.
Tag data were combined with summarized records of concurrent bouts of high-power, surface-ship and mid-power, helicopter-deployed MFAS use, along with other potential covariates, in generalized additive mixed-effects models. Deep dives, shallow dives and surface intervals tended to become longer during MFAS use, with some variation associated with the total amount of overlapping MFAS during the behaviour.
These changes in dives and surface intervals contributed to a longer interval between deep dives, a proxy for foraging disruption in this species.
Most responses intensified with proximity and were more pronounced during mid-power than high-power MFAS use at comparable distances within approximately 50 km, despite the significantly lower source level of mid-power MFAS.
However, distance-mediated responses to high-power MFAS, and increased deep dive intervals during mid-power MFAS, were evident up to approximately 100 km away.

Cuvier’s beaked whale (Whaleopedia) 
As a result of similar research, the Navy is asking for your opinion on changes that are planned in the training areas off the Pacific Coast states. They are proposing changes to the environmental impact statements that are required for them to detonate explosives during practice sessions, and will consider new data (such as more accurate measures of marine mammal hearing levels) – there is even the option to scrap the practices altogether, although the latter is unlikely given the saber-rattling going on in the world at this time.
In California and Oregon the changes will only apply outside of state waters, but in Washington they will include inland waterways such as Puget Sound.
The question is, are these proposed changes good or bad for the whales and dolphins that live in these waters? At this point the Navy continues to practice maneuvers in the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary, and Navy sonar is so loud around the San Juan Islands that it can drown out the calls of the orcas on the hydrophones put in place to monitor whales.
The Navy is dedicated to keeping us safe from enemies at our shores, and they are also answerable for needless destruction caused by the need to practice – a tricky balancing act…but they are trying.
Below is the basic information on the Navy’s planned changes. 
In the supplement to the 2015 Final EIS/OEIS, the Navy will analyze training and testing activities within the Study Area. The Study Area remains unchanged since the 2015 Final EIS/OEIS and includes:

  • Established maritime operating areas and warning areas in the northeastern Pacific Ocean, including areas within the:
    • Strait of Juan de Fuca
    • Puget Sound
    • Western Behm Canal in southeastern Alaska
  • Air and water space within and outside Washington state waters
  • Air and water space outside state waters of Oregon and Northern California
  • Navy pierside locations

Navy Acoustics

KEY UPDATES TO THE 2015 FINAL Training and Testing Final Environmental Impact Statement/Overseas Environmental Impact Statement (EIS/OEIS ) and why it needs your input on proposed supplemental information. (Comments can be submitted here).

Training and testing activities proposed in the Supplemental Statements are generally consistent with those activities analyzed in the 2015 Final Statement and earlier environmental planning documents.
Below are some key updates to be made. In the Supplemental Statement, the Navy will:
• Include a No Action Alternative in which proposed training and testing activities would not be conducted and Marine Mammal Protection Act authorization would not be issued by National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS)
• Include analyses of increases in testing of some new vessels and weapons systems, and decreases in other testing activities
• Include analyses of both increases and decreases in the annual occurrence of certain activities
• Recategorize or rename some testing activities to be consistent with Navy testing activity categories
• Include improved acoustic models, updated marine mammal and sea turtle densities, and updated marine species criteria and thresholds based on NMFS’s 2016 guidance
• Use the most current and best available science and analytical methods
• Review procedural mitigations, where appropriate, and consider geographic mitigation, where applicable
The Supplemental Statement will include an analysis of training and testing activities using new information available after the release of the 2015 Final Statement. New information includes an updated acoustic effects model, updated marine mammal density data, and evolving and emergent best available science. As part of this process, the Navy will seek the issuance of federal regulatory permits and authorizations under the Marine Mammal Protection Act and the Endangered Species Act to support ongoing and future at-sea military readiness activities within the Study Area beyond 2020.
The 30-day scoping comment period begins Aug. 22, 2017 through Sept. 21, 2017. Comments must be postmarked or received online by Sept. 21, 2017 for consideration in the development of the Draft Supplemental EIS/OEIS. Comments may be submitted online at www.NWTTEIS.com, or by mail to:
Naval Facilities Engineering Command Northwest
Attention: NWTT Supplemental EIS/OEIS Project Manager
3730 North Charles Porter Ave., Building 385
Oak Harbor, WA 98278-3500

How a few minutes of your time can save a lot of whales [and keep seafood on your table]

Pilot whale stranding in New Zealand Credit: Reuters

The Problem

It’s game-on for offshore drilling in the Atlantic, and it will wreak havoc

Once big oil gets its hooks into the Atlantic seabed there will be no turning back, no way to unwind that clock. Even if they never cause a spill or erect a rig, untold damage will happen to marine life, from the tiniest organisms (see Seismic surveys now proven to kill zooplankton…there goes your crab dinner) to the great whales. And they can’t wait to get started.
The following stranding event caused by ExxonMobil in 2008 is a prime example of the deadly impact of oil exploration.
The story started on a typically breezy and hot day near the mouth of a lagoon on the island nation of Madagascar. Two small whales had beached and died, their gleaming bodies still fresh enough to be eaten by the astonished villagers who carried them off.
But that was just the beginning – the brackish and turbid water of the the Loza Lagoon began to fill with panicked whales swimming desperately away from the ocean world they knew. By the afternoon the deep ocean dwelling melon-headed whales had traveled 65 kilometers (40 miles) inland.

Slowly the lost and confused whales began to die. Amid the tangled mangroves, mudflats and on narrow beaches their skin blistered and their body temperature rose until death came as a reprieve. Impoverished villagers caught and ate an unknown number. Of the estimated 100 -200 melon-headed whales that entered the lagoon only a handful were known to survive, despite a dedicated rescue attempt.
Finally, after nearly a month, four whales were seen leaving the lagoon and heading out to sea.
What had caused the mayhem? After years of meticulous study scientists concluded that the culprit could be summed up in one word: Sonar.
Earsplitting, terrifyingly loud and relentless, the sound had bounced off the underwater cliffs and canyons in the deep ocean. It drove the whales out of their familiar habitat with nowhere to escape until they sought refuge in the lagoon death trap.
It turned out that ExxonMobil and partners were mapping the ocean floor along the coast prior to doing seismic surveys for oil when the stranding occurred, using the type of sonar employed by the navy that had caused the deaths of whales in the Bahamas in 2000. In War of the Whales, author Joshua Horwitz carefully documents the Bahamas strandings but until the sad event in Madagascar no one had be able to document that the private sector – big oil – similarly destroyed marine life.

There is no way to know how many other species were affected and/or died in the ocean or at other remote locations during this one sonar mapping fiasco. And it was expensive – the investments by the scientific community, local officials, and rescue organizations were deep, and because the local population of Madagascar feasted on the toxic meat of the freakishly out of place whales they may experience health consequences.
In the end the whale deaths were for nothing: ExxonMobil and its partners just didn’t find a significant enough puddle of oil hidden under the seafloor to be worthwhile.
And now big oil is poised to repeat their activities off the Atlantic coast of the US. Marine life will have to endure various seismic challenges, from the sonar that drove the melon-headed whales to seek safety where the noise couldn’t penetrate (but for which they were not adapted to survive), to the repeated nearly year long pounding of seismic noise.


These steps will guide you through the commenting process

NOAA Fisheries wants the public to weigh in on this – the oil companies can’t operate seismic surveys unless they get permits from the energy bureau, and the energy bureau won’t issue permits unless NOAA is satisfied that existing restrictions are met.

  1. Go to the Federal Register website and familiarize yourself with the process.
  2. Choose current research to support your comments.  (The links below are studies published in 2017 and either were done in the region specified or include species known in the specified area.)
  3. Email your comments to:  ITP.Laws@noaa.gov by July 6th.

But remember, NOAA will NOT consider comments other than as specified. “We will only consider comments that are relevant to marine mammal species that occur in U.S. waters of the Mid- and South Atlantic and the potential effects of geophysical survey activities on those species and their habitat.”
Suggested links:
Natural and anthropogenic ocean noise recorded at long-term and temporary observatories
High suckling rates and acoustic crypsis of humpback whale neonates maximise potential for mother–calf energy transfer
Cetacean sightings and acoustic detections during a seismic survey off Nicaragua and Costa Rica, November-December 2004
Nowhere to go: noise impact assessments for marine mammal populations with high site fidelity

Background information:

Having removed the protections against drilling along the Atlantic Coast put in place by then President Obama, the Trump administration is trying to push NOAA Fisheries to use the old, lower standards for sound levels rather than the new standards that were set to start this year. And they want the permits to be expedited so that the oil companies can start the seismic surveys as soon as possible.
From Trump’s executive orderImplementing an America-First Offshore Energy Strategy

Sec. 9. Expedited Consideration of Incidental Harassment Authorizations, Incidental-Take, and Seismic Survey Permits. The Secretary of the Interior and the Secretary of Commerce shall, to the maximum extent permitted by law, expedite all stages of consideration of Incidental Take Authorization requests, including Incidental Harassment Authorizations and Letters of Authorization, and Seismic Survey permit applications under the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act, 43 U.S.C. 1331 et seq., and the Marine Mammal Protection Act, 16 U.S.C. 1361 et seq.
Sec. 10Review of National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Technical Memorandum NMFS-OPR-55. The Secretary of Commerce shall review NOAA’s Technical Memorandum NMFS-OPR-55 of July 2016 (Technical Guidance for Assessing the Effects of Anthropogenic Sound on Marine Mammal Hearing)… take all steps permitted by law to rescind or revise that guidance, if appropriate.


References and further reading:

Seismic surveys now proven to kill zooplankton…there goes your crab dinner

Like many marine fishes, this baby puffer fish drifts with the ocean currents during its larval stage

Love lobster? Crab? Swordfish? The larvae (just hatched) stages of these tasty marine species spend their early development floating as part of zooplankton community. Their limited ability to move means that they drift wherever the currents take them, leaving them uniquely vulnerable and unable to escape devastating events such as oil spills or even just the noise associated with searching for new offshore oil reserves.
Baby sailfish

Published today in Nature, the science is in – the noise from the airguns used in seismic exploration for offshore oil has been shown to have devastating effects on zooplankton. The team of researchers found significant damage to zooplankton up to 3/4 mile away from the source:

Experimental air gun signal exposure decreased zooplankton abundance when compared with controls, as measured by sonar (~3–4 dB drop within 15–30 min) and net tows (median 64% decrease within 1 h), and caused a two- to threefold increase in dead adult and larval zooplankton.

Lobster larvae

Impacts were observed out to the maximum 1.2 km range sampled, which was more than two orders of magnitude greater than the previously assumed impact range of 10 m. Although no adult krill were present, all larval krill were killed after air gun passage.
There is a significant and unacknowledged potential for ocean ecosystem function and productivity to be negatively impacted by present seismic technology.

Octopus larva

The significance and implications of potential large-scale modification of plankton community structure and abundance due to seismic survey operations has enormous ramifications for larval recruitment processes, all higher order predators and ocean health in general.
There is an urgent need to conduct further study to mitigate, model and understand potential impacts on plankton and the marine environment, and to prioritize development and testing of alternative seismic sources.

Swordfish larva

Plankton also supply half of the oxygen we breathe and are the base of the ocean food web – with less plankton there is less for fish to eat at a time when the world is increasingly looking to the ocean to provide food.
The planned seismic surveys off the Atlantic Coast of the US will have negative effects on the marine life, and eventually will impact the distribution and abundance of seafood. And if you like to fish, you may find it even harder to hook a big one.
NOAA is taking comments until July 6th on the proposed seismic surveys in the Atlantic.
Blue marlin larva


Navy Dolphins Going to Hawaii Despite Public Opinion, But You Make a Difference

When word came my way that the Navy had scheduled a meeting with the Hawaii Department of Agriculture (DOA) to gain permission to bring dolphins to Hawaii for training – and that the dolphins would be fitted with “anti-forage” devices while on exercises in the open ocean – I couldn’t not go. My interest in the military use of dolphins spans decades.
MilitaryDolphin1The familiar conflicts tumbled in the back of my mind as I navigated to the meeting – we need the Navy, and the Navy needs effective tools to do their job. The problem, of course, is that dolphins aren’t tools, but until they have an effective replacement that is exactly how the Navy views the marine mammals in their program.
While long ago and of short duration, my experience training dolphins altered the course of my life and in less than a year I had gone from having the dream of communicating with dolphins to reconciling to the fact that communication with dolphins would be one of the worst things that could happen to them. The conflict between my passion for whales and dolphins and what I know is done in the name of research still drives me to search for depth and meaning in what dolphins are required to do in captivity, offset by the knowledge that our military strives to keep us safe.
I had planned to quietly observe and record the proceedings and anticipated that DOA would fully align with the Navy’s request. But that is not exactly how it went.
The DOA Board were to a person professional, listened to testimony by the animal rights people with equal respect as they gave the individual who presented the Navy’s case, and showed patience and warmth in handling the discussion. It didn’t seem to matter that they were constrained to consider only the material that is directly relevant to the permit request, they listened with empathy to what people had to say about dolphin rights.

Navy Dolphins Will Receive Training in Hawaii from Wikiwhale on Vimeo.
The Navy scientist who participated via phone didn’t just dial-up, he was dialed-in and that was probably the most significant thing I took away – while far from transparent, it wasn’t quite the brick wall response nor the dancing around the point tactics that we have come to expect from both military and industrial spokespersons.
That said, it remains to be seen how forthcoming the Navy will be when something goes wrong, as it did in 2011 in California (from This Dolphin Detonation Event Was Brought to You by the U.S. Navy):
California Port Security

On 4 March 2011, ‘mine counter-measure training’ was conducted on the ocean [near San Diego] A single time-delayed C4 block demolition charge …was detonated on the sandy ocean floor at a depth of [48 feet], … approximately 0.5-0.75 nautical miles from shore. At 5 minutes prior to the detonation, a group of 100-150 long-beaked common dolphins was observed entering the 640-[yard] mitigation zone by safety observers.
Options to retrieve the charge via divers or from the surface to stop the detonation were considered. However, the short time interval to detonation made this too risky for personnel. An effort to discourage the dolphins from entering the area by placing a boat between the detonation site and the school of dolphins was unsuccessful.
One minute after the detonation, three dolphins were observed motionless at the surface. The rest of the school continued to travel in the same direction as it had been prior to the detonation. The Navy recovered the three animals and transferred them to the local stranding network for necropsy. An additional long-beaked common dolphin stranded dead approximately [42 miles] north of the detonation site, 3 days later.
All four dolphins sustained typical mammalian primary blast injuries.

A victim of blunt force trauma, Victoria (L-112) washed up on an Oregon beach.
A victim of blunt force trauma, Victoria (L-112) washed up on an Oregon beach.

In 2012 a young orca was found on an Oregon beach, killed by blunt force trauma. Since the Navy regularly bombs in the marine sanctuary where these endangered whales live, the finger of blame pointed directly at them.
At first the Navy was silent, then denied any involvement, then finally they held a series of town hall meetings. I attended the meeting in Friday Harbor, WA, and was similarly impressed with the Navy’s ability to be simultaneously forthcoming and obtuse:

They did dodge some questions, particularly those that involved international cooperation (“Are they constrained by U.S. law when operating with Canadian military in Canadian waters?”  Unclear answer) or about past bombing in the Sanctuary (first claiming that the Navy had no records going back 15 years, then qualifying that to ‘not precise records’). But for the most part they were impressively sincere in their concern about the possible consequences of their activities. (Seattle PI).

Here in Hawaiian waters Navy sonar has been linked to the stranding and deaths of whales, and the Navy has come up with a recipe for acceptable deaths (NBC News Reports 27 Million Marine Mammals May Be Impacted By Navy Practice – Comment Period Extended).

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.  

While the Navy has brought dolphins over to Hawaii for training in the past, this is the first year that the DOA didn’t just rubber-stamp the request, and public opinion was clearly against it.

Local animal rights representatives Dr. Jim Anthony,  Mimi Forsyth, and Cathy Goeggel spoke passionately about the use of dolphins as weapons as well as questioning the use of the anti-foraging devices. (These devices strap the dolphins mouths so that only very small fish can be eaten…if a dolphin escapes it will just starve or possibly eat one of the toxic reef fishes. The Navy spokesman emphasized that larger fish could not be taken, probably in order to address one of the concerns that the DOA must address (how might local fish populations be affected)).

Ultimately the Board voted 5 – 2 to allow the Navy to bring the dolphins to Oahu (remember though, the Board could only consider whether or not the Navy’s intentions matched what they had stated – not whether or not it was ethically right to do so). They put constraints on the time frame in which the Navy could operate, and asked probing questions.
What this means to you is that although this process is frustrating for those of us who care deeply about the ocean environment and the animals that live there, without public awareness the Navy would have less motivation to find alternatives to using and killing dolphins and whales in keeping us safe, and public opinion is valuable.

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.)

Open House Information Sessions: 5-8 p.m. Navy Presentation: 6:30 p.m.
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
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

Young Orca L-112 Was Killed by Blunt Force Trauma

Little Victoria, L-112, before she was killed.
Little Victoria, L-112, before she was killed.

UPDATE: The complete report can be found here, and states:
“These results do not conflict with gross
observations and the proposed cause of acute or peracute death by blunt force trauma;
however, blast- or seismic-related injuries cannot be entirely discounted. We
acknowledge that post-mortem decomposition may have obscured some lesions and
hindered mass-spectroscopy gas analysis.”
Please go to the International Dolphin and Whale Stranding Network for continued updates.
We will have to wait for the details of the necropsy, but there is nothing in this information to absolve the Navy from blame, since the fact that the young whale was hit  implies that she may not have been able to hear an approaching vessel, and and also the information doesn’t rule out trauma from a blast or explosion that may have occurred during military exercises.
Here is the information as released by AP:

SEATTLE (AP) – Two years after a 3-year-old endangered orca washed ashore in southwest Washington, investigators have concluded that the whale was hit, struck or rammed in the head and neck. But they couldn’t determine the source of that blow.
In a report released Tuesday, the team of biologists and veterinarians ruled out possible sources of the blunt trauma, including sonar and small underwater explosive activity in Canadian waters off Vancouver Island.
The death investigation found that the orca known as L-112 likely died miles south of there, somewhere between north and central Oregon.
The report by the Northwest Marine Mammal Stranding Network also notes that no U.S. naval training activities involving sonar or explosives were conducted in the area during the time of the whale’s death in early February 2012.
Some whale advocates had raised suspicions that the orca’s injuries were linked to an underwater explosion or military training activity at sea.

Following her death, Victoria washed up on an Oregon beach.
Following her death, Victoria washed up on a Oregon beach.

Last Orca to Die in the New Zealand Stranding Was Comforted by a Compassionate Bystander

Find updates on this subject at the target=”_blank”>International Dolphin and Whale Stranding Network.
New Zealanders are reacting with concern and outrage to  the recent tragic death of nine orcas who stranded on their shoreline this week (International Dolphin and Whale Stranding Network), but also with touching compassion.

A Southland woman held an orca as it lay dying and crying out near Tuatapere, while the rest of its pod lay dead on the beach on Tuesday night.
Debra Drain was one of the first to reach the nine stranded mammals, near Blue Cliffs, after a tramper told her husband Jeff Drain he had seen them while walking the Hump Ridge track.
Mrs Drain said several residents raced to the beach only to find eight of the orcas had already died.
They had been pushed up against rocks, with their flesh torn from them, and the last one was still crying out, she said.
“I couldn’t leave so I hugged a dying orca as it cried for its life.” Southland Times.

whalessad21214 dead orcas nz strand

Ngai Tahu representatives blessed the orcas.

And when the local Maori (the Ngai Tahu) representatives arrived, they gave the deceased orcas a traditional blessing.
Ngai Tahu spokesman Dean Whaanga said that ”…like our human friends that have passed on, (give) a blessing to them and wish them well on their last journey, their final farewell,” Mr Whaanga said. “Whales are like chiefs of the sea and because they died before we got there we said a wee farewell to them, on this their last journey” .

Māori sometimes remembered significant events and stories about whales by naming islands and landforms after them. The names referred to, among other things, significant strandings, navigational pathways, and important journeys.For Maori, the land is believed to be the body of Papatūānuku (the earth mother), the womb that gave birth to people.
Imbuing landmarks with the memory of whales shows the reverence with which these creatures could be regarded. Whales Tohora

Seismic exploration.
Seismic exploration.

While the cause could be due to many factors, local residents blame the stranding on the seismic oil exploration going on in the area.  These explorations involve a near constant bedlam of sound, often for months, because the ships need to  generate loud enough sound to penetrate the seabed, which then returns an echo for analysis.
According to a post on the International Dolphin and Whale Stranding Network, New Zealanders are planning to protest the presence of the seismic vessels, one person wrote:

“…I live reasonably close to where these orca were stranded – the concerned citizens of the east coast of NZ are actually protesting, this saturday, the seismic surveying happening right fucking now. Here in our country and off our beaches. This is the 2nd mass stranding in 3 weeks – the other being a mass stranding of Blackfish on farewell spit – when Anadarko were doing seismic surveying on the west coast of NZ – These whales did not die for nothing – we are making posters and preparing for the protest this Saturday with renewed anger and rage.”

The oil industry should take this seriously, when Kiwis make up their mind on something and take a stand, they are resolute…just consider how they kicked the U.S. Navy out of their waters because we would not agree to their ‘no nuclear powered ships’ legislation. It took three decades for New Zealand to renew relationships with the U.S. Navy (and they still won’t let the nuclear powered ships within 12 miles).
People the world over have had enough of sitting by while the marine environment is destroyed – a handful of fishing boats disrupted seismic explorations in the Caribbean, for example – and will expect a full report on the whales’ deaths.
My guess is that the New Zealanders will see that we get it.

Orca Whale Pod Strands and Dies in New Zealand

Also see:  Last Orca to Die in the New Zealand Stranding Was Comforted by a Compassionate Bystander

Most of the orcas who frequent New Zealand are known to researchers.
Most of the orcas who frequent New Zealand are known to researchers.

The Southland Times reports today that 9 killer whales have stranded and died in Southern New Zealand.
Early reports of this unusual mortality event (UME) are sketchy, but New Zealand killer whale experts are on their way to investigate.  Dr. Ingrid Visser and colleagues from the Orca Research Trust are racing to get to the scene at a remote beach on the southern reaches of the country, near Tautapere, where they may find whales who they know and have studied for years.
New Zealand orcas are known to beach themselves as they hunt for rays, but it is unlikely that an entire pod would die this way.
New Zealand orcas are known to beach themselves as they hunt for rays, but it is unlikely that an entire pod would die this way.

It is the equivalent of having an entire family from the J – pod Southern Resident killer whales turn up beached and dead along the Washington coast, it is unheard of and would be a clear sign that some major event occurred. Under the Marine Mammal Protection Act in the U.S., it would classify as an UME because it is “a stranding that is unexpected; involves a significant die-off of any marine mammal population; and demands immediate response.” This designation is applied worldwide for this type of stranding, so we can expect a fairly thorough investigation.
Strandings of this magnitude are often linked to noise or explosives, from seismic surveys for offshore oil, or by military exercises.  Both the military and the oil industry are known to be currently active in the area.
Dr. Visser is returning from sea, but was able to substantiate from photographs that the animals were “in pristine condition” at the time of the stranding. She was consulted in the decision to airlift one of the whales from the area for necropsy in case rough weather sets in before they can examine the whole pod.
Please check the International Dolphin and Whale Stranding Network for updates. You can tweet using #IntlStrandingNetwork.
Also please consider making a donation to the Orca Research Trust, they need your support to get to the bottom of this, and it going to be financially challenging for them to participate in the investigation.