Cetacean Society International

Whales Alive!

Vol. VII No. 2 April 1998

Two More Dead Whales Associated with ATOC

by Brent Hall, CSI Board

Although overshadowed by the Navy's LFA/LFS program, the Scripps Institution of Oceanography's Acoustic Thermometry of Ocean Climate (ATOC) project and the associated Marine Mammal Research Program (MMRP) continue to operate despite grave concerns about their potential impact on marine mammals. These concerns appeared to be confirmed in November 1995 when three dead humpback whales were found in the vicinity of the California source after it had been operated unmonitored for several days (in violation of its permits and its agreement with six environmental groups). One whale was buried and the other two were lost at sea; the cause of their deaths was never determined. The MMRP scientists made the unsupported assumption that the ATOC source was not sufficiently intense to kill any whales, and so the program has continued.

Now our concerns have been raised again, by the appearance in November and December 1997 of two dead whales in the vicinity of the Hawaii source. The first dead whale was found by fishermen off the north shore of Kauai (where the sound source is located) on November 10, a few days after the source began operation. The sound transmissions were suspended for several days while a search to confirm the sighting was conducted, however the whale was not found. Then, on December 2, a dead juvenile sperm whale washed up on a beach on the northeast shore of Oahu at Malaekahana Beach. The whale was reportedly disposed of at the city landfill, with no attempt to determine the cause of death.

As with the 1995 incidents, there is no proof that the ATOC source killed either of these whales. However, if the source did kill them, we would not know it, and that is a serious problem. The research is designed only to determine if whales display avoidance behavior toward the ATOC sources. Apparently there is no place on the chart for dead whales, so they are dismissed as irrelevant. But we now have five dead whales associated with ATOC. How many more whales will die before we find out why?

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