Cetacean Society International

Whales Alive! - Vol. XVI No. 3 - July 2007

Noise: Get Involved

By William Rossiter, CSI President

The California Coastal Commission's (CCC) authority to regulate waters within their jurisdiction was rebuffed in February by the U.S. Navy. This led to a lawsuit filed by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and several parties, including CSI, as reported in April's Whales Alive! archived on our web site. While on the web site, you can follow the sonar issue through almost ever issue from October 1996, with the surfacing of the Low Frequency Active Sonar.

Why has CSI been so focused on active military sonars, and in so many lawsuits involving their use? Because: active sonars cause injury and death to marine animals; science still is unable to answer the essential questions; the evidence suggests the Navy can accomplish its national security missions without doing so much harm; the Navy refuses as a matter of principle to adequately mitigate the impacts of their sonar operations; and we firmly believe whales and dolphins should not be collateral damage during peacetime sonar operations. The real issue here, as always, is the Navy's position that no one should be able to tell them what to do, ever, period. However, CSI certainly acknowledges some progress, as over time and multiple losses in court, the Navy has quietly modified their training and operations as the "authorities" tried to get them to do in the first place.

We particularly thank those members who have been directly involved in these suits as willing and able Declarants, stating for the court how they are harmed as a result of the impacts of sonars on cetaceans. They help to give CSI standing in the cases. We have a small and eclectic membership, and we are so very pleased that some want to get more active from time to time. Remember, CSI exists in part to empower people to be effective advocates. If you have an issue of mutual concern, and the time, energy and resources to dig into it, we'll be happy to help. Consider this a benefit of your membership.

CEE's, BRS's, and You. Let's say you want to get more involved, and you are concerned, for example, about the potential harm from scientific studies that will make sounds and study the effects on cetaceans. These used to be called Controlled Exposure Experiments (CEE) but are now called Behavioral Response Studies (BRS). The name change makes them no less controversial; there have been some disgustingly inhumane CEE's by the Navy. CSI believes that humanely achieved results from BRS's may be the only way to answer some essential questions, but it all depends upon who is doing them, and how careful they are not to do harm.

To illustrate what a BRS is, and the way you might express your concerns on that or any permit application, there is an excellent current example called: "On the Effects of Scientific Research Activities Associated with a Behavioral Response Study on Deep Diving Odontocetes." OK, so it's not beach reading, but you can follow the process through application, public notification, impact assessments or statements, and public comments, including CSI's. The decision on the permit has not been announced, but to be blunt, by the time applications get to this stage they may be altered but are rarely refused. Our purpose is to have specific caveats or changes in the permit that, in our opinion, lessen potentials for harm or improve the results. For example, part of CSI's complaint was that this very large, expensive project is focused on nice-to-know results, not enough need-to-know results.

Leap in yourself, at http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/permits/, NMFS Office of Protected Resources. In the left margin select: "Review Select Permits and Applications", then look for Permit Application for Behavioral Response Study (NOAA Office of Science & Technology: File No. 1121-1900). All the beach reading you need is there, in a chain of documents that will not just explain this project, but the whole process for any project, and most of the stuff you should know about how little we all know about acoustical impacts on cetaceans.

To leap in further you need to be alerted to future applications, and there are many ways to do this. Please contact CSI for suggestions.

LFA: HMMMMMMM: While the Navy has decided that marine life is not bothered by the low frequency active sonar (LFA), a Naval Heath Research Center 1996 report, "Shipboard Habitability During Low Frequency Active Sonar Operations: Mood Effects", concluded that "LFAS exposure was associated with an increase in negative mood states relative to the pre-exposure mood." The effect was strongest on personnel "predisposed ... to strong emotional reactions to stress". Whales and dolphins have a lot to be stressed about today, and unlike the depressed sailors they can't get away from the LFA after a day; it's currently humming around day after day in the Pacific. But let's be honest: even if the Navy had definite proof that the LFA was harming cetaceans would they stop voluntarily? The Navy instead believes it's time to have the LFA sound off worldwide; this is why CSI must continue to be part of legal actions to constrain it.

Talisman Sabre, a biennial naval exercise from 19 June to 2 July, combined U.S. and Australian forces in a fictional war in Australian waters against the "Kamarians" and "Musorians", and a real war against marine mammals sensitive to mid-frequency (MF) sonars. The poor choice of a battleground, a known habitat for beaked whales, prompted the IWC Scientific Committee to issue a report that focused on harm caused to cetaceans by MF sonars, and the committee Chairman, Dr. Arne Bjorge, expressed direct criticism of the exercise, saying: "This is an area where there are beaked whales, and beaked whales have been sensitive to mid-frequency sonar." A few accommodations reflecting the many concerns were made, such as increased beach monitoring for strandings, slightly lowered power levels for MF sonar use, and slightly increased noise levels in the usual navy caveats. As Migaloo, the famed white humpback appeared to approach the area, the Australian Defence Force (ADF) responded to public fears in the usual patronizing manner, but may consider moving future military exercises away from Queensland's environmentally sensitive Shoalwater Bay area. No whales are expected to be publicly noted as having been harmed, but no dedicated surveys by scientists were allowed either. The navies demand evidence sonars are harmful but won't allow anyone to survey for behavioral responses or harm during an exercise!

The 3rd International Workshop on Detection and Localization of Marine Mammals using Passive Acoustics was held in Boston, Massachusetts on 24-26 July. A web site dedicated to the workshop is linked through the North Atlantic Right Whale Consortium website at http://www.rightwhaleweb.org/workshop/.

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