Defense

December 16, 2013

Navy expands sonar testing despite troubling signs

Julie Watson and Alicia Chang
Associated Press

The U.S. Navy plans to increase sonar testing over the next five years, even as research it funded reveals worrying signs that the loud underwater noise could disturb whales and dolphins.

Reported mass strandings of certain whale species have increased worldwide since the military started using sonar half a century ago. Scientists think the sounds scare animals into shallow waters where they can become disoriented and wash ashore, but technology capable of close monitoring has emerged only in about the last decade.

Aside from strandings, biologists are concerned marine mammals could suffer prolonged stress from changes in diving, feeding and communication.

Two recent studies off the Southern California coast found certain endangered blue whales and beaked whales stopped feeding and fled from recordings of sounds similar to military sonar.

Beaked whales are highly sensitive to sound and account for the majority of beachings near military exercises. Scientists, however, were surprised by the reaction of blue whales – the world’s largest animal – long thought to be immune to the high-pitched sounds. It’s unclear how the change in behavior would affect the overall population, estimated at between 5,000 and 12,000 animals.

The studies involved only a small group of tagged whales and noise levels were less intense than what’s used by the Navy. Shy species, such as the Cuvier’s beaked whale that can dive 3,000 feet (900 meters) below the surface, have taken years to find and monitor.

ìThis is a warning flag and deserves more research,î said Stanford University biologist Jeremy Goldbogen, who led the blue whale study published this summer in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

Both studies were done by a team of independent scientists as part of a Navy-funded, five-year project launched in 2010 to understand how sonar affects marine mammals.

Navy officials say it’s vital to national security that sailors receive sonar training in real-life conditions.

Environmentalists have long claimed that sonar harms marine mammals, which use acoustics to mate and forage. They want more protections and accuse the Navy of rushing to obtain five-year permits under the Marine Mammal Protection Act from the National Marine Fisheries Service to increase its sonar testing in U.S. waters without considering the latest science.

ìIf you deafen a marine mammal for even a short period time, you are affecting its ability to survive,î said Michael Jasny of the Natural Resources Defense Council, whose group has sued to force the Navy to add more protections.

A federal judge in September ruled marine fisheries officials did not consider the best available data when it approved permits last year for operations stretching from Northern California to the Canadian border. The agency has until August to reassess how it will protect ocean life.

The California Coastal Commission also rejected the Navy’s five-year plan for exercises that would start in January off Southern California. However, the state agency does not have the power to block the drills and the Navy has ignored the agency’s requested protections in the past.

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.

Navy officials said they considered the latest research available, including the two recent studies, but none proves the activities cause significant harm to the marine populations.

Navy spokesman Kenneth Hess emphasized that the studies published this summer involved a small group of animals and some did not react, indicating the sound’s distance and other context may play a role. The Navy uses simulators where possible.

ìOverall, the activities we propose are very similar to the training and testing we have done in these areas for the past 60 years, and we have not seen major impacts on marine mammals from these activities,î Hess said.

Until now, studies have measured animals’ response based on recordings similar to military sonar or depended on the tagging of marine mammals during Navy at-sea training in which scientists could not control the distance or intensity. For the first time, researchers coordinating with the Navy are conducting experiments using mid-frequency active sonar transmissions from ships. This past summer, they tagged six whales and dolphins off the Southern California coast. Those results are still being analyzed.

Marine fisheries officials last month granted the Navy its permit for activities in the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico, on the condition that the military review the latest science yearly. The Navy must cease exercises if mammals are spotted nearby, and establish a response plan to a mass stranding. A decision on the Pacific permit is expected to be announced this month.

Some scientists want the Navy to create safety zones that would guarantee no high-intensity sonar activity near marine sanctuaries and areas with a high concentration of blue, fin and gray whales seasonally.




All of this week's top headlines to your email every Friday.


 
 

 

Headlines April 14, 2014

Business: U.S. Navy looks to leverage submarine work to keep costs down - The U.S. Navy hopes to save money and time by leveraging industry investments as it replaces its Ohio-class nuclear-armed submarines with the Virginia-class attack submarines now built by General Dynamics Corp and Huntington Ingalls Industries Inc.  Study raises red flags on California aerospace...
 
 

News Briefs April 14, 2014

U.S. Navy destroyer Zumwalt christened in Maine The U.S. Navy has christened the first ship of its newest class of destroyers, a 610-foot (186-meter)-long warship with advanced technologies and a stealthy design that will reduce its visibility on enemy radars. The warship bears the name of the late Adm. Elmo ìBudî Zumwalt, who became the...
 
 
Navy photograph by Seamn Edward Guttierrez III

Russian aircraft flies near U.S. Navy ship in Black Sea

Navy photograph by Seamn Edward Guttierrez III Sailors man the rails as the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Donald Cook arrives at Naval Station Rota, Spain, Feb. 11, 2014. Donald Cook is the first of four Arle...
 

 

45th Space Wing launches NRO Satellite on board Atlas V

The 45th Space Wing successfully launched a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Space Launch Complex 41, Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., at 1:45 p.m. April 10 carrying a classified national security payload. The payload was designed and built by the National Reconnaissance Office. “I am proud of the persistence and focus of the...
 
 

U.S. Air Force selects Cubic for Moroccan P5 air combat training system

Cubic Defense Systems, a subsidiary of Cubic Corporation announced April 11 it has been awarded a contract valued at more than $5 million from the U.S. Air Force to supply its P5 Combat Training System to the Moroccan Air Force. Morocco will join the United States Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps, along with a...
 
 
Lockheed Martin photograph

NASA’s Orion Spacecraft powers through first integrated system testing

Lockheed Martin photograph Engineers in the Operations and Checkout Building at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, perform avionics testing on the Orion spacecraft being prepared for its first trip to space later this ye...
 




0 Comments


Be the first to comment!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>