ACTION ALERT: Help Stop the Navy’s Attack on Whales!

May 31st, 2013 - by admin

Pierce Brosnan and the Natural Resources Defense Council – 2013-05-31 00:50:32

ACTION ALERT: Help Stop the Navy’s Attack on Whales!
The Navy is prepared to kill more than 1,000 whales and other marine mammals during the next five years of testing and training with dangerous sonar and explosives.
CLICK HERE to tell Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel to direct the Navy to adopt common-sense safeguards right away that will protect marine mammals during routine training without sacrificing our national security!

Lethal Sounds
The use of military sonar poses a deadly threat to whales and other marine mammals

Whales and other marine mammals rely on their hearing for life’s most basic functions, such as orientation and communication. Sound is how they find food, find friends, find a mate, and find their way through the world every day.

So when a sound thousands of times more powerful than a jet engine fills their ears, the results can be devastating — and even deadly.

This is the reality that whales and other marine mammals face because of human-caused noise in the ocean, whether it’s the sound of airguns used in oil exploration or subs and ships emitting sonar. Manmade sound waves can drown out the noises that marine mammals rely on for their very survival, causing serious injury and even death.

How Sonar Harms Whales
If you’ve ever seen a submarine movie, you probably came away with a basic understanding of how sonar works. Active sonar systems produce intense sound waves that sweep the ocean like a floodlight, revealing objects in their path.

Some systems operate at more than 235 decibels, producing sound waves that can travel across tens or even hundreds of miles of ocean. During testing off the California coast, noise from the Navy’s main low-frequency sonar system was detected across the breadth of the northern Pacific Ocean.

By the Navy’s own estimates, even 300 miles from the source, these sonic waves can retain an intensity of 140 decibels — a hundred times more intense than the level known to alter the behavior of large whales.

There is no question that sonar injures and kills whales and dolphins.
— Joel Reynolds, NRDC senior attorney

The Navy’s most widely used sonar systems operate in the mid-frequency range. Evidence of the danger caused by these systems surfaced dramatically in 2000, when whales of four different species stranded themselves on beaches in the Bahamas. Although the Navy initially denied responsibility, the government’s investigation established that mid-frequency sonar caused the strandings.

After the incident, the area’s population of Cuvier’s beaked whales nearly disappeared, leading researchers to conclude that they either abandoned their habitat or died at sea. Similar mass strandings have occurred in the Canary Islands, Greece, Madeira, the US Virgin Islands, Hawaii and other sites around the globe.

Deadly Impacts of Sonar
Many of these beached whales have suffered physical trauma, including bleeding around the brain, ears and other tissues and large bubbles in their organs.

These symptoms are akin to a severe case of “the bends” — the illness that can kill scuba divers who surface quickly from deep water. Scientists believe that the mid-frequency sonar blasts may drive certain whales to change their dive patterns in ways their bodies cannot handle, causing debilitating and even fatal injuries.

Stranded whales are only the most visible symptom of a problem affecting much larger numbers of marine life. Naval sonar has been shown to disrupt feeding and other vital behavior and to cause a wide range of species to panic and flee. Scientists are concerned about the cumulative effect of all of these impacts on marine animals.

Even the Navy estimates that increased sonar training will significantly harm marine mammals more than 10 million times during the next five years off the US coast alone.

NRDC has been a leader in the battle to regulate sonar use and protect whales and other species from its harmful effects. In 2008, a case filed by NRDC against the US Navy was heard by the US Supreme Court.

Related NRDC Webpages:
Protecting Whales from Dangerous Sonar

Report: Sounding the Depths II – The Rising Toll of Sonar, Shipping and Industrial Ocean Noise on Marine Life

Whale Strandings

Numerous mass strandings and whale deaths across the globe have been linked to military sonar use.

January 2006 At least four beaked whales strand in the Gulf of Almeria, Spain, while sonar exercises take place offshore.

January 2005 At least 34 whales of three species strand along the Outer Banks of North Carolina as Navy sonar training goes on offshore.

July 2004 Four beaked whales strand during naval exercises near the Canary Islands.

July 2004 Approximately 200 melon-headed whales crowd into the shallow waters of Hanalei Bay in Hawaii as a large Navy sonar exercise takes place nearby. Rescuers succeed in directing all but one of the whales back out to sea.

June 2004 As many as six beaked whales strand during a Navy sonar training exercise off Alaska.

May 2003 As many as 11 harbor porpoises beach along the shores of the Haro Strait, Washington State, as the USS Shoup tests its mid-frequency sonar system.

September 2002 At least 14 beaked whales from three different species strand in the Canary Islands during an anti-submarine warfare exercise in the area. Four additional beaked whales strand over the next several days.

May 2000 Three beaked whales strand on the beaches of Madeira during NATO naval exercises near shore.
October 1999 Four beaked whales strand in the US Virgin Islands during Navy maneuvers offshore.

October 1997 At least nine Cuvier’s beaked whales strand in the Ionian Sea, with military activity reported in the area.

May 1996 Twelve Cuvier’s beaked whales strand on the west coast of Greece as NATO ships sweep the area with low- and mid-frequency active sonar.

October 1989 At least 20 whales of three species strand during naval exercises near the Canary Islands.

December 1991 Two Cuvier’s beaked whales strand during naval exercises near the Canary Islands.

Whales and other marine mammals rely on their hearing for life’s most basic functions, such as orientation and communication. Sound is how they find food, find friends, find a mate, and find their way through the world every day.

So when a sound thousands of times more powerful than a jet engine fills their ears, the results can be devastating — and even deadly.

This is the reality that whales and other marine mammals face because of human-caused noise in the ocean, whether it’s the sound of airguns used in oil exploration or subs and

Sounding the Depths II
The Rising Toll of Sonar, Shipping and Industrial Ocean Noise on Marine Life

Michael Jasny / NRDC

(November 2005) — Most whales and many other marine species depend on sound as they hunt for food, avoid predators, find mates, and maintain their awareness in the darkness of the sea. But over the past century the acoustic landscape of the ocean has been transformed by human activity — intensely loud military sonar, oil-and-gas surveys, and the ever-increasing traffic of commercial ships.

This noise can have impacts on marine life ranging from long-term behavioral change to hearing loss to death. This November 2005 second edition of NRDC’s groundbreaking 1999 report on ocean noise has been completely rewritten to reflect the rapid growth of the scientific record. It reviews the science, surveys the leading contributors to the problem, and suggests what might be done to reduce the impacts of noise on the sea — before the proliferation of noise sources makes the problem unmanageable.

Executive Summary
It is a commonplace among divers and oceanographers that the ocean is no “silent world,” as Jacques Cousteau had written, but an exceptionally noisy place. Most whales and many other marine species depend on sound as they hunt for food, detect predators, find mates, and maintain their awareness in the darkness of the sea.

Over the past century, however, the acoustic landscape of the ocean has been transformed by human activity. Some biologists have compared the increasing levels of background noise in many places off our coasts to a continuous fog that is shrinking the sensory range of marine animals.

Others, concerned about a growing number of whale mortalities linked to military sonar, have compared the effects of intense sound to those of dynamite. Together these analogies suggest the range of impacts that noise can have: from long-term behavioral change to hearing loss to death.

Since 1999, when the first edition of this report was published, the scientific record and the public’s awareness of the issue have grown with astonishing rapidity. It has become increasingly clear that the rise of ocean noise presents a significant, long-term threat to an environment that is utterly dependent on sound.

Our purpose in this report is to review the science, survey the leading contributors to the problem, and suggest what might be done to reduce the impacts of noise on the sea-before the proliferation of noise sources makes the problem unmanageable.

The Rise of an Environmental Problem
There is general agreement that hearing is probably the primary sense of whales, dolphins, and other marine species, as vitally important to them as seeing is to us.

Yet the acoustic environment is increasingly overshadowed by a gamut of military, commercial, and industrial sources: dredgers that clear the seabed for ship traffic, pipelines, and structures; high explosives for removing oil platforms and testing the seaworthiness of military ships; pile drivers for construction; harassment devices for fisheries; tunnel borers; drilling platforms; commercial sonar; modems; transmitters; and innumerable jet skis and power boats.

In deep water, background noise seems to be growing by about three to five decibels per decade in the band occupied by commercial ships. In some areas near the coast, the sound is persistently several orders of magnitude higher than in less urbanized waters, raising concerns about chronic impacts on marine life. Among the leading contributors to the problem:

* Military active sonar systems put out intense sound to detect and track submarines and other targets. Midfrequency tactical sonar, which is currently installed on close to 200 American vessels and on the ships of other navies, is linked to a growing number of whale strandings worldwide.

Low-frequency sonar, which has proliferated rapidly over the last decade, can travel hundreds of miles at intensities strong enough to affect marine mammals. Navies are increasingly using both types of systems (a list of which is contained in the report) in coastal waters.

* High-energy seismic surveys are used by industry to detect oil and gas deposits beneath the ocean floor. Surveys typically involve firing airguns every few seconds at intensities that, in some cases, can drown out whale calls over tens of thousands of square miles.

The industry conducts more than 100 seismic surveys each year off the coast of the United States, and that could increase significantly with the passage of the Energy Policy Act of 2005, which mandates an inventory of the entire US outer continental shelf. Global hot spots (which are mapped in the report) include the Gulf of Mexico, the North Sea, and the west coast of Africa.

* The low-frequency rumble of engines, propellers, and other commercial shipping noise can be heard in virtually every corner of the ocean. Over the last 75 years, the number of merchant ships has tripled, and their cargo capacity (which relates roughly to the amount of sound they produce) has increased steadily.

Some believe that the biggest ships will become faster and larger still, possibly tripling in capacity, and that their numbers will double over the next 20 to 30 years. Increasingly, short hauls between ports could take cargo ships nearer to shore-directly through coastal habitat for many marine species.

That some types of sound are killing some species of marine mammals is no longer a matter of serious scientific debate. A range of experts, from the International Whaling Commission’s Scientific Committee to the US Navy’s own commissioned scientists, have agreed that the evidence linking mass strandings to mid-frequency sonar is convincing and overwhelming.

Suspect strandings have occurred off the Bahamas, the Canary Islands, the US Virgin Islands, North Carolina, Alaska, Hawaii, Greece, Italy, Japan, and other spots around the world. Some stranded animals have been found to suffer bleeding around the brain, emboli in the lungs, and lesions in the liver and kidneys, symptoms resembling a severe case of decompression sickness, or “the bends.”

That these injuries occurred in the water, before the animals stranded, has raised concerns that whales are dying in substantially larger numbers than are turning up onshore. Other sources of noise, such as the airguns used in seismic surveys, may have similar effects.

But to many scientists, it is the cumulative impact of subtle behavioral changes that pose the greatest potential threat from noise, particularly in depleted populations: what has been called a “death of a thousand cuts.” We know that sound can chase some animals from their habitat, force some to compromise their feeding, cause some to fall silent, and send some into what seems like panic.

Preliminary attempts at modeling the “energetics” of marine mammals (the amount of energy an animal has to spend to compensate for an intrusion) suggest that even small alterations in behavior could have significant consequences for reproduction or survival if repeated over time.

Other impacts include temporary and permanent hearing loss, which can compromise an animal’s ability to function in the wild; chronic stress, which has been associated in land mammals with suppression of the immune system, cardiovascular disease, and other health problems; and the masking of biologically important sounds, which could be disastrous for species, like the endangered fin whale, that are believed to communicate over long distances.

Although marine mammals have received most of the attention, there are increasing signs that noise, like other forms of pollution, is capable of affecting the entire web of ocean life. Pink snapper exposed to airgun pulses have been shown to suffer virtually permanent hearing loss; and the catch rates of haddock and cod have plummeted in the vicinity of an airgun survey across an area larger than the state of Rhode Island.

Indeed, fishermen in various parts of the world have complained of declines in catch after intense acoustic activities, like oil and gas surveys and sonar exercises, moved onto their grounds, suggesting that noise is seriously altering the behavior of commercial species. Other potentially vulnerable species include brown shrimp, snow crabs, and the giant squid, which is known to have mass stranded in the vicinity of airgun surveys.

The Domestic And Global Response
As yet, there is no domestic or international law to deal comprehensively with ocean noise. The closest approximation in the United States is the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA), which requires those who would harm animals incidentally, as an unavoidable consequence of their business, to first obtain permission from one of the wildlife agencies.

Congress dictated a precautionary approach to management given the vulnerable status of many of these species, their great cultural and ecological significance, and the exceptional difficulty of measuring the impacts of human activities on marine mammals in the wild.

When it has come to ocean noise, however, the MMPA’s mandate has not been fulfilled.

* Most of the leading contributors to the problem of ocean noise are not currently regulated. With few exceptions, the US Navy has not sought to comply with the MMPA on its sonar training exercises; oil and gas companies often conduct surveys off Alaska and in the Gulf of Mexico without authorization; and commercial shipping remains entirely unregulated.

Lack of adequate funding is partly to blame, as is the recalcitrance of some powerful noise producers; but it can also be said that the agency with primary authority, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), has tied its own hands, declining to use the enforcement power available under law.

* Mitigation measures that could make the most difference are generally not imposed. As concern has mounted, scientists and policymakers have given more thought about ways to prevent and mitigate the needless environmental impacts of ocean noise.

Among the most promising measures are geographic and seasonal restrictions and technologies that curb or modify sound at the source. To date, however, regulators have relied primarily on operational requirements, such as visual monitoring, whose effectiveness — particularly for some of the most vulnerable species of whales — is highly limited.

* Legal standards are increasingly being defined in ways that limit the MMPA’s effectiveness. The NMFS has moved the threshold for regulatory action steadily upward over the years without any breakthroughs in research and, indeed, while studies on some species would seem to lead in the opposite direction. And changes that Congress has made to the threshold make the Act more difficult to enforce.

* Cumulative impacts of ocean noise have not been addressed in a meaningful way. This record is partly due to the basic empirical difficulty of determining when a population-level impact might occur, but also to the fragmentation of the permitting process, which relieves pressure on the agency to consider a broader set of impacts.

But undersea noise is not just a national issue: It is a global problem. Many noise-producing activities occur on the high seas, a gray zone of maritime jurisdiction, and both sounds and affected species have little respect for boundaries. Fortunately, as scientific and public consensus has crystallized around ocean noise, so has international recognition that the strategy for reducing it must be regional and global.

A number of international bodies, including the European Parliament, the International Whaling Commission’s Scientific Committee, and several regional seas agreements, have begun to address the problem, urging that nations work together.

Options range from the direct, comprehensive control that a federal system like the European Union can exercise; to the guidelines or regulations that specialized bodies such as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the International Maritime Organization can propose for certain activities; to the coordination that regional agreements can bring, particularly to matters of habitat protection.

Unfortunately, the present US administration has opposed the international regulation of active sonar, which may weaken its leadership and standing on the broader issue of ocean noise.

The Way Forward
The mass strandings that have emerged over the last several years are a wake-up call to a significant environmental problem. We do not believe that an issue of this complexity can or will be settled tomorrow. Yet now is the moment when progress is possible, before the problem becomes intractable and its impacts irreversible.

With this in mind, NRDC recommends that the following steps be taken:

* Develop and implement a wider set of mitigation measures. Regulatory agencies in the United States, the NMFS and the Fish and Wildlife Service, should move beyond the inadequate operational requirements that are currently imposed and develop a full range of options, particularly geographic and seasonal restrictions and technological (or “sourcebased”) improvements.

* Build economies of scale. Agencies should use programmatic review and other means to develop economies of scale in mitigation, monitoring, and basic population research. In conducting programmatic review of noise-producing activities, the agencies should take care to make threshold mitigation decisions early in the process and to allow public participation at every stage, as the law requires.

* Improve enforcement of the Marine Mammal Protection Act. The NMFS should exercise the enforcement authority delegated by Congress under the Act to bring clearly harmful activities, such as sonar exercises and airgun surveys, into the regulatory system and should adopt process guidelines to ensure that an arm’s length relationship is maintained with prospective permittees. And Congress should add a “citizen-suit” provision to the MMPA, which would empower the public to do what, in some cases, the regulatory agencies will not.

* Increase funds for permitting and enforcement. The US Congress should increase the NMFS’s annual budget for permitting and enforcement under the MMPA.

* Set effective standards for regulatory action. So that the MMPA can serve the protective role that Congress intended, the act’s standards for “negligible impact” and behavioral “harassment” should protect the species most vulnerable to noise, ensure that major noise-producing activities remain inside the regulatory system, and enable wildlife agencies to manage populations for cumulative impacts.

* Establish a federal research program. Congress should establish a National Ocean Noise Research Program through the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, or similar institution, allowing for coordination, reliability, and independence of funding. A substantial portion of the budget should be expressly dedicated to improving and expanding mitigation measures.

* Commit to global and regional solutions. The United States and other nations should work through specialized bodies such as the International Maritime Organization to develop guidelines for particular activities like shipping noise; through regional seas agreements to bring sound into the management of coastal habitat; and through intergovernmental regimes, like the European Union, to develop binding multinational legislation.

Chapter 1: The Rise of Ocean Noise
Chapter 2: Dynamite and Fog — A Survey of Noise Sources
Chapter 3: The Tyranny of Small Decisions — Domestic Regulation of Ocean Noise
Chapter 4: Noise Without Borders — The Growing International Response

FULL REPORT IN PDF. Adobe Acrobat file (size: 2.4 mb)