START A PETITION 25,136,189 members: the world's largest community for good
START A PETITION
x
2,475,404 people care about Environment & Wildlife

Spooked By Sonars, Whales Are Starving to Death

Spooked By Sonars, Whales Are Starving to Death

For years, environmentalists have been speaking up about the dangerous effects of military sonar testing on whales. Since such testing began in the 1950s, the number of mass strandings of whales and dolphins has risen significantly, occurring every year in places including the Canary Islands, the Bahamas and Greece.

Two new studies closely link noise pollution produced from testing conducted by the British and U.S. military to mass strandings of whales and dolphins. Post-mortem examination of beach whales has shown that they were bleeding from their ears and suffered from decompression sickness — known as “the bends” to scuba divers — from swimming too quickly to the ocean’s surface. The resulting change in pressure generates lethal nitrogen gas bubbles that clog an animal’s blood vessels.

Beaked whales are the species most known to be disturbed by the sonars, perhaps because they are smaller, shyer in nature and more likely to misinterpret the noise as that of killer whales. Scientists have learned that beaked whales have a strong response to sonars at noise levels far below those the U.S. Navy uses for testing. They have also discovered that blue whales, the largest animals on the planet, also show what seems to be distress from sonars.

To measure the amount of noise whales are subjected to and their response, scientists in the first study attached digital devices to Cuvier’s beaked whales off the coast of Southern California. According to the Guardian, they learned that:

When a simulated military sonar signal was sounded at 200dB and between 3km and 10km away, the whales initially stopped feeding and swimming. They then swam rapidly away from the noise and some performed unusually deep and long dives.

The whales also did something unusual — they stopped feeding for 6-7 hours. Stacy DeRuiter, at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, notes that populations of Cuvier’s beaked whales are indeed declining and emphasizes that sonars are contributing to the whales going hungry.

In the second study, scientists found that blue whales off the coast of Southern California can be so “spooked” by sonars that their feeding is also affected.

Jeremy Goldbogen of Cascadia Research explains that, ”Blue whales rely on large aggregations of dense krill to sustain their extreme body size, so they continuously dive and feed throughout the day when high-density prey patches are present.” When driven away from their feeding grounds by the sonars, blue whales can end up going without a whole day’s worth of food, a ton of krill.

The U.S.Navy, which partially funded the studies, notes that it reviews its use of sonars annually and would take the new research into account. It says the whales are simply exhibiting a behavioral response by swimming away.

Conservationists, such as Sarah Dolman of the Whale and Dolphin Conservation, argue otherwise: “For whales and dolphins, listening is as important as seeing is for humans – they communicate, locate food, and navigate using sound.”

Noise pollution is indeed a very significant threat to whales and dolphins as it forces them away from feeding and breeding sites and can even cause injury or death. Whales, dolphins and other marine wildlife are now subjected to increasing amounts of noise pollution not only from military sonars but from oil and gas companies using machinery to locate buried oil and gas deposits via a technique called reflection seismology that emits loud pulses of sound. Climatologists also use low-frequency sonars to study changes in ocean temperature. Even more, the huge increase in commercial shipping traffic has resulted in what Nature.com says is an “almost 16-fold increase in background noise intensity in places like the waters off the coast of California.”

Since 2010, the NOAA has said that it is working on creating a comprehensive “noise budget” for the oceans by assessing how much noise pollution is caused by human technology. The need for such regulations is imperative; as Dolman says, there are currently “no accepted international standards regarding noise pollution.”

The deaths of so many whales and dolphins are more than enough reason for us to create such standards and enforce them. Just because we do not hear the horrible racket we create underwater does not mean it does not exist and that untold numbers of animals are in danger of starving and dying.

Read more: , , , , , , ,

Photo via Wikimedia Commons

have you shared this story yet?

some of the best people we know are doing it

308 comments

+ add your own
6:00AM PDT on Aug 4, 2013

thanks for sharing

4:03AM PDT on Aug 4, 2013

Sad, thank-you for sharing. Need to get the word out

4:19AM PDT on Jul 25, 2013

Thanks for the article.

3:20AM PDT on Jul 25, 2013

Thanks

8:28AM PDT on Jul 24, 2013

Thanks

4:29PM PDT on Jul 22, 2013

Awful, thanks for posting.

1:33PM PDT on Jul 22, 2013

Sad. Thank you for posting this.

8:31AM PDT on Jul 21, 2013

Why can't we share this planet? It is ours, AND theirs and we must share it in a fair and considerate way. With mankind's superior intelligence, comes extra responsibility and yet we let ourselves down time after time.

9:36PM PDT on Jul 20, 2013

so sad!

1:57AM PDT on Jul 20, 2013

Heartbreaking

add your comment



Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of
Care2, Inc., its employees or advertisers.

ads keep care2 free

Recent Comments from Causes

This behavior is not "strange." It's more normal than most probably realize. Animals are better than…

Justice for rape victims and preventing future rapes should be a very high priority. It is a shame how…

meet our writers

Kristina Chew Kristina Chew teaches ancient Greek, Latin and Classics at Saint Peter's University in New Jersey.... more
Story idea? Want to blog? Contact the editors!
ads keep care2 free



Select names from your address book   |   Help
   

We hate spam. We do not sell or share the email addresses you provide.