Tag Archives: whales

A Victory for Whales

Do we want to kill and maim some of the most majestic creatures on earth to defend our seas and shores?

No, we don’t – and now we have a federal court settlement to prove it.

After years of litigation, NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council) and their partners reached a legal settlement requiring the U.S. Navy to take common-sense measures to protect endangered blue whales and other marine mammals from needless harm and hazard during training exercises and testing operations off the coasts of Hawaii and Southern California.

For decades, far too many of these animals have suffered from the Navy’s use of powerful sonar and high explosives undersea. As marine mammals depend on their finely tuned sense of hearing to survive, sonar and explosives can cause injuries or impair their ability to communicate, navigate, and find food. They can go silent, become panicked, or be driven from their habitats. In some cases, high-intensity sonar has caused whales to beach themselves in large groups or left them with serious injuries.

As a result of the settlement, spelled out in a September 14, 2015, order from the

Blainville's beaked whale

, the U.S. Navy must cease using sonar and high explosives in waters critical to the most vulnerable of these creatures. Captains and commanders must plan their expeditions and steer their vessels to give a wide berth to whales in these areas.


Naval security and readiness remain sound. The commander of the Pacific Fleet may override these measures if necessary for national defense, provided such decisions are made public afterward.

This settlement shows the way to both protect our fleet and our whales, ensuring the security of naval operations while reducing the mortal hazard to some of the most magnificent animals on the planet. Our navy will be the better for this – and so will the oceans our sailors defend.

That’s good news for the hundreds of endangered blue whales that return each year to feed off the coast of Southern California. The world’s largest creatures, blue whales can grow up to 110 feet long and weigh upwards of 330,000 pounds – as much as 100 Chevy sedans. They were hunted to near extinction, though, and are now endangered, with as few as 10,000 estimated alive in the wild.

It’s good news for beaked whales, champion divers that can plunge to depths of 9,000 feet or more in search of fish and squid. And it’s good news for the many small populations of whales and dolphins that cluster around the Hawaiian Islands.

Next, we need to protect important whale habitat on other U.S. Navy ranges: from the coasts of Virginia to central Florida, off the coasts of Northern California and the Pacific Northwest, in the Gulf of Alaska and the Gulf of Mexico, and off the Marianas Islands.

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Would You Like To Listen To The Deep Ocean? Here is your chance.

The following image shows an overview of dolphin presence at the ANTARES observatory during May 2010. In this case the indicator measures the strength of whistle content found in the acoustic data.

The underwater environment of the world’s oceans is fill with a variety of sounds.  Most aquatic animals use sound for communications between members of their species.  The reason for all this cacophony is that sounds propagates well in water and covers longer distances.

The advance of modern technology causes the increase in anthropogenic sources of sound that affects the marine life.  There are multiple cases of whales beaching themselves that were recorded in recent years.  On the occasions listed below testing of mid-frequency to low-frequency active sonar was conducted in the area.

  • 1996: 12 Cuvier’s beaked whales beached in Greece
  • 1999: 4 beaked whales beached in the US Virgin Islands
  • 2000: 3 beaked whales beached in Madeira
  • 2002: 14 different whales beached in the Canary Islands


At best, the whales hear the “clicks” and change their hunting grounds not returning to the same spot for a few years.  There is also evidence that they change their “song” and make it louder.

This causes a lot of concern to the marine biologists around the world.  A new project called LIDO or “Listening to the Deep Ocean environment” has emerged recently.  It proposes to establish a first nucleus of a regional network of multidisciplinary seafloor observatories contributing to the coordination of high quality research in the ESONET NoE by allowing the long-term monitoring of Geohazards and Marine Ambient Noise in the Mediterranean Sea and the adjacent Atlantic waters.



You can listen to the marine sounds around the world on their site.  Please click on the link below.  This is quite a unique experience to be able to hear underwater sounds across the globe.


If you  wish to enhance your understanding of the underlying principles of underwater and engineering acoustics needed to evaluate the impact of anthropogenic noise on marine life, please attend ATI’s Underwater Acoustics for Biologists and Conservation Managers course that will be presented on October 17-20, 2011 in Seattle, WA.

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War Over The Whales: The Navy insists underwater warfare range won’t hurt rare right whales off Florida coast

Miami Herald
September 10, 2009
By Curtis Morgan
Every winter endangered North Atlantic right whales migrate to warm, shallow waters to give birth and nurse their young.
That’s right next to where the U.S. Navy wants to conduct antisubmarine training.
Florida isn’t known for whale watching, but every winter the coastline offers a haven for endangered North Atlantic right whales. They migrate to warm, shallow waters to give birth and nurse little — relatively speaking — one-ton bundles of blubber.
That’s right next to where the U.S. Navy wants to conduct antisubmarine training.
The Navy has selected a site bordering a federally protected whale nursery stretching from Savannah to Sebastian for an undersea warfare range, where ships, submarines and aircraft outfitted with powerful sonar can practice hunting subs.
Citing voluminous studies, the Navy concluded that training 58 miles off Jacksonville would rarely, and barely, disturb right whales.
Environmentalists say the Navy has soft-pedaled risks from the 500-square-mile range.
Ship strikes already rank as the top right whale killer. The Navy also intends to heavily employ sonar that can disrupt feeding and communication, cause hearing damage and — in extreme cases — trigger mass strandings such as one in the Bahamas that killed six beaked whales in 2000.
“It’s one of the worst possible places,” said Catherine Wannamaker, an attorney for the Southern Environmental Law Center, one of 21 groups that contested the choice. “It’s right next to the calving grounds for one of the rarest whales in the world.”
The groups contend that the range poses a disruptive, potentially deadly threat to a whale population numbering no more than 400 — and that’s after producing 39 calves last year, the most in decades. Florida and Georgia environmental regulators have raised similar concerns.
Navy is moving ahead because Florida’s location and logistics beat sites off South Carolina, North Carolina and Maryland. Jacksonville boasts a seaport, air base and submarine base across the St. Mary’s River in King’s Bay, Ga.
The Navy already has a deep-water sonar range in the Bahamas, but Julie Ripley, the Navy’s environmental spokeswoman, said the shallow sea floor and busy shipping lanes off northeast Florida provide a real-world test for sonar operators who must pinpoint a new generation of stealthier subs.
Environmentalists, who have been battling the Navy for years over sonar, argue that it’s the whales that are perishable.
Though there are signs of slow recovery, scientists consider their future precarious. The whales take a decade to hit sexual maturity. Females produce one calf a year, so losing one prematurely can set back recovery.
Ship strikes are such a serious concern — 22 whales were hit between 1999 and 2006, with 13 confirmed deaths — that the fisheries service last year imposed seasonal zones limiting large vessels to 10 knots in whale habitat.
The Navy — involved in roughly one-sixth of 134 documented strikes over 60 years — was exempted.
Factoring in total sea hours, the service calculated the chance of any Navy ship hitting a whale in any year at .0000472 percent. The chances of not doing it: 99.99 percent.
While whales have been spotted 60 miles out where the range is planned, past surveys — which environmentalists consider inadequate — suggest that most swim relatively close to shore, some 30 miles from where the Navy plans to train.
The Navy, which adopted whale-avoidance policies in 2002, also has proposed more precautions during calving season — posted lookouts, daytime training and exercising “extreme caution” in ship speed and sonar power.
But environmentalists remain skeptical, pointing to a series of strikes that have killed whales since 2000, including six pregnant females.
Then there is the complex question of sonar. For the Navy, it’s critical protection for military vessels and shipping lanes — particularly mid-frequency active systems that emit “pings” of powerful sound, measuring echoes to identify and track targets.
There is no dispute that active sonar can disturb whales and dolphins. They rely on echolocation, their own internal sonar, to navigate and hunt, and use an array of calls or “songs” to communicate.
But research — much of it bankrolled by $20 million a year from the Navy — shows widely varying impacts, depending on species and sonar levels.
Animals can leave an area, possibly under stress, or abandon feeding or breeding. Some studies indicate that repeated exposure can cause temporary hearing loss. In the worst cases, fleeing whales and dolphins beach in mass, often fatal, strandings.
The Navy, in a 2001 study after 17 whales and a dolphin beached in the Bahamas, acknowledged that its mid-frequency sonar played a role, but also pointed to an unusual confluence of other factors.
Necropsies of whales that beached in the Canary Islands in 2002 during international naval exercises showed brain hemorrhages, vascular ruptures and lung congestion. One theory is that they bolt from depths so quickly their organs can’t handle rapid pressure changes — akin to the “bends,” or embolisms that divers suffer when surfacing too quickly.
As a concession to state concerns, the Navy agreed not to lay fiber-optic cable and transducers during calving season, which runs from mid-November to mid-April.
Wannamaker said it would resolve many concerns if the Navy made the same pledge for sonar training. The Navy responded that option has “been given consideration” but that they want to retain “flexibility.”
Wannamaker said the groups are pondering a lawsuit, not trusting that more studies and surveys will sway the final decision.
“Once you build a $100 million project,” she said, “nobody is going to tell them they can’t use it.” Full story here.

Whales Listening and Underwater Sound

Whales Listening and Underwater Sound


There are many sites that record and stream to the Internet the sounds of underwater hydrophones. Links to some are listed below. Many are designed to listen to whales and dolphins. Some sites even combine web cams and live underwater sounds.


Some links are listed below.







Other marine audio streams listed by http://orcasound.net/


http://www.whalesong.net/  is a project inspired by the beauty of oceans. This beauty includes not only the visual aspects of the water planet we live on, but also a mysterious and incredible world of sound, which whales and dolphins use to navigate and communicate across vast oceans. The vocalizations of these ancient cetaceans have inspired music, poetry, scientific discovery, and perhaps even languages and cultures.

http://www.whalesong.net/ magnificent marine mammals and the messages that they communicate face new challenges as the sonic world of the seas becomes the testing ground for high powered sonar systems and new military technologies, scientific research that utilizes high intensity sound, undersea explosions related to the search for oil and minerals, as well as other human activities. Global warming, carbon dioxide dumping, radioactive and chemical pollution, and commercial whaling are other threats.

2   http://www.awi.de/en/research/new_technologies/marine_observing_systems/ocean_acoustics/palaoa/palaoa_livestream/


PALAOA – Transmitting live from the Ocean below the Antarctic Ice

Overview PALAOA area

You can listen to the underwater sound of the Antarctic Ocean with a delay of a few seconds here.  

– should work on any computer right off the box, otherwise please check your browser or default multimedia player settings.

Please note, this transmission is not optimized for easy listening, but for scientific research. It is highly compressed (24kBit Ogg-Vorbis), so sound quality is far from perfect. Additionally, animal voices may be very faint. Amplifier settings are a compromise between picking up distant animals and not overdriving the system by nearby calving icebergs. So you might need to pump up the volume – but beware of sudden extremely loud events.


Hydrophones Help Scientists Pinpoint, Protect Right Whales

By Alexis Madrigal May 09, 2008 | 11:06:57 AMCategories: Animals, Web/Tech  


Regular Wired Science readers know that I have a thing for underwater microphones. Streaming the depths of the ocean to your laptop is just plain awesome. But now scientists are using them to do some good. Researchers at the Cornell Bioacoustics Research Laboratory and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute have teamed up to use hydrophones to protect endangered whales off the coast of Massachusetts.

Using ten microphones attached by a stretchy data cable to buoys at the surface and special software that picks out the acoustic signature of right whales, the scientists are able to detect the slow-moving marine mammals. When a hydrophone hears a whale, it makes a cell or satellite call to researchers who contact ship captains to tell them to watch out. The map to the right is a near real-time detection map provided to you, at listenforwhales.org.

It’s important work as less than 400 right whales survive and run-ins with ships are a leading cause of their death.

4   http://orcasound.net/


A growing coalition of scientists, educators, and citizens are working together to expand a regional hydrophone network in the Salish Sea. This site is part of the SeaSound Project of The Whale Museum and is an experiment in sharing real-time underwater sound. The goals are to monitor the critical habitat of endangered southern resident killer whales to detect orca sounds and measure ambient noise levels.

Listen live via the links in the table or in the pop-up description you get by clicking the green markers on the map. For some hydrophones you can also watch live video from nearby (by clicking on the camera icons). The other icons show other hydrophones in the region that have not yet been networked.

2009 listening challenge: Help notify researchers when orcas are in the Salish Sea. If you hear killer whales please email detection@orcasound.net or log your observations in a collaborative Google spreadsheet. Use the Salish Sea sound tutor to learn to tell which pod is present based on the calls they use most often. Use web cams and other real-time sensors around the Salish Sea to figure out what else you might be hearing.  


Baleen Whales Toothed Whales Dolphins Minke Whale Song Other Ocean Sounds



The Voices in the Sea website demonstrates the diversity of marine mammals in the world’s oceans and the important role that sound plays in all aspects of their lives. In the website videos, scientists describe their research efforts, show new technologies that are making this work possible, and share the most current insight into the natural history and conservation of these fascinating animals. 

Other marine audio streams listed by http://orcasound.net/

Please let us know of other live streams.

Whales and the Navy

Whales and the Navy
By Susan Chambers, Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 10, 2009 |

The U.S. Navy, pressured by coastal residents has extended a comment period on its plans to double its area for training off the coasts of Northern California, Oregon and Washington.

News of the Navy’s plans spread through e-mails and on blogs on the Internet two weeks ago as notices about public meetings were sent out. But many folks were outraged, contending there was insufficient public notice and too few public meetings. The deadline has been extended to Wednesday, Feb. 18.

New national security challenges and advancement in technology make it necessary, the Navy said.

“Recent world events have placed the U.S. military on heightened alert in the defense of the U.S. and in defense of allied nations,” the Navy said.

The Navy started scoping meetings in 2007 to get input on its study for the training complex. The 60-day process started in July and included meetings held in September 2007.

The Navy received 50 comments, 23 of which expressed concerns or opposition to the training’s impact on marine mammals, such as whales.

Bruce Mate, the director of the marine Mammal Institute at Oregon State University, said in an e-mail the Navy plans to use high-energy sonar, up to 235 decibels. The National Marine Fisheries Service, he said, limits the sounds of human activities to no more than 160 decibels.

Editor Note: Mate does not seem to take into account that the sound pressure level decreases with range and the acoustic intensity decreases as 1/(range squared):

Navy Sonar and Marine Mammals off Hawaii

The U.S. Navy was granted a one-year permit to train with sonar and bombs in Hawaii waters so long as it tries to protect whales and other marine animals from harm. This is a controverial topic. It is covered in a full day in ATI’s course Advanced Topics In Underwater Acoustics.


  • Environmental Impact Considerations for Underwater Sound (Ellison) Anthropogenic sound impacts on marine animals. Permit requirements and process. US Federal Regulations, NEPA, MMPA, ESA, Magnuson-Stevens Act, Coastal Zone Management Act, National Marine Sanctuaries Act. International regulations and guidelines. Monitoring and mitigation.   
  • Marine Bioacoustics for Engineers (Ellison) Fundamentals of Marine Animal Hearing and Communication. Bioacoustic metrics. Acoustic exposure criteria for harm and significant behavior response for marine mammals. Developing criteria for fish and turtles. Behavioral testing techniques.