Sunday, January 2, 2011

SONAR and Whales

Watching pieces like this, we’ve seen how individuals and organizations are working to stop Navy practices that endanger whales. What does the Navy have to do with whales, beyond sharing the same ocean? One major concern is the issue of bio-acoustics.

Bio-acoustics is the study of sound production and its reception among living things. In the case of whales, many researchers find that they have extremely sensitive hearing and that cetaceans rely on songs and sound both for communication and to keep themselves oriented. When naval ships engage sonar practices near the paths of whales, it is the common hypothesis that this causes whales to panic just as humans often do when we hear distressing sounds. This may cause whales to surface too quickly, causing the bends. Whales may also desperately try to swim to areas where the noise is less painful, which in many cases means swimming up to shore, stranding themselves.

There are numerous findings of correlations between the conduction of such sonar exercises and the occurrence of whale strandings and surface-deaths. The problem is that, according to the US Department of Defense (DOD), there is no absolute evidence of causation between the two events.

While some activists are calling for international regulation of sonar practices under the International Law of the Sea, the DOD is opposed to any international regulation on the issue. It will certainly be an uphill battle to change these whale-harming practices.

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