Ocean Acoustics-Does Navy Sonar Really Affect Whales?

Written by on September 5, 2008 in Marine Life

(This article was originally published on OceanLines on September 5, 2008.)

Photo Credit: NOAA  --  NOAA scientist attaching listening tag to whale.

Photo Credit: NOAA -- NOAA scientist attaching listening tag to whale.

NOAA has recently released a new study about a research effort in Hawaii to determine how marine mammals react to sonar. NOAA’s Fisheries Service, along with top international scientists and the U.S. Navy are leading the research.

From the NOAA research vessel Oscar Elton Sette and smaller boats, the group tagged more than 30 marine mammals of four different species, including beaked, pilot and melon-headed whales with satellite-linked underwater listening devices. The tags measured how deep-diving mammals feed, interact with each other, dive, and respond to sounds in their environment.

“Carefully controlled field studies in realistic conditions are essential and urgently needed for NOAA to fulfill its requirement to conserve and manage protected marine species,” said Dr. William Hogarth, assistant administrator for NOAA Fisheries. “These behavioral response studies on a highly-specialized acoustic range will provide some of the first detailed and direct measures of how deep-diving toothed whales react when they hear different natural and human sounds, like active sonar signals.”

Photo Credit: NOAA -- NOAA scientists use tags to photograph and identify individual whales.

Photo Credit: NOAA -- NOAA scientists use tags to photograph and identify individual whales.

Using the Navy’s Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) 2008 exercises, scientists were able to learn more about how deep-diving whales might respond to military sonar. RIMPAC uses mid-frequency active sonar for anti-submarine warfare training around Hawaii.  Scientists and the Navy tried to reduce exposure to nearby animals by not aiming the transmissions directly at the marine mammals.

“The study of marine mammal acoustics and behavior is an area of emerging interest for many reasons, but there have been many recent advances, including this recently completed study,” said Dr. Brandon Southall, director of NOAA’s Ocean Acoustics Program and co-funder of the project. “We were fortunate to have some of the best scientists in these fields working with NOAA on this pilot project. It will take some time to analyze the data and see what conclusions may be drawn, but in many ways this effort lays the foundation for more sophisticated collaborative efforts in the future.”

Other research team members include scientists from Cascadia Research Collective, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Duke University, NOAA’s Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center, the University of Hawaii, and the Wild Whale Research Foundation.

Credit: NOAA -- NOAA research vessel Oscar Elton Sette and smaller research boat.

Credit: NOAA -- NOAA research vessel Oscar Elton Sette and smaller research boat.

Copyright ©  2008 by OceanLines

About the Author

About the Author: Emily Tripp is the Publisher and Editor of MarineScienceToday.com. She holds marine science and biology degrees from the University of Miami's Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science and a Master of Advanced Studies degree in Marine Biodiversity and Conservation from Scripps Institution of Oceanography. When she's not writing about marine science, she's probably running around outside or playing with her dog. .

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