Stranded whales shot dead in NZ
"Dozens of stranded pilot whales have been shot dead in New Zealand to end their suffering
when it was ruled too difficult to get them back in the sea."
1 January 2006
Navy denies Tasmania whale deaths
"The Australian navy has denied its ships were behind the mysterious deaths of whales in
Tasmania. At least 130 pilot whales died ..."
30 October 2005
Whale stranding cases 'increase
"Whale, dolphin and porpoise strandings have doubled in the UK over the last 10 years to
782, according to a new study."
9 March 2005
Whales 'suffer from the bends'
"A swift ascent from deep water may be just as dangerous for whales as it is for humans,
Science magazine reports."
23 December 2004
NZ battle to save stranded whales
"Conservation workers and local residents have managed to save dozens of pilot whales which
became stranded on a remote island off New Zealand. Rescuers succeeded in refloating 39 of
the 159-strong pod"
8 January 2003
Why sonar may harm whales and dolphins
"Environmental campaigners in America are concerned about a new danger to the world's whale
population. It's sonar - powerful sound waves used by submarines and ships to track activity
4 August 2002
Death knell of our oceans?
Linda Weilgart, Ph.D
Assistant Professor of Biology, Dalhousie University
7 November 2005
Most marine animals, particularly marine mammals and fish, are dependent on sound,
sometimes for all aspects of their life including reproduction, feeding, predator avoidance,
and navigation (Popper 2003).
Marine life has used sound as its principal sense because sound travels so efficiently
underwater, travelling 5 times the speed of sound in air. Vision is only useful for tens of
meters underwater, yet sound can be heard for hundreds, even thousands of kilometers.
Unfortunately, the same goes for noise, or unwanted sound. For instance, the U.S. Navy's
Low Frequency Active (LFA) Sonar used to detect submarines could affect marine life over
an area of about 3.9 million sq.km (Johnson 2003), an area covering much of the Pacific
Ocean. (LFA sonar can be heard over an even larger area, but this figure is based on noise
levels shown to actually affect whales and fish).
Noise from just a single seismic survey can flood through a region of almost 300,000
sq.km, raising noise levels 100 times higher, continuously for days at a time (IWC 2004).
Loud air guns with a sound level of 200 to 250 decibels are used for seismic surveys
by the oil and gas industry to find oil up to 10km underneath the ocean floor.
Seismic noise from eastern Canada measured 3,000 km away in the middle of the Atlantic was
the loudest part of the background noise heard underwater (Nieukirk et al. 2004).
Ocean background noise levels have doubled every decade for the last six decades in some
areas, mainly due to shipping (IWC 2004).
Such noise can prevent fish, whales, and dolphins from hearing their prey or predators, from
avoiding dangers, from navigating or orienting to important habitat, from finding mates that
are often widely spread out, or from staying in acoustic contact with their young or their
Whale calls seem to be becoming increasingly drowned out by our noise (Nieukirk et al. 2004).
What kinds of impacts from noise on marine life have been found?
Recently, noise has been shown to be deadly for at least some species of whales. The
evidence linking intense military sonars with fatal whale strandings is undeniable
(e.g. Frantzis 1998; Jepson et al. 2003).
The International Whaling Commission's Scientific Committee noted "there is now compelling
evidence implicating military sonar as a direct impact on beaked whales in particular"
Even a U.S. Navy-commissioned report stated that "the evidence of sonar causation [of
whale beachings] is, in our opinion, completely convincing." (Levine et al. 2004)
Often whales show bleeding around their brain, in their ears, in other structures to do
with hearing, and in other organs of their body (e.g. NOAA and U.S. Navy 2001; Fernandez
et al. 2005).
Mass strandings of certain types of whale increased dramatically after 1961 when more
powerful naval sonars began to be used (Friedman 1989).
Seismic air guns have been thought to cause whale strandings as well (Taylor et al. 2004;
Engel et al. 2004).
Even giant squid have apparently mass stranded because of air guns, suffering massive
internal injuries and badly damaged ears (MacKenzie 2004).
Many sub-lethal effects have also been documented. These may be as serious as lethal
effects, because they may affect more animals yet be harder to detect. Seismic air guns
have been shown to severely damage fish ears, most likely permanently, at distances of
from 500m to several kilometers from seismic surveys (McCauley et al. 2003).
Reduced catch rates of 50-80% and fewer fish near seismic surveys have been reported in
species such as cod, haddock, rockfish, herring, and blue whiting (Engas et al. 1996;
Dalen and Knutsen 1987; Lokkeborg 1991; Slotte et al. 2004; Skalski et al. 1992).
These effects can last up to five days after exposure and at distances of more than 30 km
from a seismic survey. Increases in stress hormones (Santulli et al. 1999) and strong
behavioral reactions have been observed in fish due to noise. Day-to-night movements of
fish were changed near air guns (Wardle et al. 2001).
Fish also showed reactions like dropping to deeper depths, becoming motionless, becoming
more active, or forming a compact school (Dalen and Knutsen 1987; McCauley et al. 2000;
Pearson et al. 1992; Santulli et al. 1999; Skalski et al. 1992; Slotte et al. 2004).
Snow crabs under seismic noise conditions showed bruised organs, abnormal ovaries along
with bleeding, stress, delayed embryo development, and smaller larvae (DFO 2004).
Andre, M, Kamminga, C., and Ketten, D. 1997. Are low-frequency sounds a marine hazard:
a case study in the Canary Islands. Underwater Bio-sonar and Bioacoustics Symposium,
Balcomb, K.C. and Claridge. D.E. 2001. A mass stranding of cetaceans caused by naval sonar
in the Bahamas. Bahamas J. of Science 8(2): 1-12.
Bryant, P.J., C.M. Lafferty, and S.K. Lafferty. 1984. Reoccupation of Laguna Guerrero
Negro Baja California, Mexico, by gray whales. Pp. 375-386 in M.L. Jones, S.L. Swartz,
and S. Leatherwood (eds.). The Gray Whale Eschrictius robustus. Academic Press, Orlando,
Florida. 600 pp.
Dalebout, M. L, Robertson, K. M., Frantzis, A., Engelhaupt, D., Mignucci-Giannoni, A.,
RosarioDelestre, R. J., and Baker, C. Scott. In Press. Worldwide structure of mtDNA
diversity among CuvierÕs beaked whales (Ziphius cavirostris): implications for threatened
populations. Molecular Ecology.
Dalen, J. and Knutsen, G. M. 1987. Scaring effects on fish and harmful effects on eggs,
larvae and fry by offshore seismic explorations. Pp. 93-102. In: Merklinger, H. M. (Ed.).
Progress in Underwater acoustics. New York: Plenum Press.
Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO). 2004. Potential impacts of seismic energy on
snow crab. DFO Can. Sci. Advis. Sec. Habitat Status Report 2004/003.
Engel, M. H., Marcondes, M. C. C., Martins, C. C. A., Luna, F. O., Lima, R. P., and Campos,
A. 2004. Are seismic surveys responsible for cetacean strandings? An unusual mortality
of adult humpback whales in Abrolhos Bank, northeastern coast of Brazil. Paper SC/56/E28
presented to IWC Scientific Committee, Sorrento, Italy (unpublished). [Available from the
Office of the Journal of Cetacean Research and Management.]
Engas, A. Lokkeborg, S., Ona, E., and Soldal, A.V. 1996. Effects of seismic shooting on
local abundance and catch rates of cod (Gadus morhua) and haddock (Melanogrammus
aeglefinus). Can. J. Aquat. Sci. 53: 2238-2249.
Fernandez, A., Edwards, J. F., Rodriguez, F., Espinosa de los Monteros, A., Herraez, P.,
Castro, P., Jaber, J. R., Martin, V., and Arbelo, M. 2005. "Gas and fat embolic syndrome"
involving a mass stranding of beaked whales (Family Ziphiidae) exposed to anthropogenic
sonar signals. Vet Pathol 42:446Š457.
Frantzis, A. 1998. Does acoustic testing strand whales? Nature 392: 29.
Friedman, N. 1989.The Naval Institute Guide to World Naval Weapons Systems. Annapolis, MD:
Naval Institute Press, pp. 380-382.
International Whaling Commission Scientific Committee (IWC/SC). 2004. Annex K: Report of
the Standing Working Group on Environmental Concerns. Annual IWC meeting, Sorrento, Italy,
29 June - 10 July 2004. 56 pp.
Johnson, J. S. 2003. SURTASS LFA environmental compliance experience. Presentation at ECOUS
(Environmental Consequences of Underwater Sound), May 12-16, San Antonio, Texas.
Send an email to Prime Minister Helen Clark
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Whales have moved away from their feeding and mating grounds (Bryant et al. 1984;
Morton and Symonds 2002; Weller et al. 2002), moved away from their migration route
(Richardson et al. 1995), and have changed their calls due to noise (Miller et al. 2000).
They have blundered into fishing nets (Todd et al. 1996) or were unable to avoid ships
(Andre et al. 1997) most likely due to hearing damage as a result of noise.
Indications of increased stress and a weakened immune system following noise broadcasts were
also shown for a whale and dolphin (Romano et al. 2004).
Are these impacts serious?
Certainly deaths of individuals are serious, particularly in endangered species. But
impacts on populations, even non-lethal ones, can severely affect species survival.
The International Whaling Commission's Scientific Committee noted "... repeated and
persistent acoustic insults [over] a large area ... should be considered enough to cause
population level impacts." (IWC 2004).
Population impacts are hard to detect in animals as difficult to study as marine mammals,
but noise has been thought to contribute to several whale species' decline or lack of
recovery (NMFS 2002; Weller et al. 2002).
Anything that interferes with a marine animal's ability to detect biologically important
sounds could have a negative effect on its survival and the health of its populations.
Reef fish larvae, for instance, use sound to orient toward or select suitable habitat
(Simpson et al. 2005).
Certain whale species, such as beaked whales, could be highly threatened by noise not
only because of their apparent sensitivity, but also because they seem to occur in small
isolated populations that stay in the same area all year (Dalebout et al., in press),
making them more vulnerable to local extinctions.
Indeed, the best population data we have from the Bahamas 2000 stranding indicates that
almost the entire local population either moved away permanently or were killed by a
single military sonar event (Balcomb and Claridge 2001).
It is possible, even probable, that other local beaked whale populations have disappeared
without our knowing it, since these are the most shy and difficult to study of all whales.
The impacts of noise can work cumulatively or synergistically with other environmental
threats. For instance, human impacts on marine ecosystems such as over-fishing,
eutrophication, climate change, and ultraviolet radiation interact to produce a magnified
effect (Worm et al. 2002; Lotze and Worm 2002).
Noise could interact with marine mammal by-catch or ship collisions, preventing animals
from sensing fishing gear or oncoming ships.
It is impossible to know what the effects of noise are on the entire marine ecosystem, but
from what we know now, the consequences could be far-ranging and severe.
Noise has killed and deafened marine animals, caused them to move away from important
breeding and feeding areas, and produced declines in fisheries' catch rates.
Ocean noise is getting dramatically louder every decade. It is time to start listening.
The Maui dolphin Cephalorhynchus hectori maui
is endemic to the west coast of the North Island of New Zealand. It is critically endangered
with no more than 100 remaining. Dead dolphins have washed ashore after being entangled in
fishing nets, which may have happened after being disoriented by ocean noise.
Jepson, P. D., Arbelo, M., Deaville, R., Patterson, I. A. P., Castro, P., Baker, J. R.,
Degollada, E., Ross, H. M., Herraez, P., Pocknell, A. M., Rodriguez, F., Howie, F. E.,
Espinosa, A., Reid, R. J., Jaber, J. R., Martin, V., Cunningham, A. A., and Fernandez, A.
2003. Gas-bubble lesions in stranded cetaceans. Nature 425: 575-576.
Levine, H., Bildsten, L, Brenner, M., Callan, C., Flattˇ, S., Goodman, J., Gregg, M., Katz,
J., Munk, W., Weinberger, P. 2004. Active Sonar Waveform. JSR-03-200. Report from MITRE
Corporation, JASON program, for the Office of Naval Research.
Lækkeborg, S. 1991. Effects of a geophysical survey on catching success in longline
fishing. ICES (CM) B:40.
Lotze, H. K. and Worm, B. 2002. Complex interactions of climatic and ecological controls
on macroalgal recruitment. Limnol. Oceanogr. 47: 1734-1741.
MacKenzie, D. 2004. Seismic surveys may kill giant squid. New Scientist.com news service,
22 Sept. New Scientist
McCauley, R.D., Fewtrell, J, Duncan, A. J., Jenner, C., Jenner, M.-N., Penrose, J.D.,
Prince, R. I. T., Adhitya, A., Murdoch, J., and McCabe, K. 2000. Marine seismic surveys:
analysis and propagation of air-gun signals; and effects of air-gun exposure on humpback
whales, sea turtles, fishes and squid. CMST 163, Report R99-15, prepared for the Australian
Petroleum Production Exploration Association from the Centre for Marine Science and
Technology, Curtin University, Perth, Western Australia.
McCauley, R.D., Fewtrell, J., and Popper, A.N. 2003. High intensity anthropogenic sound
damages fish ears. J. Acoust. Soc. Am. 113 (1): 638-642.
Miller, P.J.O., N. Biasson, A. Samuels, and P.L. Tyack. 2000. Whale songs lengthen in
response to sonar. Nature 405: 903.
Morton, A.B. and H.K. Symonds. 2002. Displacement of Orcinus orca (L.) by high
amplitude sound in British Columbia. ICES J. Marine Science 59: 71-80.
National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS). 2002. Status Review under the Endangered Species
Act: Southern Resident Killer Whales (Orcinus orca). National Oceanic and Atmospheric
Administration Technical Memorandum NMFS NWAFSC-54, Seattle, WA. 131 pp.
Nieukirk, S. L., Stafford, K. M., Mellinger, D. K., Dziak, R. P., and Fox, C. G. 2004.
Low-frequency whale and seismic airgun sounds recorded in the mid-Atlantic Ocean. J.
Acoust. Soc. Am. 115(4): 1832-1843.
NOAA and U. S. Navy. 2001. Joint Interim Report; Bahamas Marine Mammal Stranding Event of
15-16 March 2000. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Above top: Humpback whale tail, Helen McConnell, Crown Copyright © Department of