“It’s an emotional issue for a lot
of people,” Rice said. “Certainly, no
one likes to see pictures of dead
whales on the beach. … The Navy
is going to abide by the science.
That’s why it’s spending so much.
There is no scientific evidence that
sonar is killing them.”
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
(NOAA), roughly 1,500 cetaceans —
whales, dolphins and porpoises —
strand themselves along the U.S.
coastlines each year. In 2004, NOAA
reported that more than 1,200 died
as a result of the strandings, but what
caused those strandings is largely
According to a presentation given
by U.S. Fleet Forces Environmental
Acoustics Manager Jene Nissen May
29 aboard the guided-missile de-
stroyer USS Mitscher, 2. 9 million
marine mammals died in the past
decade because of commercial fish-
ing, 14,140 died from injury or ill-
ness and 12,500 were killed by com-
mercial harvest. He said the strand-
ings of 37 cetaceans were linked to
sonar use during that same period.
March 2000 marked a turning
point in the Navy’s acceptance of the
impact of sonar on marine mammal
behavior. That month, 17 whales were stranded in the
Bahamas during a U.S. naval exercise. Six animals died; 10
were returned to the ocean alive.
Necropsies of some of the whales showed “auditory
structural damage … specifically bloody effusions or
hemorrhages near and around the ears,” according to a
Two showed hemorrhages in the spaces between their
brains and their skulls. Reporting scientists concluded that
the hemorrhages themselves were not fatal, but they could
“have compromised hearing or navigational abilities,
resulting in disorientation and subsequent stranding.”
The Navy took responsibility for the strandings and
altered its training in that area, near Grand Bahama
and Great Abaco islands. That region, the service says,
has unique environmental features, including shallow
bathymetry and a constricted channel with limited
egress, which likely contributed to the sonar exercise’s
effects on the marine mammals.
It also encouraged commanders to examine the terrain
and bathymetry of other regions, and advised that if it is
Ships Serviceman Seaman Tanya Sylvester stands the starboard lookout as
part of the medium-frequency active sonar mitigation measures aboard the
guided-missile destroyer USS Howard April 11. Howard and the Ronald
Reagan Carrier Strike Group were conducting the Joint Task Force Exercise in
the Pacific in preparation for deployment.
“We think the district court’s injunction was a major
step forward and it meaningfully increased protection for
marine mammals. … The court considered the evidence
and it didn’t give the Navy everything it asked for, neither
did it give us everything we wanted,” Jasny said.
Currently, the Navy must comply with the additional regulations stipulated in the injunction. Under normal training, the Navy adheres to 29 practices it says
reduce sonar impact on marine mammals. Such mitigation measures include posting lookouts on deck,
using passive sonar to listen for marine mammals and
powering down sonar if marine mammals are sighted.
Environmentalists say the mitigation factors mainly
provide a small safety zone around ships.
The Navy argues that these factors show the service
is committed to being stewards of the environment.
But environmental stewardship has not always been
a Navy mantra. The service has used the same basic
mid-frequency active sonar since the 1960s, and it has
only recently admitted a link between mid-frequency
sonar use and marine mammal strandings.