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L112 News

This page was last modified March 21, 2013

L-pod killer whale (L-112/Sooke/Victoria) dissection videos courtesy of Beam Reach Marine Science and Sustainability School.

NOAA's Southern Resident Killer Whale L112 Stranding Progress Report - May 15, 2012

Dangerous Sonar
May 16, 2012 (KOPB)
In February, a juvenile orca identified as L112 — or "Victoria" — washed up dead on the shore in Long Beach, WA. Scientists found the carcass showed signs of trauma, but no broken bones, which ruled out an impact with a ship as the cause of death. Some environmentalists suspect an underwater explosion may have killed the orca. They say the most likely culprit for such an explosion is the the U.S. Navy which uses underwater bombs to test it's sonar along the Pacific Coast.
The Navy claims no responsibility for the death of L112, and a recent report came back inconclusive. The issue is heated at the moment, as the Navy is currently trying to renew its permit to conduct sonar and explosive tests.
The report follows closely on the heels of a Navy report out of California last Friday which projected that its sonar training may affect more animals than previously projected. That study said the testing may lead to approximately 200 marine mammal deaths and 1,600 cases of hearing loss annually.
GUESTS:
Ashley Ahearn: EarthFix reporter based in Seattle
Brad Hanson: Marine Mammal and Seabird Ecology Team Lead at the Northwest Fishery Science Center in Seattle
John Mosher: Senior environmental planner for the Navy's U.S. Pacific Fleet
Alex Stone: Project manager for the Environmental Impact Statement with the Navy's U.S. Pacific Fleet

Deadly blow to orca: blast or glancing impact?
May 16, 2012 (Watching Our Waterways)
Veterinarian Joe Gaydos of the SeaDoc Society told me yesterday that the investigators have been unable to pinpoint what caused the extensive bruising and swelling on both sides of the head, especially on the right side.
The trauma was spread out fairly evenly across the head, consistent with force from an explosion or other high-pressure impact, Joe said, but a similar injury could result from a glancing blow from a boat or even a strong impact with the tail of another whale. It was not a straight-on blow, however.
“The bones in the area where the hemorrhage occurred are not tough bones,” Joe said. “It would not be hard to break that bone.”
Yet the bones in that part of the head were not broken, which shows that the “pressure was diffusely spread out,” he explained.
Brad Hanson of the NOAA’s Northwest Fisheries Science Center tells me that NOAA operates four buoys in the general area of consideration. The buoys stay in place and sample sounds in the water for 30 seconds out of every 10 minutes. That’s one-twentieth of the time, an interval chosen to conserve hard-drive space while capturing enough information to determine if killer whales are passing by and to identify the pods if other noises do not interfere.

Report Inconclusive On What Killed Orca L112
May 15, 2012 (Earthfix)
A new report out today stops short of determining what killed a young female orca that washed up near Long Beach, Wash. The scientists who produced it for a federal agency came up with new details about the whale’s trauma, bruising and hemorrhaging, and lack of broken bones.
The necropsy report’s findings have whale experts suspicious of naval activity as a possible cause of her death. The Navy is in the process of renewing its permits to conduct sonar and explosive tests in the Northwest.
The details of Navy actions are classified but there are underwater recordings from the time when Victoria died that could provide more information. Those recordings will be released in August.

Cause of orca's demise unknown
April 15, 2012 (Tacoma News Tribune)
AP: Marine experts believe the female orca, known as L-112, died of massive blunt force trauma, but they’re still examining evidence and waiting for tests of tissue samples to determine what caused that trauma. Some orca experts, however, suspect the injuries are linked to an underwater explosion or military training activity at sea.
Law enforcement officers with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration last week began looking into the orca’s death and are seeking information from the U.S. Navy and other sources about their activities as part of its investigation, said NOAA spokesman Brian Gorman. “So far, there haven’t been any red flags,” he said.
The Navy said that it wasn’t conducting activity off the coast in the weeks before Feb. 11, when the orca’s 12-foot long carcass was discovered in Long Beach.
Orca expert Ken Balcomb, however, is convinced that the orca, died from an explosion, which he believes is most likely from military training exercises at sea.
“I don’t know who else has that powerful of an explosive device that they’re setting off in whale habitat,” said Balcomb, a senior scientist at the Center for Whale Research on San Juan Island who has studied the mammals for years. He suspects the extensive trauma found on the orca’s head, chest and side are consistent with blast trauma.
Comment:
The 3-year old female L112 was killed instantly by massive impact trauma from an explosion. That much is clear. There were no surface lacerations, no broken bones, no bullet holes, no signs of aggression by any other animal, and no indication of contact with a ship or any other solid object. Her internal organs had been blasted, her earbones were dislodged, and her brain had been vibrated into chunky soup.
So somebody set off a very large explosion much bigger than any cherry bomb or M80 used by a fisherman to drive seals or mammals away from their catch, somewhere along the southern Washington or northern Oregon coast between approx. February 7 and 9. The US Navy says they didn't do it, and they also say they don't have any listening devices along that coast that would have detected such an explosion.
So to take the Navy at its word, somebody is setting off bombs along our coast and the US Defense Dept. knows nothing about it. That fact should prompt an congressional investigation about the reliability of homeland security provided by our military.
Howard Garrett

Cause of Puget Sound orca's death remains a mystery
April 12, 2012 (KOMO TV)
Marine experts believe the female killer whale, known as L-112, died of massive blunt force trauma, but they're still examining evidence and waiting for tests of tissue samples to determine what caused that trauma. Some orca experts, however, suspect the injuries are linked to an underwater explosion or military training activity at sea.
Law enforcement officers with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration last week began looking into the orca's death and are seeking information from the U.S. Navy and other sources about their activities as part of its investigation, said NOAA spokesman Brian Gorman. "So far, there haven't been any red flags," he said.
The Navy says it wasn't conducting activity off the coast in the weeks before Feb. 11, when the orca's 12-foot long carcass was discovered on Long Beach on Washington's southern coast.

Southern Resident Killer Whale L112 Stranding Progress Report
NOAA Public Affairs
Brian Gorman at 206-526-6613 or Brian.Gorman@noaa.gov.

April 2, 2012

The Northwest Region Marine Mammal Stranding Network, administered by NOAA Fisheries, Protected Resources Division in Seattle, WA is investigating the death of a juvenile killer whale that stranded on the Long Beach peninsula on February 11, 2012. The whale, was tentatively identified as L-112 based on a comparison of its external markings with a photographic catalogue of known whales. L112 was part of the L4 matriline of L pod of the Southern Resident killer whale population, a species listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act. Several organizations belonging to the Stranding Network are participating in the stranding investigation including Dr. Deborah Duffield, Portland State University, Jessie Huggins, Cascadia Research Collective, Dyanna Lambourn, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife Marine Mammal Investigations, Amy Traxler, The Whale Museum, Dr. Joe Gaydos, University of California SeaDoc Society, and Dr. Stephen Raverty, Animal Health Center in British Columbia.

Initial Examinations
Portland State University, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, and Cascadia Research Collective conducted the post-mortem examination of the whale in the field on February 12, 2012. The team collected morphometric data, photographs and tissues for analysis. Samples were submitted for genetic analysis to confirm the whale’s identification as a Southern Resident. Observations indicate the animal was moderately decomposed but likely dead for less than a week when found. The investigative team has not yet determined a cause of death for this animal but examiners found extensive hemorrhage in the soft tissues of the chest, head and right side of the body. Photographs from the examination and a preliminary report of observations by the field team have been posted online at: Cascadia Research.

The head was collected, frozen, and later scanned at the VCA Veterinary Specialty Center of Seattle. The Computed Tomography (CT) data collected by the scanner are being analyzed by veterinary radiologists, Dr. Tori Mcklveen, VCA and Dr. Sophie Dennison-Gibby, NOAA Fisheries. After scanning, Dr. Gaydos & Dyanna Lambourn led a team that performed a forensic dissection of the head at the Friday Harbor Laboratory on March 6-7th, 2012.

The skeletal remains from the field examination were transferred to the Whale Museum for further cleaning and examination. Over a 3-day period in mid-February, the flesh adhering to the bones was removed and the bones were secured to racks to be cleaned in sea water. During handling, museum staff examined the bones for any obvious fractures but none were found. After soaking the bones they will be further cleaned, dried, and re-examined. Any minor fractures that are found will be documented, photographed, and noted in the final examination report. Whale Museum has requested authorization from NOAA to retain L-112’s skeleton and skull to be used for exhibit and educational purposes at the Museum.

Environmental Conditions
Based on the approximate date of death, NOAA Fisheries and the NOAA Hazardous Materials Response Division reviewed environmental data from early February and found that prevailing wind and currents, between February 1 and February 11 were predominantly from the south. In addition, local current conditions are largely influenced by eddies flowing northward from the mouth of the Columbia River. This indicates that the animal likely died near the Columbia River or to the south and could have drifted a substantial distance before being cast ashore on Long Beach. Other environmental factors that are being researched include; earthquakes and if they could cause trauma or disorientation and sea surface temperature. Diet studies are underway to further investigate winter feeding habits.

Human Activities
We are seeking information from a variety of sources in an attempt to identify whether human activities may have contributed to the injuries we observed. Communication with the United States Navy, Canadian Navy, United States Coast Guard, United States Air Force, and fisheries managers is on-going or being initiated. NOAA Fisheries has reviewed reports received by the Marine Mammal Authorization Program from commercial fishing vessels between January and February 2012 and found that no incidental mortality or injuries involving killer whale(s) was reported anywhere on the west coast during this timeframe.

Sample Analysis
Cascadia Research Collective is managing distribution of samples, sample data, and the dissemination of results to the investigation team. Parasites, bacteriology, and food habit samples have been sent to several labs for analysis and results are pending. Histopathology samples collected during the post mortem examination and head dissection will be analyzed by the Oregon State University School of Veterinary Medicine and Dr. Raverty. The results of these analyses, which are likely to take several weeks to compile, will be used to supplement the preliminary findings from the field examinations and compiled into a report, possibly for publication. Submission of contaminant, virology, and biotoxin samples are also pending. Information collected by the Stranding Network and NOAA Fisheries Protected Resources is being shared with the NOAA Fisheries Office for Law Enforcement which is conducting an independent enforcement investigation of the event. Media inquiries for this case can be directed to NOAA Public Affairs, Brian Gorman at 206-526-6613 or Brian.Gorman@noaa.gov who can provide updates as information becomes available.


NEWS RELEASE - FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
March 25, 2012

Contact: Howard Garrett or Susan Berta, Orca Network
info@orcanetwork.org
360-661-3739 or 360-320-7176
www.orcanetwork.org

Navy Exercises harm NW Marine life

The untimely and tragic death of a 3-year old female orca designated as L112, who represents in large measure the hope for recovery of the Southern Resident Orca Community after decades of shootings, captures for revenue generation, pollution of their habitat and decimation of their essential prey, demonstrates the apparent disregard for marine life by the US Navy relative to training priorities. Although chemical examination of the fluids obtained from L112’s cranium and other organs has been delayed for up to several months due to cross-border permitting issues, every line of forensic evidence resulting from the gross necropsy of her carcass and the examination of her head revealed that she had been impacted by a powerful explosion coming from her right side. Southern Resident Orcas are bonded for life with their maternal families, so there is little doubt that L112’s mother, brother, and probably several other close relatives were also killed or maimed by the same explosion or explosions.

A letter to the editor by Ken Balcomb, Executive Director and Chief Scientist of the Center for Whale Research helps clarify that the Navy was acting outside the legal parameters they are entrusted to uphold when they killed L112 and probably her maternal family, and have redacted specific information on lethal training exercises they are required to provide. No killing is allowable, and yet L112 was killed. The other attached letters express the response of scientists and non-governmental organizations to these and other developments, including the operation of sonars from the dock at Naval Station Everett (in the presence of two Gray whales, a situation we alerted the Navy of and received no response), and the sonars detected from the HMSC Ottawa that quite likely impacted members of K and L pods.

The dangers resulting from international hostilities are obvious. No doubt many potentially hostile nations are deploying silent diesel-electric submarines that must be detected and destroyed if they threaten US assets. However the resulting destruction of the Southern Resident Orca Community, and a wide array of marine life, is a price too high to pay to maintain a state of permanent war. As intelligent mammals, is it possible to use our powers of deduction and reason to formulate a way to avoid killing off the marine life that sustains us while maintaining our safety and economic security?

Susan Berta & Howard Garrett
Orca Network
info@orcanetwork.org
www.orcanetwork.org
1-866-ORCANET

Center for Whale Research L112 Updates

Canadian sonar in U.S. waters - 2012/02/06

The Whale Museum's page about L112

Gray whale during sonar test March 7, 2012 Saratoga Passage

Examination of dead killer whale on Long Beach Peninsula, February 12, 2012
February 2012 (Cascadia Research Collective)

Specualtion on unsafe sonar practices continue
May 5, 2012 (The Islands' Sounder)
Saying the local tourism-based economy is "based on healthy whales," and that local whales travel all along the Oregon, Washington and even California coasts where Naval exercises take place, Rosenfeld asked, "What chance do the whales have? If there's a conflict, who's gonna win?"
Councilwoman Lovel Pratt charged that of 60 local whale deaths documented over the past 15 years, only 35 would be expected from natural causes. During this same time frame, Pratt said, the Navy detonated an estimated 150 bombs in local waters as part of its training exercises.
Council members cited the death of whale L-112, the three year-old female found dead off the Washington coast in February.
Navy spokesman John Mosher, environmental program manager, said the Navy is studying the death but was not engaged in training or using sonar or explosives in the area at the time. But according to reports, two Canadian naval vessels were training in the Strait Juan de Fuca when explosions and sonar "pinging" were heard, a few days before the dead orca was found.
Navy spokesman John Mosher told the council he did not know how many bomb tests have been requested by the Navy over the next few years, but that “nine or 10” are currently permitted as part of training exercises.

Authorities investigate whether Canadian Navy war games caused death of endangered killer whale
April 9, 2012 (Postmedia News)
Some in the scientific community, however, say the evidence is clear that the injuries preceded death.
“This animal was the victim of an explosive type trauma — huge pressure trauma,” said Ken Balcomb, a senior scientist with the Center for Whale Research in Friday Harbor, Wash.
Balcomb is convinced that a military exercise — either on the American or Canadian side of the border — is likely to blame.
“To me they’ve assassinated a very prominent individual.”
Seattle oceanographer Scott Veirs, president of Beam Reach Marine Science and Sustainability School, said he believes the most likely cause of death was “acoustic trauma” from a military detonation.

Robert Barron: Killer whales need our protection
March 24, 2012 (Nanaimo Daily News editorial)
It appears that the threeyearold female orca, which was a member of L-pod, a endangered group that lives in Canadian waters during the summer months, may have been killed in an explosion during military exercises that were being carried out in the area by the Canadian and American navies.
A necropsy found the marine mammal died from highly unusual injuries.
"The entire body showed evidence of massive blunt trauma, some sort of pressure wave that was very blunt in nature and not the pointed bow of a ship or anything," said Ken Balcomb, senior scientist at the Center for Whale Research at Friday Harbour, Washington.
Balcomb suspects the animal was killed by an explosive device, one of 96 the U.S. Navy deployed in the area in 2011.
Balcomb said he's worried that ongoing naval exercises could wipe out entire pods, including the fewer than 90 orcas that make up the endangered resident population in the southern end of the Strait of Georgia and in Juan de Fuca Strait.

Could young orca have been 'blown up' by navy?
March 23, 2012 (Pete Thomas Outdoors)
Ken Balcomb, director of the Center for Whale Research in Friday Harbor, Wash., has implied that sonar alone could not have caused such extensive damage. The researcher is quoted in the San Juan Journal as saying, "Clearly the animal was blown up."
Balcomb, in Canada's CBC News, explained that the blunt force trauma did not appear to have been caused by the bow of a ship and added that he suspects the orca was killed by an explosive device deployed by the U.S. Navy during training exercises.
"I suspect she died in U.S. waters. And probably from an explosion," said Balcomb, who is hoping a National Marine Fisheries Service investigation will provide more insight into recent naval activities. "We're seeking information about what explosions at least the navy would be aware of."
The U.S. Navy has denied using explosives in the area in February.

Details of live-fire exercises requested after orca killed
March 23, 2012 (Vancouver Sun)
The U.S. and Canadian navies are being asked to hand over details of live fire exercises and sonar use around southern Vancouver Island and Puget Sound in February, when an endangered southern resident killer whale died.
Ken Balcomb, senior scientist with the Center for Whale Research in Friday Harbor, Washington, believes three-year-old L112, also known as Sooke, was killed by an explosion — and said she may not be the only fatality.
“She always swam very close to her mother and brother, and not too far away from her aunt and cousin,” said Balcomb, who was present at an on-beach necropsy, but is not part of the team of U.S. and Canadian scientists examining tissue from the whale, which washed up near Long Beach, Washington, on Feb. 11.
“It’s probable that other animals were killed,” Balcomb said.
Military bombs are regularly dropped in Juan de Fuca Strait and sonar and live fire exercises are common, Balcomb said.

Mystery of orca’s death only deepens with new info
March 22, 2012 (Watching Our Waterways)
“It is baffling to demographers why this (Southern Resident) population is doing so poorly compared to the northern population,” Ken told me. “Something weird is going on, and that’s a consensus.
“In the early days, Mike Bigg (a Canadian orca researcher) and I were amazed that females seemed to be immortal. We just didn’t have many female deaths, and it was clearly related to their long life spans.”
The story has changed over the past 35 years, Ken said, and the number of recent deaths of females is driving the species closer to extinction.
Ken is clearly worried. Years ago, he would not have been so outspoken. I recall when Ken was a typically reserved, cautious scientist. But actions taken to shift environmental factors in favor of the orcas have been slow or nonexistent. Meanwhile, the future of these killer whales — a genetically distinct population — still hangs in the balance.

Whale death leads to call for ban on navy exercises
March 22, 2012 (Victoria Times Colonist)
An initial necropsy showed L112, also known as Sooke, died of "significant trauma," but scientists who took part in the necropsy said it was unlikely the whale had been struck by a vessel or attacked by another whale.
A CT scan and virology, contaminant and bacteriological analyses are being conducted, but conclusive results may not be available for several months.
However, Ken Balcomb of the Center for Whale Research in Friday Harbor, Washington, believes that Sooke's death was the result of naval activity, and that the orca may have been blown up.

Killer whale possibly killed by U.S. military explosion
March 22, 2012 (CBC)
Some U.S. scientists believe a killer whale that washed up off the coast of Washington last month might have been killed by a military explosion.
The three-year-old female orca was a member of L-pod, a group that lives in Canadian waters during the summer months.
The killer whale's carcass washed ashore at Long Beach, Wash., Feb. 11.
A necropsy found the marine mammal died from highly unusual injuries.
"The entire body showed evidence of massive blunt trauma, some sort of pressure wave that was very blunt in nature not the pointed bow of a ship or anything," said Ken Balcomb, senior scientist at the Center for Whale Research at Friday Harbour, Wash., about 15 kilometres east of Victoria.
Balcomb suspects the animal was killed by an explosive device, one of 96 the U.S. Navy deployed in the area in 2011.
"I suspect she died in U.S. waters. And probably from an explosion," Balcomb said. "We're seeking information about what explosions at least the navy would be aware of."
He said he's worried that ongoing naval exercises could wipe out entire pods, including the fewer than 90 orcas that make up the endangered resident population in the southern end of Georgia Strait and in Juan de Fuca Strait, between Vancouver Island and Washington's Olympic Peninsula.
"Chances are some other whales got killed too," said Balcomb.

Death at sea: speculation swirls over sonar
March 14, 2012 (San Juan Journal)
With a body of evidence still under scrutiny, local biologists remain guarded about whether the recent death of a 3-year-old killer whale is the result of unnatural causes.
But some local killer whale experts are drawing their own conclusions.
“It didn’t die of disease or starvation,” Ken Balcomb of the Center for Whale Research said of the young female killer whale, known as L112 at the center. “Clearly the animal was blown up.”
Balcomb, director of the San Juan Island-based killer whale research center, contends that the signs of trauma on the body and on the head and, more importantly, among the tissues in the rear of the killer whale’s jaw are strikingly similar to the injuries that he witnessed in a group of stranded beaked whales several years ago in the Bahamas. He said those whales stranded themselves on a beach shortly after a military ship traveling in the same vicinity passed by with its sonar engaged.
“Basically it’s what happens when you blow up the head of a whale,” Balcomb said of L112 injuries.
The body of L112, also known as “Sooke” was found on a beach just north of Long Beach, Wash., on Feb. 11. Its body was battered, bloodied and bruised, and biologists estimate it had been dead several days at the most. Sooke was a member of the Southern resident killer whales, which make their seasonal home in the San Juans and were declared endanagered under federal law in 2005.

Sonar testing raises whale worries
March 13, 2012 (Everett Herald)
Whale watchers and tour-boat operators are concerned about the effect the latest round of sonar testing at Naval Station Everett could have on marine mammals.
A loud "pinging" sound has been heard on board several different boats in the area, including the Mukilteo-Clinton ferry, over the past week and a half.
"It's disturbing, it's very disturbing," said Susan Berta, co-founder of the Orca Network in Greenbank.
The testing was first heard Feb. 29 and has been heard several times since. It originated on the USS Shoup, a destroyer stationed at Naval Station Everett, said Sheila Murray, a spokeswoman for the Northwest region of the U.S. Navy.
The testing has been done on and off for years but is relatively infrequent and only takes place with special permission of the Pacific fleet commander in Hawaii, she said.
Howard Garrett of the Orca Network said he heard the sound onboard a boat with others in Possession Sound on Wednesday. The group put a hydrophone -- a device used for listening to sounds from underwater -- into the sound and connected it to a microphone.
"It still hurts my ears," Garrett said the next day, adding that the volume was turned all the way down. "They slowly ramped up and lengthened the duration" of the pings over about three hours, roughly from 2 to 5 p.m., he said.
The group also saw at least one gray whale -- he's not sure if it was the same one seen twice or two separate whales, Garrett said.
At first, the sonar showed no apparent effect on the whale, which seemed to be feeding in the water near Tulalip Bay, he said. When the sonar grew louder after about 20 minutes, though, the whale turned and swam north toward Port Susan, Garrett said.

Navy's Northwest Range faces federal lawsuit
March 10, 2012 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer)
Earthjustice, an environmental law firm, and the Natural Resources Defense Council filed a lawsuit Jan. 25 on behalf of six environmental groups, including the People For Puget Sound, challenging the Navy’s underwater warfare training exercises in the Northwest Training Range.
"The area where the Navy trains includes the Dabob Bay Range Complex Site on Hood Canal and the Quinault Underwater Tracking Range Site situated along the Pacific Coast in the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary. The lawsuit focuses on the Quinault range which was expanded to 38 times its original size within the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary in 2011.
'Olympic Coast was designated as a sanctuary and should be off limits,' Boyles said. She added that the increased frequency and intensity in the Navy’s training in that area since 2010 is 'a big issue'."

If One Orca Whale Was Blown Out of the Water, How Many More Died?
March 10, 2012 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer)
These whales are familiar to those who live in the Pacific Northwest – the orcas spend much of the summer in the inland waters of the southern Salish Sea, and cruise down to the Seattle area in the fall. They swim close to shore and up to our boats, and we know them all by name or number. They have received endangered status and as such are highly protected as well as highly cherished, but their population hovers below 90 total, stubbornly refusing to grow. Some years they are thin and suffer from a shortage of salmon, but this year have appeared to be robust, signalling that they are finding fish (these whales never eat marine mammals).
I wonder, now, as I look at the graph and the map – are we struggling to save them with one hand, and destroying them with the other? Could it be that with all the sophisticated sonar systems the Navy uses for security that they can’t locate a pod of whales? Or perhaps a curious young whale explored the wrong thing…

Another sonar incident in Puget Sound
March 2, 2012 (San Juan Islander)
A letter signed by 16 regional scientists and sent to leaders on both sides of the border March 1 asking for silencing of military sonar in the Salish Sea was especially timely as another sonar incident occurred on February 29. Washington State Ferries Operations Center called the Whale Museum to report ferry workers and passengers on the Clinton-Mukilteo route heard sonar sounds above water. More information about the incident is available here.
The open letter was motivated by the Feb 6, 2012, use of sonar by the Canadian Navy in U.S. critical habitat of the endangered southern resident killer whales, and the observation 36 hours later of southern residents in Discovery Bay where they had never before been sighted.
The letter signed by scientists who research killer whales is posted below.

Turn It Down: How Human Noise Is Disturbing the Whales
March 1, 2012 (Time Magazine)
The residents of California’s Santa Monica Bay have some rather noisy neighbors—and they’re not happy about it. That is the conclusion of a new study which shows that blue whales feeding off the coast of California stop calling to each other when a nearby naval base powers up its sonar for training exercises.
It’s not exactly news that sonar can disturb whales. What’s different about this study, conducted by a team from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego for the journal PLoS One, is that it shows an underwater sound outside a baleen whale’s vocalization range can still affect its calling behavior. (Baleen whales – which include the blue, humpback and right — emit deep bass notes well below the ping of sonar.) Because the endangered blue whale may depend on communication to keep its family group together and alert them to the presence of food, the effects of that sonar are a serious concern.

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