Navy Forum Offers Public Input On Future Sonar Activity


Picture by Sandy Sullivan taken at Jeremy Point, Wellfleet

Sonar is known to be harmful to dolphins and whales killing and causing them to strand. For every one dolphin that strands another 10 have sank at sea. The Navy is tripling the amount of sonar they will be broadcasting. This means 30 million marine mammals will be impacted!! Naval sonar tests will be conducted in all the oceans with the exception of the Arctic and Antarctic. Follow the link to comment. Please speak up for dolphins and whales they need your voice! Link to Navy

Opposition to Sonar Indian Ocean


By Edward Johnson                                                       Photo provided by KPBS

Another permit for taking of marine mammals will undoubtly be approved by the Dept. of Commerce, NOAA,and the National Marine Fisheries Service(NMFS). We made a post asking others to submit similiar objections on this issue. http://championsforcetaceans.com/2011/12/13/u-s-navy-surtass-lfa-program-and-the-taking-of-marine-mammals/ This issue will not go away any time soon and will only happen when and if conclusive scientific evidence is submitted proving that the danger of this technology is outweighed by the risks to the marine community.The following is my letter submitted to NOAA in opposition to the use of multiple air guns abbreviated (SURTASS-LFA) off South Africa and listed as being in the Indian Ocean.

Department of Commerce

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration                                                                                                                   Michael Payne Chief of Permits Education and Conservation                                                                                     National Marine Fisheries Service

RE: RIN 0648-XA792Takes of Marine Mammals Incidental to Specified Activities; Physical                                                                                                                                            Oceanographic Studies in the Southwest Indian Ocean

January -February 2012 Specified Activities; Physical Oceanographic Studies in the Southwest Indian Ocean,January through February, 2012

RE: Opposition to RIN 0648–XA792

In Sept of this year I opposed RIN 0648–XA507,  a similar request to conduct sonar testing in the Pacific Ocean between the Hawaiian Islands and Guam.  My intent here is to again reiterate concerns as well as add additional challenges that I have identified since that submission. The Dept. of Defense in accordance with what I assume is the MMPA has previously agreed to certain limitations regarding testing SURTASS LFA in zones adjacent to continental landmasses which I will categorize as continental shelves. The limit that has been established is 20 km or 12 miles. The mire fact that testing is no longer conducted in shallower waters is in fact an admission of the potential danger to marine mammals in these near shore environments. Previously, the navy has admitted to the wrongful death, based on traumatization of marine mammals,’ in cases that include Puget Sound and the Bahamas documented by Ken Balcomb. Granted these where mid-range frequency sonar systems and at higher decibel level sonar deployments but the proof has resulted in less invasive equipment, less area for conducting testing, and less deadly outcomes with living communities within all oceans, seas and bays.  A further indication of the potential compromising of the well-being of marine animals has been the establishment of some 20 worldwide marine reserves which are presently protected from activates such as those being advocated by this particular request.  These 20 global reserves admittedly are a small step, looking at the globe, 20 dots is hardly discernible when considering the vastness of all oceans and seas, this is really a minimal effort. What is significant is the admission that a need exists to preserve habitat that might be otherwise affected by adverse anthropomorphic activities in this case sonar testing.

Verification of events that have occurred in pelagic zones, simply identified as open oceans and beyond continental shelf zones, occurred last month in the Mediterranean Sea in which whales (Cuvier’s beaked whales)unknown to this area and considered pelagic stranded themselves in some cases and others washed ashore dead. After undergoing necropsies the determined cause of death was similar to what had previously occurred in the Canary Islands. http://aeinews.org/archives/1698/comment-page-1#comment-429 . The point that just because we think something is true does not mean it is the absolute truth.  The implication here is it was thought that pelagic zones adjacent to shallower water would not funnel sound from deeper to swallow. Based on what was reported the sound was heard at waters edge by those involved in rescue attempts during the actual stranding. Here is the actual quote from that article, ” rescuers in two separate locations during the initial strandings report hearing a “whistling” noise at 10-15 second intervals; it’s quite likely that this sound was what drove the animals ashore. While rare, this is not the first time that humans above the water have heard underwater sound transmissions during stranding events.”   The actual video with Ken Balcomb is included here because of the factual presentation of what really happens. http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=O9gDk29Y_YY  Granted events such as these will no longer happen because of the restrictions on sonar in Puget Sound as well as the Bahamas. However as I have mentioned the new occurrence in the Mediterranean resulting in the deaths’ of Culviers beaked whales and the fact this testing was conducted in pelagic waters bring new questions on this technology. Specifically bathymetric parameters must be considered even in deeper ocean waters adjacent to land masses. At this time I have no knowledge if such conditions are found within the identified areas of Southwest Indian Ocean where this research will take place. It would be most important to postpone this and all permits of this nature until the reoccurrence of similar events can be eliminated.

The following are lifted directly from the permit application and have been selected as points of contention that deserve diametric comments.

“Acoustic stimuli (i.e., increased underwater sound) generated during the operation of the air-gun array may have short-term behavioral disturbance for marine mammals in the survey area.”

My Comment: The wording,  “may have short-term behavioral disturbance,” is greatly oversimplified based on the preponderance of evidence claiming the opposite. The mire posting of the story from the Mediterranean last month provides factual evidence that seismic sounds most certainly can cause behavioral changes. I previous have mentioned Ken Balcomb and have found the following statement which too me expose the real danger of LFA.

“Therefore, based on two significant mass mortality events (Greece and the Bahamas) the body of evidence indicates that not only is resonance with LFA and sonar frequencies a problem for beaked whales, the sound pressure level of 180 dB RL is demonstrably not safe, and it is probably not safe for other cetaceans (two minke whales and a dolphin also stranded in the Bahamas incident). Aversion and/or physiological damage evidently and repeatedly occurs in beaked whales at levels of somewhere between 150 and 180 dB RL (probably nearer the former) of either low frequency or mid-frequency sonar signals in the whales=92 normal habitat. Clearly, the impact of high-powered rapid-rise acoustic energy (such as sonar), particularly at airspace resonance frequency, on these animals is occurring at significant distances well beyond the current mitigation distance (1-2.2 km) used by the Navy. These impact distances can be easily calculated, and they are more like 20 to 100 kilometers, and more well over the horizon of shipboard observers.” Copied from http://www.acousticecology.org/oceanlfasbalcomb.html   Here again we not only have proof that damage will occur but well beyond distances attributed as safe. At some point the applicant insinuates that the height of the boat above the water line (42 ft.) will allow for save observation of approaching whales. Based on the above the listed distance at which 160 db, will be heard is in fact more than a factor between 10 at the least to as much as 50 greater than the distance damaging sound waves will be heard . What the Navy needs to do is build ships with observation towers basically 10 to 50 times as high. This is ridiculous so this entire premise should be retracted or eliminated.

“Take is not expected to result from the use of the multi-beam echo-sounder (MBES), subbottom profiler (SBP), or ADCPs, due to the narrow and directional acoustic beam field of the MBES, the attenuation rate of high-frequency sound in seawater, and the motility of free-ranging marine mammals.”

My Comment: The term motility implies free swimming , to move spontaneously and actively. Again this is greatly oversimplified based on the preponderance of evidence claiming the opposite. Within your own documentation I have found that some species of whales will avoid those areas ensonified and in other species stop communicating when encountering ensonification.

I appreciate that individuals have the opportunity to make comments on projects that will impact marine populations. In this particular case the ocean has been contaminated by sounds which have interfered with the ability of sea creatures to survive. NOAA must stop awarding permits to the U.S. Navy and Ocean Research companies, that are injecting into the ocean, intrusive sound waves into an already confusing and damaging array of anthropogenic created wave forms.

This was submitted on Dec 21, 2011 just prior to the deadline.

Part II. Killing Columbia River Sea Lions is not the Answer


By Ed Johnson
California Sea Lion

California Sea Lions

This is a continuation of my blog of June 30 which was the result of testimony provided to US House of Rep. Hearing before the SUBCOMMITTEE ON FISHERIES, WILDLIFE, OCEANS AND INSULAR AFFAIRS, held June 14, 2011 on House Resolution (HR) 946 which if passed would allow killing of sea lions as a means of helping to restore Columbia River salmon runs.  In particular Sharon Young representing Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) made a rather brilliant presentation which is most worthy of your reading. I will include her concluding statement, followed by my own comments on additional factors that should be more fully explored before this lethal solution is implemented.  Sharon Young on HR 946, “In closing, we believe that this proposed legislation is not only unnecessary but potentially dangerous.  It is unnecessary because the number of sea lions at the Dam is down.  Their residency time at the Dam is reduced.  The percentage of fish in the run that are eaten has declined each year for the past four years even as the percentage of the same fish killed by fishermen has risen.  Moreover, other sources of salmon mortality, such as hydropower operations, ocean fisheries and the management of hatchery programs, have not been adequately addressed. In some cases, such as the stocking of non-indigenous fish for recreational purposes, the severe negative impacts to salmon have not been addressed at all.  Sea lions come and go throughout the river throughout the season—it is not a situation in which there is only a handful of predators that can easily be eliminated and thus eliminate predation. As the lethal program of the past 3 years has shown, the percentage of predation-related salmon mortality and the size of salmon runs remain independent of sea lions were killed in a given year.  Killing sea lions wastes time and money and lives and does little to benefit the salmon. But we are also concerned that this bill has less apparent dangers inherent in its language.  It would sacrifice public involvement and transparency in the name of speed.  It sets a dangerous precedent of exempting a controversial wildlife management program from National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) analysis.  It also sets the stage for a return to the vigilante action against sea lions that existed prior to the 1972 passage of the MMPA when the states employed professional shooters in the river and members of the public killed seals and sea lions out of frustration or for sport.  We oppose H.R. 946 and urge you to vote against it.”  http://naturalresources.house.gov/UploadedFiles/YoungTestimony06.14.11.pdf  The complete hearing on HR 946 can be found at:  http://naturalresources.house.gov/Calendar/EventSingle.aspx?EventID=244930

The seven page testimony makes clear and concise arguments using data from documents previously submitted as well as an item by item referencing to the specific articles within section 120 of the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) that will be violated if House Resolution (HR) 946 is passed. A point that was totally lacking in reviews written by the popular press as well as internet coverage was their failure to expose passage would severally restrict public input when such matters are subsequently considered. This would be totally contrary to what Congress had intended when the MMPA Act was passed in 1972.

Cannon Beach, Oregon, with Haystack Rock on th...

Image via Wikipedia

For the past forty years I have lived very near the Pacific Ocean in Cannon Beach, OR., and on occasion have witnessed dead sea lions at the shoreline. Recently after the occurrence of several dead pinnipeds I contacted local field workers from the Marine Mammal Strand Network to find what they had determined as the cause of death. Too often the response was gunshot wounds. MS. Young made reference to “vigilante” acts of the past but I am here to tell you that although marine mammals are protected, fishermen will continue to take whatever action deemed necessary to preserve what they consider their rightful catch. I mention this because these acts are purely in violation of the law under MMPA and offenders should be prosecuted, however enforcement is mostly impossible to this point in time. HS 946 would be a further intrusion on local sea-lion populations and only encourage continuation and potentially expanding rogue killings by threatened fishermen.

When man intrudes and makes changes nature generally reacts with some form of counter balancing. In the Columbia River, its estuary and the ocean beyond, we find this issue playing itself out. Killing sea lions may seem to be a solution however nature seems to be providing solutions that will be mentioned. Dredging of the Columbia from its mouth to Portland is an ongoing process which has resulted huge amounts of sand that must be deposited. The result has been the creation of off channel islands that became perfect habitat for birds. Caspian terns unheard of in this area 40 years ago have created one of the world’s largest colonies for that species, 16,000 last year. A number that has been rather stable for over ten years until this season when that number dropped by at least 4,000. What happened was the realization by raptors, primarily bald eagles and to a lesser degree falcons and owls, that an excessive population existed which has meant lunch. Terns, the Caspian variety, required on the order of some 300-700 salmon smolts per bird during breeding season, and have created a management problem, like sea lions. Rather than dealing with the evolvement of those strategies, will indicate what happened this year based on the presences of the previously mentioned raptors. They have patrolled the air ways and destroying nests, and with the aid of gulls eating the eggs apparently no terns have hatched, up to 6,000 nests destroyed! (note  read ,http://www.oregonlive.com/environment/index.ssf/2011/06/on_east_sand_island_at_the_mou.html for the more information including a video). I realize that my picture lacks cormorants and brown pelicans which are part of the above story, but my focus was on a predator prey relationship operating in the natural world rather than man invoking his traditional hammer, lethal force and gunning down innocent  seals. It appears that

Bald Eagle

Image by Јason via Flickr

Bald Eagles   are for this year the balancing force which could increase the desired salmon runs and have not been mentioned in any aspect of House Resolution 946.

A second factor includes Bald Eagles and pinnipeds. Local coastal explores have found cases where local populations of pinnipeds after having birthed offspring only to have their young attacked and devoured by Bald Eagles, leaving only skeletal remains. The exact species of pinniped was not identified but the possibility that again a predator relationship is being established which has long-term consequences on sea-lion populations. Sharon Young in her testimony before the House SUBCOMMITTEE ON FISHERIES, WILDLIFE, OCEANS AND INSULAR AFFAIRS, indicated that only a limited number of options had been considered before coming to the decision of killing sea lions as the solution to increase salmon runs. Here again we have an apparent exploding population of Bald Eagles along the Northern coast of Oregon and along the Columbia that is involved in the recent dynamics of species. The consequences should be in the mix before HR 946 is acted upon.

My final inclusion is that of Killer Whales,off shore and transient populations, who traditionally hunt pinnipeds, which is another example of controlling excess sea lion populations, if in fact such a thing really does exist. In my first post on this topic, http://championsforcetaceans.com/2011/06/30/save-columbia-river-sea-lions/, I made the connections among overfishing, declining sea lion populations and orca predation which had taken place in Alaskan waters. Sharon Young did not present any information that indicated Killer Whales could be any part of the solution. What she did testify was that other solutions existed short of killing sea lions as the solution. Please let congress know that HR 946 is not the answer and its foundation will be to the detriment of marine mammals as well as the public’s right to be involved in decisions impacting the Marine Mammal Protection Act.