Researchers Have Identified How Naval Sonar Is Killing And Beaching Whales

We have known for a long time that naval sonar has devastating effects on marine life but just exactly how it leads to sickness and death was a mystery till now.

In new research published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, they discovered that the sound emitted by sonar is so intense that marine mammals will swim hundreds of miles, dive deep into the abyss or even beach themselves to flee from the sounds that are literally unbearable to them.

In particular, beaked whales are one of the marine mammals that are often found beached due to sonar testing. Prior to the 1960s, beaked whale strandings were extremely rare. But once the 60s rolled around, the Navy started to use mid-frequency active sonar (MFAS) to detect submarines.

And from the 60s onwards, whales washing up on beachings became a very common occurrence. The paper recently published is a summary of what was discussed at a 2017 meeting of beaked whale experts in the Canary Islands and revealed that sonar distresses beaked whales so much that the marine mammals ends up with nitrogen bubbles in their blood very similar to what divers would call decompression sickness or the bends. The nitrogen can cause hemorrhaging and damage to whales vital organs.

The big question that was brought up was how an animal that lives in the ocean and is adapted to perform deep water dives for hours at a time can obtain decompression sickness? Well simply, the sonar is so powerful, the animals dive deep too quickly causing the sickness.

“In the presence of sonar they are stressed and swim vigorously away from the sound source, changing their diving pattern,” lead author Yara Bernaldo de Quiros told AFP.

“The stress response, in other words, overrides the diving response, which makes the animals accumulate nitrogen. It’s like an adrenalin shot.”

The conclusions are drawn from autopsies of dead whales, although a handful of animals were killed by other threats inflicted by humans, such as collisions with ships or entanglement in fishing nets, as well as disease.

The authors note that to mitigate the impacts of sonar on beaked whales, we must ban its use in areas where they’re found. A moratorium on the use of MFAS around the Canary Islands in 2004 shows just how well this works – no atypical strandings have been seen since. The researchers urge other countries where sonar is deployed, such as the US, Greece, Italy, and Japan, to follow suit.

12 Comments on “Researchers Have Identified How Naval Sonar Is Killing And Beaching Whales”

  1. And once again…humans are killing off wildlife and marine life, for their own needs. This has to stop…or we will be left w/ only humans on this planet. A sad thought.

    1. We need to understand that humans will never be able to exist on this planet alone – without other mammals, bees and other insects.

    2. We’re well on our way to that happening right now. Species are going extinct — in a global mass extinction — every day. We’re already killing nearly everything! Its devastating — literally!!!

  2. “The big question that was brought up was how an animal that lives in the ocean and is adapted to perform deep water dives for hours at a time can obtain decompression sickness? Well simply, the sonar is so powerful, the animals dive deep too quickly causing the sickness. ”

    Seems like the coming up to breathe too quickly after the deep dives would cause the bends, not the dive itself…but same idea. Sad either way.

    1. Can you read? The beaked whale almost never strands itself.. other whales do sometimes but this article (and the researchers) are discussing beaked whales. They started doing it in droves in the 60s when the Navy began using MFAS (SONAR). In the Canary Islands where they’ve stopped using it, the beaked whales stopped beaching themselves.

    1. Unfortunately that isn’t happening anytime soon. But hopefully we can go a long way in reducing the ridiculously large wasteful budget they have and spend that money in better places. Imagine the advancement of our species if the sciences and education had that kind of funding instead of the MIC. We would be a bright shining light instead of a blight on the world.

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