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Speak Up for Whales: Tell the Navy to Stop Blasting Whales with Sonar

Beached Whale – Houda Point     Photo by: Amber Jamieson

The U.S. Navy is actively using intense sonar in our oceans.  The result is that our recovering whale populations are at risk.  We have succeeded in stopping most of the violence against whales through bans on whaling.  But now, as whales are recovering to former glory, the gentle giants are again subject to violent acts.

Take action by April 27th, 2012

Suggested points to make:

Under Supreme Court precedent, the U.S. Navy may only harm whales if absolutely necessary to defend the United States from a credible national security threat.

The U.S. Navy has failed to demonstrate that such an immediate national security threat exists anywhere within the proposed Northwest Training Complex on the Pacific Coast.

The U.S. Navy’s proposed monitoring plan for whales using visual observers is completely inadequate.  Clearly, the Navy has the technology to detect whales through sound in the ocean, as that’s how whales communicate, and how they are studied by whale researchers.


Whales and other marine mammals rely on their hearing for life’s most basic functions, such as orientation and communication. Sound is how they find food, friends, mates, and their way through the under water world.

So when a sound many thousands of times more powerful than a jet engine fills their ears, the results can be deadly.  This is the reality that whales and other marine mammals face because of human-caused noise in the ocean.

Active sonar systems produce intense sound waves that sweep the ocean like a floodlight, revealing objects in their path. Some systems operate at more than 235 decibels, producing sound waves that can travel across tens or even hundreds of miles of ocean. During testing off the California coast, noise from the Navy’s main low-frequency sonar system was detected across the breadth of the northern Pacific Ocean.

By the Navy’s own estimates, even 300 miles from the source, these sonic waves can retain an intensity of 140 decibels — a hundred times more intense than the level known to alter the behavior of large whales.

The Navy’s most widely used sonar systems operate in the mid-frequency range. Evidence of the danger caused by these systems surfaced dramatically in 2000, when whales of four different species stranded themselves on beaches in the Bahamas.  The mass stranding of whales has occurred in the Canary Islands, Spain, Greece, Madeira, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Hawaii and other sites around the globe.

Many of these beached whales have suffered physical trauma, including bleeding around the brain, ears and other tissues and large bubbles in their organs.  These symptoms are akin to a severe case of “the bends” — the illness that can kill scuba divers who surface quickly from deep water. Scientists believe that the mid-frequency sonar blasts may drive certain whales to change their dive patterns in ways their bodies cannot handle, causing debilitating and even fatal injuries.

Stranded whales are only the most visible symptom of a problem affecting much larger numbers of marine-life.  Naval sonar has been shown to disrupt feeding and other vital behavior and to cause a wide range of species to panic and flee.  Scientists are concerned about the cumulative effect of all of these impacts on marine animals.  The Navy estimates that increased sonar training will significantly harm marine mammals more than 10 million times during the next five years off the U.S. coast alone.


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