95% Mass Flee; Study Confirms Whales' Mass Stranding Attributed to Sonar Invasion
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Regarding noise pollution, there were no conventional international standards and therefore, there was an urgent need to re-evaluate the environmental influences of military activities.
Previously, when researchers conducted two studies, one after the other, they found that their observations contradict claims that say military sonar has no impact on blue whales and other related species of baleen, or filter feeding, whales.
Now, an independent review panel including experts from the WCS, the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), NOAA, the International Whaling Commission, and the government of Madagascar has concluded that the mass stranding of approximately 100 melon-headed whales in the Loza Lagoon system in northwest Madagascar in 2008 was primarily triggered by acoustic stimuli - a multi-beam echosounder system (MBES) operated by a survey vessel contracted by ExxonMobil Exploration and Production (Northern Madagascar) Limited.
In response to the event and with assistance from IFAW, WCS led an international stranding team, which managed to save the majority of the beached whales; and conducted necropsies on dead whales to determine the cause of death.
This is the first known marine mammal mass stranding event of this nature in close association with high-frequency mapping sonar systems.
Based on these findings, there is cause for concern over the impact of noise on marine mammals as these high frequency mapping sonar systems are used in oil exploration, mining, and by the military.
The report concluded: "The potential for behavioral responses and indirect injury or mortality from the use of similar MBES should be considered in future environmental assessments, operational planning and regulatory decisions."
Click here to view the full report.
The wildlife associations welcomed the report and praised all those involved in the process, including governments, NGOs, and industry.
Whales Flee from Military Sonar Invasion
Whales, whose population has plummeted by 95 percent in the last century, are very sensitive to simulated mid-frequency produced by sonar-military submarines and ships use sonar to detect other vessels.
The biggest living animal on the planet depend on vocalizations to communicate with other individuals in their species over long distances. However, sonar "ping" deter the marine mammals from their habitats and damage the animals' hearing.
Using tracking tags on 17 blue whales, scientists found that the giant sea mammals would cut short dives for food after a sonar ring. After that, these animals avoid the areas where the sonar had been used.
The study also revealed that both the beaked whales and the blue whales abandoned feeding and swam rapidly away from sonar noise, missing vital time needed to forage for food.
Moreover, these whales would stop feeding for more than an hour after the sonar, which eventually caused a loss of around a metric ton of krill for the animals, researchers detected.
"For whales and dolphins, listening is as important as seeing is for humans - they communicate, locate food, and navigate using sound," said Sarah Dolman, at charity Whale and Dolphin Conservation. "Noise pollution threatens vulnerable populations, driving them away from areas important to their survival, and at worst injuring or even causing the deaths of some whales and dolphins."
"Blue whales rely on large aggregations of dense krill to sustain their extreme body size, so they continuously dive and feed throughout the day when high-density prey patches are present," said Jeremy Goldbogen, at Cascadia Research, a non-profit US research organisation in Olympia, Washington.
"Because of this, we suggest that sonar-induced disruption of feeding could have significant and previously undocumented impacts on individual baleen whale fitness and the health of their populations," Jeremy added.
"WCS and IFAW support these conclusions that add to a mounting body of evidence of the potential impacts of anthropogenic noise on marine mammals," said Dr. Howard Rosenbaum, Director of the Ocean Giants Program for WCS. "Implications go well beyond the hydrocarbon industry, as these sonar systems are widely used aboard military and research vessels for generating more precise bathymetry (underwater mapping). We now hope that these results will be used by industry, regulatory authorities, and others to minimize risks and to better protect marine life, especially marine mammal species that are particularly sensitive to increasing ocean noise from human activities. "
Added, Dr. John G. Robinson, Executive Vice President for Conservation and Science for WCS: "We greatly appreciate the efforts of the U.S. government agencies and authorities and theInternational Whaling Commission for facilitating and overseeing this process, and we are particularly grateful to the Government of Madagascar for authorizing this work and their continued interest in the outcome. Understanding what causes mass strandings of marine mammals is critical to prevent this in the future. In this case, the cooperation by industry, conservation organizations, and government regulatory authorities led to best science being evaluated by an independent panel, which came up with conclusion based on weight of considerable evidence made available."
"Mass stranding response is challenging under the best of circumstances. Together with local individuals and the government of Madagascar, we provided the expertise to rescue as many animals as possible and medical care to those that stranded alive," said Katie Moore, Director of Animal Rescue at IFAW. "Equally important was to gather as much data as possible from the animals to address the root cause of the stranding. We are pleased to see the ISRP report and its conclusions, which will hopefully be used in shaping future conservation policies."