Last Wednesday, about 80 dolphins beached themselves in the Florida Keys. The Miami Herald reported that this occurred after a nuclear-powered submarine used two different types of active sonar to navigate over several days as it trained off the Florida Keys last week, including the day of a massive dolphin stranding in Marathon, Florida. More than 20 of the dolphins have already died.
Last month, 37 whales of three different species died after beaching themselves in North Carolina.
Though Navy officials maintain there is not enough conclusive evidence to link sonar to either mass stranding, they admit their ships were using sonar in nearby waters at those times, carrying out training exercises for the possibility of a terrorist attack.
Mounting evidence indicates that mid- and low-frequency range active sonar (LFA) can cause whales and dolphins to beach, surface too quickly, or behave in other unusual ways. At close range, the system's shock waves are so intense they can destroy a whale's eardrums, cause its lungs to hemorrhage, and even kill it. Further away, LFA noise can cause permanent hearing loss in marine mammals after a single transmission. At 40 miles away, LFA noise is still so intense it can disrupt the mating, feeding, and nursing and other behaviors of marine mammals. Some sonar systems can generate 235 decibels. In the air, that's as loud as a Shuttle launch.
The International Whaling Commission and other environmental and scientific groups have published reports supporting the possibility that sonar has such effects
Scientists are warning that LFA sonar may threaten the very survival of entire populations of whales, some already teetering on the brink of extinction.
Last week, the Bush administration issued a statement strongly opposing international efforts to restrict sonar use, in favor of using active sonar worldwide.
"The Navy is intent upon terrorizing dolphins, whales, and other marine species with this overkill technology," said Captain Paul Watson. "John Paul Jones said that the role of the U.S. Navy was to place itself in harm's way. Now we have the U.S. Navy placing entire species of whales and dolphins in harm's way. The question must be asked, 'Just why is this LFA system being deployed?' It is only useful in nuclear submarine warfare. The Soviets are not a threat anymore. Terrorists do not deploy submarines. None of the so-called 'Axis of Evil' nations have submarines. This is simply one of those pork-barrel waste-the-taxpayers-money schemes, but this time with the potential for serious global destruction to the world's whales and dolphins."
As one of the most significant threats facing the world's remaining marine mammals and wildlife, Sea Shepherd supports all efforts to limit, and eventually prohibit, the use of LFA sonar.