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Ocean Issues

Focusing on the effects of human noise on ocean life.

This is page 5 of the Ocean Issues Archives, dated March 2006-May 2007. [GO TO MOST RECENT OCEAN ARCHIVES]

See also AEI's Special Reports on Ocean Issues, including Active Sonars and International Whaling Commission annual meetings: [GO THERE]

Delta Whales Back to Sea, Leaving Scientists with New Lessons Amid Concerns About Ocean Noise - After spending over two weeks in the Sacramento River Delta, two humpback whales appear to have returned to the sea under the cover of night. The extended rescue effort, which included using sound to both lure the whales seaward and to herd them away from heading upstream or into side rivers, gave scientists their most extended observations ever of specific wild humpbacks. Among the new information gathered is a sense of how long the whales can be in fresh water, and a reaffirmation that whatever our best intentions, they will move when they choose. As Bernie Krause said, after early efforts to lure them with humpback sounds failed, "Try and humanize them and you're going to have human expectations they cannot deliver. They're going to do what they're going to do. They're wild." Meanwhile, marine bioacousticians sounded notes of concern about the fact that these now-famous whales are returning to a sea in which increasing human noise is continuing to cause wide-ranging impacts. Sources: Sacramento Bee, 5/27/07 [READ ARTICLE] LA Times, 5/31/07 [READ ARTICLE] San Jose Mercury News, 5/31/07 [READ ARTICLE] Post-Star/McClatchy Newspapers, 6/4/07 [READ ARTICLE] Sacramento Bee/Modesto Bee, 5/31/07 [READ ARTICLE]

Bouys to Monitor Whales During LNG Terminal Construction - Next month, a Texas-based company plans to begin construction on an off-shore liquefied natural gas terminal in Massachusetts Bay. Excelerate Energy got the go-ahead late last year...after agreeing to fund an almost 17-million dollar system to protect the whales that inhabit these waters. Using specially designed acoustic buoys, scientists will monitor and record the sounds of the whales. It's a joint effort from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Cornell Ornithology Lab. Cornell's Chris Tremblay says, "If an animal calls in this array, we can triangulate its position using its call, and we can see where that overlapped with this zone of high volume noise that comes from the construction activities. So, where that overlaps is where the harassment takes place and that's what we're trying mitigate." Source: WBUR, 4/30/07 [READ ARTICLE]

Coast Guard EIS Highlights Impacts from LNG Terminal - A proposed offshore Liquified Natural Gas terminal to be built off the coast of southern California would be loud enough to affect boaters three miles away and perhaps scare whales from their coastal migration route, according to a 3,000-page final environmental impact report prepared by the U.S. Coast Guard, California State Lands Commission and U.S. Maritime Administration. Public hearings over the next 70 days will address plans for the first LNG Terminal on the US west coast. Among concerns noted in the report are increased air pollution, risks of explosion or terror attack, and noise issues. The 971-foot long gas-processing vessel, moored 14 miles offshore, would unload 800 million cubic feet of natural gas per day from tankers, and pump the gas to shore via underwater pipes. Noise from construction and operation of the facility — including helicopters, ships and machinery — could affect marine mammals; the report calls for greater use of sound-reducing technologies and changes in operations during gray whale migrations. It projects that the noise would be loud enough to interfere with ship-board conversations a half mile away. Source: LA Times, 3/10/07 [READ ARTICLE]
RELATED: NMFS Needs More Info on Noise Impacts of California LNG Terminal - The National Marine Fisheries Service has told the United States Coast Guard that it cannot sign off on plans for a liquefied natural gas terminal proposed for the Malibu coastline, because it has not been given enough information about how Cabrillo Port will impact sea animals. The decision could further delay or cause more serious problems for BHP Billiton’s request to anchor an $800 million, aircraft-carrier-sized LNG terminal off the coast. And as a result, some commercial whalewatchers along the Central California coast are suddenly watching Cabrillo Port warily. Cabrillo Port’s construction and eventual 24/7 gas boiler operations could be loud enough to cause migrating whales to avoid Santa Monica Bay and the Santa Barbara Channel, traveling instead on the far side of the Channel Islands. “If this thing scares the whales away, they will elect to completely by pass the channel and migrate outside the back of the islands,” said Santa Barbara whaleboat Capt. Dennis Longaberger. “That could completely destroy us.” Source: Malibu Surfside News, 2/15/07 [READ ARTICLE]
RELATED: California Coastal Commission Unanimously Rejects LNG Terminal - The CCC has dealt another blow to the proposed Malibu LNG terminal, voting 12-0 to reject the proposal. With the vote, the CCC joined the California Lands Commission in calling the environmental impact analysis deeply flawed. In addition to providing no mitigation to address birds attracted to lights, Sarah Wan noted that the terminal would generate noise higher than 120dB in over 300 square miles of ocean water, through which whales migrate. The decision is expected to be challenged. BHP Billiton officials said they would consider their next move over the next few days. The company has 30 days to appeal to U.S. Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez. The day before the hearing, BHP Billiton tried to prevent the commission from reviewing the project and also urged the federal Maritime Administration to halt an ongoing federal review of the project. Source: LA Times, 4/13/07 [READ ARTICLE]

BC Seismic Survey Cancelled - An academic seismic survey scheduled to take place this fall in fjords and intercoastal waterways of British Columbia has been cancelled by Canadian regulators. The National Science and Engineering Research Council has withdrawn its application for an environmental assessment of seismic testing to explore how batholiths -- large bodies of rock -- interact with the pre-existing crust of the continents. "We are very disappointed. I have put in probably more than a year of my time cumulatively trying to get this thing to go and it's very frustrating and disappointing we have to take this decision," said Ron Clowes, geophysics professor at the University of British Columbia. Dr. Clowes said Fisheries and Oceans Canada claims there is a lack of sufficient and appropriate data to determine whether testing would result in harm to marine creatures, particularly those recently listed under the Species At Risk Act, including orcas, fin whales and humpback whales. The steep slopes of the surrounding coastline, combined with the biological richness of the intercoastal waters make it extremely difficult to predict how sound will propagate and so therefore what sound levels animals may be exposed to. "One of the things we were going to do was move the whales out of the way. That's standard mitigation procedure all over the world," said Clowes. (ed. note: while it is common practice to assume whales will stay away from loud sound sources, it is not general practice to actively try to make whales move away from seismic vessels; this could have been a way that project planners were attempting to address concerns about unpredictable sound levels due to steep bathometry) Fisheries and Oceans estimates it could take four years of study to reach a level of certainty that could justify the issuance of permits. The researchers argued the acoustic impact did not pose a danger and that similar testing in the region in 1994 had not disrupted the behavior of marine mammals. The lead Canadian scientist told CBC Radio the project still had some funding from the U.S. government, and the researchers might see if they could collect the geological data using land-based testing. Source: Vanouver Sun, 3/22/07 [READ ARTICLE] Globe and Mail, 3/12/07 [READ ARTICLE] Canada Today/Reuters, 3/9/07 [READ ARTICLE]

North Carolina Stranding Renews Sonar Concerns - The stranding of a beaked whale on the Outer Banks of North Carolina has renewed concerns about the impacts of active sonar, particularly a proposed Undersea Warfare Training Range proposed for the region. The nursing mother whale was found dead, with bleeding from the ears; ten days earlier, an active sonar training mission had taken place 150 miles offshore. News reports are sketcy, but indicate that samples were taken for autopsy, which suggest that the body was relatively fresh when found. While beaked whales are the family that has been most susceptible to injury from active sonar, beachings have previously occurred with in a day or two of exposure. The distance and time lag, along with the seeming severity of the injury, point to a non-sonar cause for this stranding. However, it could also provide some evidence for a widespread concern that many victims of remote sonar exposure simply do not make it to shore. Source: Winston-Salem Journal/AP, 3/14/07 [READ ARTICLE]

NRDC, California Coastal Commission Sue Navy Over Rejection of Sonar Requirements - In the wake of the Navy rejecting a set of safeguards imposed by the California Coastal Commission, the National Resources Defense Council and the CCC have challenged the legality of 22 active sonar exercises set to take place off the California coast over the next two years. The sonar testing issue was discussed at the last meeting of the commission on Feb. 23 and commissioners emerged with a decision to urge the California Attorney General's office to "pursue this matter and take all appropriate action to stop it." On March 22, the CCC became the first state agency to take legal action against the Navy on the increasingly contentious issue of active sonar training; this is the fifth sonar-related suit filed by the NRDC. "We realize that the Navy must test in waters that are shallow enough to provide appropriate sonar data," Horowitz said. "But we have repeatedly requested that they simply employ common sense, reasonable safety precautions in areas sensitive to marine life." These areas would include waters around the Channel Islands, where grey whales are noted for passing through during migration season, as well as some additional safeguards at night. "The solutions are so easy to implement, and they haven't shown us any evidence that they can't do them," said Patrick Kruer, chair of the California Coastal Commission. "By rejecting simple measures the Navy is challenging the jurisdiction of the entire Commission and undermining the Coastal Act and federal coastal protection laws that apply to all coastal states. That has implications way beyond this case." Source: San Luis Obispo Tribune, 3/22/07 [READ ARTICLE] LATimes, 3/22/07 [READ ARTICLE] NRDC Press Release, 3/22/07 [READ PRESS RELEASE] Malubu Times, 3/7/07 [READ ARTICLE] Strategy Page 3/23/07 [READ ARTICLE]

Navy Cites National State Secrets, Refuses Judge's Order for Sonar Records - The US Navy has declared that records of past active sonar training are off-limits in the ongoing court case challenging the environmental protection measures employed during the missions. In considering the lawsuit, U.S. District Judge Florence-Marie Cooper issued an order for the Navy to submit data for the case on when and where sailors have used sonar since 2003. Cooper instructed the Navy to list the latitude and longitude of where it used mid-frequency active sonar, how long it used the sonar, and the times and dates. The Navy said in its new release that it refused to comply citing state secrets privilege, which allows government officials to keep information secret on national security grounds. "If you look at it in the aggregate, it paints a picture that we wouldn't want to paint for our adversaries," said a Navy official who spoke on condition of anonymity because the matter was still being litigated. Joel Reynolds, a Natural Resources Defense Council attorney, said he would challenge the Navy's position. The council and the court needs the data to ascertain how the Navy has complied with environmental laws when sailors use sonar. Source: Reuters, 3/21/07 [READ ARTICLE] Navy News, 3/20/07 [READ ARTICLE] AP/Seattle Times, 3/21/07 [READ ARTICLE]

J-pod Missing From Puget Sound - This winter, there have been no reported sightings of the 24-strong J pod, the “most resident” of the region’s resident orca whales, in southern Puget Sound. “It’s heartbreaking,” said Ann Stateler, aka Orca Annie, who runs the Vashon Hydrophone Project, a whale research project that uses an underwater microphone to detect whales from miles away. Like other observers, she believes they weren’t around because of a possible decline in salmon numbers. “I hope it’s just a fluctuation,” she added. “But I’m afraid we’re looking at the future. Is this how it’s going to be from here on out?” “The whales should be here and they’re not,” said Amy Carey, another Islander active on whale conservation issues. “This time of year, I’m usually bundled up and on the shores looking for them.” Two years ago, Puget Sound’s so-called resident killer whales — considered separate from other orca whale groups because they routinely spend their summers and some portion of their winters in the Sound — were listed as endangered under the federal Endangered Species Act. The J pod is one of three groups of orcas, totalling about 90 animals, that frequent Puget Sound; they are typically the most "resident", while the others are more transient. This year, locals have noted only ocassional brief visits from transients, who seem to leave almost immediately. Increasing boat traffic has been an ongoing concern throughout Puget Sound, though the lack of salmon is considered the primary factor in the current absense of orcas. Source: Vashon Beachcomber, 2/28/07 [READ ARTICLE]
Related: NOAA Seeking Comments on Ship Traffic, Noise Impacts on Orcas - NOAA Fisheries is seeking input on the effects of boat traffic on Orcas in Puget Sound, saying that noise could be a factor in recent population declines. Comments are being accepted through June 20, as the agency works to develop a recovery plan for the populations. Source: Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 3/23/07 [READ ARTICLE]

Listening System Could Protect Whales from Ship Strikes, Construction Noise - An inexpensive system of hydrophones developed by Chris Clark at Cornell is being tested for two new applications aimed at protecting critically endangered Atlantic right whales. Arrays of submersible bouys outfitted with recording gear are capable of recording up to 1400 hours of ocean sounds before returning to the surface for collection. Once back on shore, researchers will analyze the recordings to see whether the right whales vocalize enough to make the system useful as a whale-tracking network. Currently, aerial surveys attempt to notify ships of the presence of whales, but it is hoped that the acoustic system will be cheaper and better at spotting whales. NOAA is also considering using the "pop-ups", as they are nicknamed, as a monitoring system during construction of a LNG terminal off the coast of Massachusetts, to track any changes in whale acoustic behavior and to tell if whales are close enough to be injured by close exposure to high levels of noise. While some shipping companies are reluctant to slow down for right whales, others are embracing the new information. “It’s a pretty groundbreaking thing to actually have these companies in a situation where they might have to do monitoring and mitigation, where previously they’ve been able to do what they want,” she said. Hopefully this project will get underway before it’s too late — today only about 350 North Atlantic Right Whales exist, and every death is another huge step towards extinction. “Basically if we could prevent the death of two females per year that could cause their population decline to level out,” says Cornell researcher Ingrid Biedron, “So every ship strike could be the one that causes extinction, and every one that is prevented could be the one that causes the population to level out or even start increasing.” Sources: Cornell Daily Sun, 2/28/07 [READ ARTICLE] AP/Portland Press Herald, 2/10/07 [READ ARTICLE]

Alaskan Offshore Seismic Plans Shape up for 2007 - Shell has announced plans for further seismic surveys this summer in the Chuckchi and Beaufort Seas off Alaska's North Slope. The surveys will be 50-60 miles offshore; Shell will work with the Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission to adaptively adjust the seismic program, "to fit our seismic program into a schedule that does not affect the hunt,” according to Rick Fox, Shell's Alaskan program manager. According to Fox, the 2006 Chukchi seismic program had not impacted the hunt, although three different companies were all acquiring seismic. “When we went back for the post-season reviews, the villagers on the Chukchi Sea declined … because they saw no impact,” he said. Last year's survey permits from NMFS directed companies to watch for bowhead calf/cow pairs that could be exposed to sound loud enough to make them change course (120db); this provision was challenged in court, with a final decision still pending. This summer, Shell will initiate a multi-platform marine mammal monitoring program aimed at clarifying migration routes and noting any changes in response to seismic activity. Seventy ship-board observers, five passive acoustic monitoring arrays from Point Barrow to Kaktovik, and twice-daily aerial survey flights will attempt to track whale movements during the summer months. Finally, a key component in communication with village subsistence hunters will be a Shell-operated communications center in every village, fully manned by village residents; every vessel will call the centers at least every six hours to maintain communication between seismic vessels and any hunting activities underway. Meanwhile, the release of a Minerals Management Service Environmental Assessment has triggered concern among some Native and environmental advocates that a more detailed analysis is needed before approving any new drilling off the North Slope; there are important questions as to whether effective spill containment is possible in these difficult and often ice-strewn waters. Sources: Petroleum News, 2/25/07 [READ ARTICLE], Juneau Empire, 2/23/07 [READ ARTICLE] Anchorage Daily News, 2/21/07 [READ ARTICLE]
Related: Locals Sue to Block Lease Sale: The North Slope Borough and the Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission, in a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Anchorage, claim the Minerals Management Service did a sloppy job in preparing for the Beaufort Sea lease sale scheduled on April 18. The lawsuit claims the MMS pre-sale studies used outdated information and underestimated likely impacts of development to the environment and the Inupiat culture. The borough and the whalers, longtime opponents of offshore oil development, fear spills, industrial noise and other disturbances could harm marine mammals. "I really don't want to go to court over this, but there are way too many unanswered questions about the impacts of offshore activity on the bowhead whale migration and on our subsistence activities," North Slope Borough Mayor Edward Itta said in a prepared statement. "I wouldn't be doing my job if I just let this lease sale go." Source: Reuters/ENN, 3/1/07 [READ ARTICLE]
Related: Indingenous Coalition calls for Full EIS - REDOIL (Resisting Environmental Destruction on Indigenous Lands) a network of Alaska Native grassroots leadership is calling for MMS to issue an EIS. REDOIL and many other Alaska Natives are concerned that oil and gas development and exploratory activities would harm the delicate Beaufort Sea marine and coastal ecosystem. The subsistence rights of Alaska Natives must always be protected at all costs. The risks are high for potential damage therefore REDOIL is calling for MMS to issue an EIS to study the impacts of this kind of adverse activity to the region and allow the public to analyze and respond to the proposed off-shore oil and gas exploration plan. Source: REDOIL Press Release, 3/7/07 [READ PRESS RELEASE]
Related: Shell to Test Winter Seismic From Ice - In another development, Shell will experiment this spring with marine seismic surveys done on floating ice several miles offshore Prudhoe Bay. If the tests are successful, Shell will have an alternative to conventional marine seismic surveys done with vessels during the summer. The tests will be done between March and May by Shell's contractor, Veritas. Among the technical issues to be examined is whether additional noise generated by ice movements and pressure waves at the ice-water boundary will overwhelm the geological data contained in echoes of the source sound from under the sea bed. Source: Alaska Journal, 2/4/07 [READ ARTICLE] Petroleum News,. 2/4/07 [READ ARTICLE]

Deep Sea Vents Offer Clues in Sound - A new approach to studying the flow patterns of deepsea vents, using sound recording, has produced some intriguing results. University of Washington researcher Timothy Crone places hydrophones near two vents and found a varying rubbling noise that could be caused by changes in flow volume or mixing of different fluids. Crone's recorders also picked up more resonant tones, which could be produced in the same way jug band members produce sound by blowing across the mouths of their jugs, causing the air inside the jug to resonate and produce a deep tone. Source: UWashington Press Release/Eurekalert, 2/7/07 [READ PRESS RELEASE] [VIDEO WITH TONES] [READ PAPER]

Recordings Eavesdrop on Orca Predation of Fur Seals - Fur seal populations have been in decline off the Alaskan coast, and biologists have suspected orcas may be playing a large part. However, catching them in the act of hunting seals has been difficult, since much activity occurs below the surface or at night. A pilot project by University of Alaska PhD candidate Kelly Newman has returned a surprising wealth of new insight. Newman deployed an autonomous recording system that listened in on activity several miles offshore for twenty days. On the very first hour of recording, and on nineteen of the days it was in the field, orcas were heard, most often in the wee hours of the night, with 2am the most active time. The recordings belie the violence in the water. From silence, the sensitive recorder picks up a thump, a pause, another thump, then whale calls, sort of a high-pitch warble. It's the sound of a silent killer whale ramming a seal, flopping on it or even throwing it in the water, then a summons to eat. Source: Alaska Daily News, 2/6/07 [READ ARTICLE]

Navy Active Sonars Granted 2 Year Exemption from MMPA - In response to increasing restrictions imposed on mid-frequency active sonar training missions, including an out-of-court settlement during the summer in Hawaii and recent California Coastal Commission requirements, the Pentagon has taken advantage of its right to exempt the Navy from provisions of the Marine Mammal Protection Act. The exemption, an extension of a 6-month version issued last summer in the midst of the Hawaii court battle, will cover a period of two years, during which the Navy will aim to complete several recently initiated Environmental Impact Statements addressing active sonar training in various oceans. The Navy says the exemption will allow it to proceed with 40 separate training missions over the coming two years, during which it will continue to employ monitoring and safety zones to protect marine mammals. Sources: Monterey Herald, 1/24/07 [READ ARTICLE] Honolulu Advertiser, 1/24/07 [READ ARTICLE]
Two sources from Navy perspective: The Strategy Page, 1/25/07 [READ ARTICLE] Navy Office of Information, 1/26/07 [READ PRESS RELEASE] Two sources from NRDC perspective: NRDC Press Release, 1/23/07 [READ PRESS RELEASE] All-Headline News, 1/23/07 [READ ARTICLE]
Related: California Coastal Commission Adds Limits to Navy Active Sonar - For the first time, the US Navy has applied for approval from the California Coastal Commission before initiating mid-frequency active sonar training missions off the southern California coast. The CCC responded by imposing restrictions beyond those commonly imposed by federal regulatory agencies; among the additional safety measures required by the CCC are a maximum received level (sound experienced by whales) of 154dB, rather than the 173db required by NMFS or the 190dB proposed by the Navy, avoiding biologically-rich seamounts, and shutting down the sonar completely when whales are closer than 2km from the Navy ship. The Navy is taking the new requirements under consideration; if they refuse to comply, then the CCC or environmental groups could ask the courts to intervene. Sources: San Francisco Chronicle, 1/11/07 [READ ARTICLE] San Diego Union-Tribune, 1/11/07 [READ ARTICLE]
UPDATE: Navy Rejects CCC Requirements - Citing a lack of jurisdiction, the Navy has announced that it will proceed with active sonar training off the California Coast without adopting the additional safety requirements imposed by the California Coastal Commission. The Navy plans to continue to engage the Commission as it prepares an EIS for sonar training, and will employ its own safety measures. "We can be responsible environmental stewards while our sonar operators receive the realistic training and experience at sea they need," said Vice Adm. Barry Costello. In addition, the Navy said the Marine Mammal Protection Act "preempts state regulation." In late January, the Navy was granted a two-year exemption from that act, so it could have the time to work out proper safeguards. "It's ironic that the Navy takes the position that the Marine Mammal Protection Act preempts other laws right after it gets exempted from that law," said Joel Reynolds, a senior attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council. "If the Coastal Commission doesn't sue, we will," Reynolds added. Sources: Navy Press Release, 2/12/07 [READ PRESS RELEASE] Navy Environmental Assessment Statement [DOWNLOAD STATEMENT (618P PDF)] Los Angeles Times, 2/14/07 [READ ARTICLE] North County Times, 2/14/07 [READ ARTICLE]
[See AEI Special Report: Active Sonars]

Navy Launches Mid-frequency Sonar EIS for Training off East Coast, Gulf of Mexico, and Hawaii - The US Navy has made it clear that it does not want the stringent measures it agreed to after a court challenge to summer training missions off Hawaii to set a precedent for future permits. In order to establish a clear set of standards (and partially in response to a broader court challenge demanding a NEPA process for mid-frequency sonar), the Navy has announced its intention to develop and EIS to choose locations off the east coast and in the Gulf of Mexico for mid-frequency sonar training missions, and a similar EIS for training off Hawaii. Public scoping comments are being accepted on the East Coast EIS until December 1, and the Hawaii EIS until October 13. [SEE EAST COAST/GOM EIS NOTICE OF INTENT] [SEE EAST COAST/GOM EIS WEBPAGE] [SEE HAWAII EIS NOTICE OF INTENT] [HAWAII NAVY EIS WEBPAGE] News Sources: Honolulu Star-Bulletin, 8/27/06 [READ ARTICLE] Honolulu Star-Bulletin, 8/30/06 [READ ARTICLE] Navy Times, 8/31/06 [READ ARTICLE]
Related: Navy Applies for LFAS Permits - The Navy has submitted a request to NMFS for small-takes permits allowing operation of four low-frequency active sonar vessels in several oceans. The permit request is consistent with the ongoing Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement being developed by the Navy. Public comments are being accepted through October 30. [SEE FEDERAL REGISTER NOTICE]

Stringent Standards for Seismic Exploration Challenged by Conoco - This summer, the NMFS issued permit standards for oil exploration off Alaska's North Slope that called for protecting migrating groups of cow-calf pairs of bowhead whales from sound that may cause them to change course. This is the first time in recent years that regulators set the standard low enough to address behavioral disruption, rather than simply attempting to protect whales from sounds loud enough to cause temporary hearing loss. The permit issued for surveys in the Chukchi Sea called for monitoring out to distances where airgun sounds had dissipated to 120dB; previous permits had set monitoring and "safety" zones only in areas where sound is 180dB or above (occasionally dropping to 160dB). Conoco has been proceeding with the new standards, but after seven weeks of operations, filed suit against NMFS, claiming that the 120dB standard is "arbitrary," and therefore a violation of the Marine Mammal Protection Act; the federal district court agreed to a temporary reprieve from the more stringent measures. From mid-September to mid-October, bowheads are expected to be migrating through the survey area, and so may have triggered shut-down provisions. Conoco is using unmanned aerial drones, as well as manned boats, to monitor the much-larger area around its seismic vessel. The NMFS is fighting the suit, joined by the Alaskan native community at Point Hope. NMFS maintains that the 120dB standard is appropriate; despite good recovery by bowheads, long-term population health requires minimizing stress on the especially sensitive cow-calf pairs. Sources: Alaska Journal of Commerce, 9/24/06 (rules lifted) [READ ARTICLE] AP/Anchorage Daily News, 9/16/06 [READ ARTICLE] Anchorage Daily News (staff article), 9/16/06 [READ ARTICLE] Alaska Journal of Commerce, 9/16/06 [READ ARTICLE] Alaska Journal of Commerce, 8/18/06 [READ ARTICLE]

Ocean Getting Noisier, Shipping is Main Source - A new study of long-term noise levels in southern California offshore waters indicates that background noise levels have increased about tenfold since the 1960s. The results, which showed a 10-12db increase, are consistent with a similar study done further north several years ago. "If we've doubled the number of ships and we've documented 10 times more noise, then the noise increase is due to both more ships and noisier individual ships than in the '60s. And that may be because the ships are now bigger, faster and have more propulsion power," Scripps researcher John Hildebrand said. Source: ENS, 8/21/06 [READ ARTICLE]

Navy Missile Tests Planned for Gulf of Mexico - The US Navy has requested a 5-year authorization from the National Marine Fisheries Service to conduct live missile tests in Elgin Air Force Base's Gulf Test and Training Range about 20 miles offshore in the northern Gulf of Mexico. Two missile systems will each conduct two to six live shot tests per year (some of which will be simultaneous, doubling their acoustic energy), each of which will create explosive noise which could affect marine life. The Navy has established Zones of Influence (ZOI) for each shot, which define the area within which there is potential for mortality, injury, and temporary hearing loss, and will extend the buffer zone roughly 50% further outside the ZOI. The proposed buffer zones range from 3nm (5.5km) to 15nm (27km). Before each shot, the buffer zone will be surveyed for cetaceans from airplanes and ships; shots will be delayed in conditions that limit visibility. In response to longtime concern from the environmental community that there is a need to check whether mitigation measures were effective or not, an important new step will be added: a post-shot survey, which will search for signs of any injured or dead animals. Using average densities of animals in the area (which could underestimate takes if a concentration of animals was exposed, or overestimate takes, since it does not take pre-shot monitoring into account), NMFS proposes to authorize one lethal take, two takes via injury, and up to 53 takes via temporary hearing loss. Public comments on the Incidental Harassment Authorization are being accepted through September 5. Sources: Federal Register Notice, 8/3/06 [READ NOTICE-HTML] [READ NOTICE(pdf)] NMFS IHA Website (scroll down for links to documents), 8/4/06 [WEBSITE]

Mozambique Delays Seismic Survey Pending Improved Mitigation for Dugong - An Environmental Assessment for a three-month seismic survey near a marine sanctuary has recommended delaying the survey until impacts on dugong, a small marine mammal, are better analyzed. The survey currently includes no buffer zone between the survey area and a National Park and ocean sanctuary. Fishermen, tourism, and environmental groups applauded the decision, which the survey company accepted. Source: Engineering News, 7/28/06 [READ ARTICLE]

Federal Court Rejects Bush Appeal of Low-Frequency Sonar Limits - Strict limits on the training use of low-frequency active sonar will remain in place after a federal court rejected a Bush administration appeal. LFAS is currently limited to an area of the west Pacific, following a 2003 court-ordered settlement between the Department of Defense and a coalition of environmental organizations. The limits do not apply to wartime or times of heightened threat, though so far the US has not used LFAS outside the proscribed area. The Navy has applied to the NOAA for permits allowing more widespread use of the system, based on new language in the MMPA approved by Congress in 2004; this new permitting process and its associated Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement will be finalized over the next year or so. Source: NRDC Press Release, 7/26/06 [READ PRESS RELEASE]

BC Seismic Survey Raises Concerns - An academic seismic survey being planned for narrow channels and fjords along the British Columbian coast has raised concerns among some observers. "In that convoluted coastline [the research ship] could end up trapping animals where the sound level is higher than what was predicted," said Rob Williams, a marine mammal scientist with St. Andrews University in Scotland, who is conducting a survey of B.C.'s whales and dolphins. "And that could result in a temporary or even permanent hearing loss in these animals." Williams also said September is the time of year when humpback whales in the area are feeding heavily to prepare themselves for their southern migration. If their feeding is disrupted, some animals may not have the energy to complete those migrations, and that could lead to the inability of some females to calve. However, Ron Clowes, a geophysicist with the University of B.C., and the lead Canadian scientist on the project, said a federal government environmental assessment is under way to study the potential effects on whales and dolphins. He said preliminary studies done by LGL, a Sidney-based environmental research company contracted to study the problem, show the risks to be minimal. The survey is currently planned for fall 2007. Source: Vancouver Sun/Canada.com, 6/28/06 (good long piece) [READ ARTICLE] Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 7/18/06 [READ ARTICLE]

Wild Week Bans, Then Approves Active Sonar at RIMPAC - The biannual Rim of the Pacific exercises have begun in waters around the Hawaiian Islands, and will continue through July with 19,000 participants from eight nations, along with over 40 ships and 160 aircraft . In a flurry of activity during the preceding week, NOAA issued its Marine Mammal Protection Act permit for the exercises, prompting a consortium of environmental organizations to ask a court for a temporary restraining order to halt the use of active sonar. The Pentagon responded by issuing its first-ever exemption order, allowing the Navy to proceed with all planned activities (RIMPAC and several other exercises) without MMPA permits for six months, while still being subject to NEPA and ESA provisions. On July 3, the restraining order motion was granted, based on a NEPA challenge (that enviromental review was insufficient); the Navy filed to have it tossed out, but then on July 7, the NRDC and Navy agreed on additional mitigation and monitoring measures, and the lawsuits were dropped. The Navy will proceed with the exercises, using active sonar. Environmental attorney Richard Kendall called the settlement "a significant step forward in the protection of our oceans." A Navy admiral characterized it as requiring "a small number of additional mitigation measures." (ed: This exchange affirms the NRDC position, which was that modest "common sense" improvements to the mitigation plan would provide the needed protection for whales.) The Navy had planned, even under the exemption, to abide by the terms of the NOAA permit, which includes more restrictions on active sonar use and more robust monitoring for marine mammals than required previously required. The RIMPAC permit includes the use of active sonar in deep offshore waters and in the channels between islands, where the Navy is insistant that it needs training exercises, and where environmentalists are concerned about impacts on marine mammals. The final agreement adds marine mammal spotters to all sonar-equipped ships, mandates aerial monitoring for marine mammals during sonar excercises, and asks all personnel doing acoustic monitoring as part of the exercise to also listen for and report whale sounds. Some of the other additional measures that the NRDC had been advocating were not mandated; these include a larger buffer zone around sonar transmissions and using lower power transmissions at night and in times of limited visibility. During the last RIMPAC exercises, in 2004, a pod of pilot whales appeared in near-shore waters, apparently agitated, not long after sonar use offshore. Sources: (permit) Hawaii Star-Bulletin, 6/23/06 [READ ARTICLE] Navy News, 6/28/06 [READ ARTICLE] (lawsuit) AP/MSNBC, 6/29/06 [READ ARTICLE] NRDC Press Release/Common Dreams, 6/28/06 [READ PRESS RELEASE] (exemption) Honolulu Advertiser, 7/1/06 [READ ARTICLE] ENS, 6/30/06 [READ ARTICLE(sub)] Hawaii Star-Bulletin, 7/1/06 [READ ARTICLE] (injunction) San Francisco Chronicle, 7/3/06 [READ ARTICLE] Navy News, 7/4/06 [READ ARTICLE] NRDC Press Release/Common Dreams, 7/3/06 [READ PRESS RELEASE] (settlement) LATimes, 7/8/06 [READ ARTICLE] NRDC Press Release, 7/7/06 [READ PRESS RELEASE]

IWC Calls for More Caution with Seismic Surveys - The International Whaling Commission unanimously endorsed a report by its Scientific Committee that expresses increased concern about the impacts of seismic surveys on whale populations. Recent research suggests that airguns used in surveys are a significant source of noise in the oceans, at times audible across ocean basins. The IWC sponsored a pre-meeting workshop on seismic surveys, which generated the new recommendations, including a call for standardized and transparent reporting of survey activity by the oil and gas industry worldwide. Sources: National Geographic, 6/20/06 [READ ARTICLE] Reuters, 6/19/06 [READ ARTICLE] Business Week/AP, 6/19/06 [READ ARTICLE]
See AEI Special Report on the IWC 2006 Meeting

World's Largest Marine Sanctuary Designated; Amount of Boat Traffic to be Determined - The Bush administration has announced the creation of a National Monument in waters surrounding the outer atols of the Hawaiian Islands. The designation will create more protection than the previously considered designation as a national marine sanctuary. In particular, all fishing will be phased out over five years. After a 60-day comment period, NOAA will set limits on the number of days per year that research vessels would be allowed in the Monument; its initial proposal is 400 vessel days per year (e.g., 10 vessels for 40 days each). The new Monument is just a bit larger than the Great Barrier Reef Marine Protected Area, making it the world's largesy ocean sanctuary. Sources: BBC, 6/15/06 [READ ARTICLE] New Scientist, 6/15/06 [READ ARTICLE]
RELATED: Brazil Creates Buffer Zone Around Reefs - Brazil has created a buffer zone the size of Portugal around key reef areas. All oil and gas development will be prohibited in 75% of the zone. Source: Conservation International Press Release, 5/22/06 [READ PRESS RELEASE]

UK Scientists Propose Controlled Exposure Tests for Orca, Sonar - A research team from the University of St. Andrews is proposing a study that would attach acoustic sensors to orcas, in order to measure their behavioral responses to measurable levels of sound from mid-frequency active sonars. The researchers argue this is the only way to prove exactly how sound waves affect cetaceans so they can advise navies or geologists how to avoid harming marine mammals.
But some animal welfare groups are uneasy, saying the research only yields results when the animal begins to suffer. Source: BBC, 5/18/06 [READ ARTICLE]

Pile Driving Can Mask Dolphin Communication - A new study suggests that noise from pile driving can impact dolphin communication, behavior, and breeding at distances of up to 40km (25mi). Pile driving occurs whenever a structure is being anchored to the seafloor; it's long been used for bridges, bulkheads, and piers, and more recently is moving farther offshore during the installation of wind farms. There is enough energy in the frequency range used by dolphins for communication to mask strong vocalizations within 10-15km and weak calls up to 40km. The authors suggest that pile driving be limited to low tide and restricted during breeding season; they also recommend monitoring for dolphins and shut-downs when they are in the area. The use of bubble curtains could minimize the sound propagation from pile driving; studies of fish mortality during bridge building have shown that bubble curtains can be effective at protecting fish from injury. Sources: ENS, 5/4/06 [READ ARTICLE] Daily Post, 5/22/06 [READ ARTICLE] Water and Environment Journal Press Release, May 3, 2006 [READ PRESS RELEASE]

Recent Bahama Strandings Trigger Concerns - The stranding deaths of three beaked whales and two sperm whales since February have spurred Bahamian environmental groups to call for a stop to active sonar training in the nearby "Toungue of the Ocean" until the causes can be determined, and for greater transparency regarding the timing of sonar exercises and the results of autopsies after strandings. The five separate stranding incidents, each involving a single animal, is a higher concentration than they are used to seeing; the fact that deep-diving species known to be sensitive to active sonar were involved has hightened concerns. In late April, Bahamian government officials requested a meeting with representatitives of the US-run AUTEC Naval base. AUTEC [Atlantic Undersea Test and Evaluation Centre] is a comprehensive undersea warfare systems test complex and has been the US Navy’s East Coast in-water range of choice for more than 30 years. Naval personnel, Bahamian Environment, Foreign Affairs, and Health Ministry officials, and environmental representatives attended the meeting. However, ministry officials' comments beforehand ("What we want is to have...an open forum to dispel whatever beliefs are out there") and their failure to press for details—most importantly, the dates of recent sonar activity and autopsy reports—left the environmental representatives deeply disappointed. Rather than getting immediate answers, plans were made to establish a working group of goverment officials and NGOs to pursue the concerns that are growing around AUTEC, to develop a model of sharing relevant scientific data collected at AUTEC with government agencies, and establish a protocol for AUTEC to provide assistance with future strandings. Minister of Agriculture and Marine Resources Leslie Miller agreed that given the unusual strandings of marine mammals, there is a need for an independent analysis and a conclusive investigation to review the allegations and the concerns that have been raised. He admitted that in spite of several hours spent at AUTEC last Thursday, the government was only able to address their concerns about the marine life in a "limited way." Mr. Miller added, "That visit was the start of what is likely to be a lengthy exercise," noting that not all Navy activity in Bahamian waters is affiliated with AUTEC.Source: Jones-Bahamas.com, 5/4/06 [READ ARTICLE] 5/2/06 [READ ARTICLE] 4/20/06 [READ ARTICLE] 4/10/06 [READ ARTICLE]

UK Will Install Listening System on all Active Sonar-equipped Ships - The UK Ministry of Defense has announced plans to install a monitoring system on all ships using active sonar systems, in order to better avoid close encounters with whales. The new monitoring system, devised as part of a £2.5m project by the navy to protect marine mammals, makes use of the ships’ “passive sonar”, which is normally deployed to listen for enemy vessels. The Ministry of Defence (MoD), working with the Sea Mammal Research Unit at St Andrews University, has created a “sonic database” of calls used by 120 marine species as part of the scheme. It will be introduced in 2008. Sounds picked up within a two-mile radius by the passive sonar on warships will be checked against the database. If any calls are heard 30 minutes before active sonar is scheduled, it will be called off. Source: TimesOnline, 3/26/06 [READ ARTICLE]

Phillipine Dynamite Fishing May Impact Humpback Breeding Ground - Fishermen in the once tranquil Babuyan Islands are literally having a blast. Local fishermen, citing poor catch in recent months, have resorted to dynamite blasting to salvage metal from shipwrecks surrounding the islands, according to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF)-Philippines. Located about 50 km north of the Luzon mainland, the Babuyan Islands has the highest known cetacean species diversity in the Philippines, hosting 14 of the 25 known cetacean species in the world including the humpback whale, sperm whale and bottle-nosed dolphin. WWF observers report up to 6 explosions per hour, and are initiating monitoring to address their fears that the noise will keep humpback whales from nearby breeding grounds. Source: Phillipine Daily Inquirer, 3/20/06 [READ ARTICLE]

Increase in UK Sperm Whale Strandings Linked to Human Noise? - Since January there have been four sperm whales beached on the eastern shores of the UK, against only one in the whole of England and Wales last year. Dr Mark Simmonds, of the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society, said the whales had made a navigational error or an event had occurred to drive them away from feeding grounds. The increase in industrial activity in the seas in the past 50 years has led conservationists to contend that shipping, sonar and drilling activities interfere with the whales' ability to avoid danger. "Sound travels much further under water than above," said Dr Simmonds. "The whale's echo-location organs are particularly sensitive to high intensity noises. If they hear a sound that is distressing their natural reaction is to move away from it quickly. The frequency and volume of such sounds could be one factor pushing them into shallower waters." Source: The Telegraph, 3/6/06 [READ ARTICLE]


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