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This is page 6 of the Ocean Issues Archives, dated June 2007-June 2008. [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]

Japan, UK, Madagascar Strandings Spur Sonar Speculation - Reports of unusual stranding events around the world this week are each triggering questions about possible sonar connections, despite little clear evidence thus far. In Madagascar, over fifty melon-headed whales stranded and died after becoming trapped in a bay; in the UK, 26 common dolphins (mostly juveniles) died along the shores of an estuary river a pod of fifteen strayed into, perhaps feasting on fish feeding at an algae bloom, with up to seventy more following in the hours that followed, likely responding to their distress calls; other dolphins were found dead on two other nearby shorelines within 15km, including another estuary. In Japan, three Cuvier's beaked whales have been found dead on beaches in the past three weeks, the latest of 81 whale fatalities (9 of them Cuvier's) since March. In all three cases, initial comments from local environmental groups included speculation that sonar may be involved, though none clearly match the known patterns of sonar-induced strandings. (dolphins have not generally been involved; usually there are more fatalities than the single- and double-strandings in Japan; the deep-diving melon-headed whale event in Madagascar is the most suspicious, since they are usually found far offshore and, being deep divers, can be more dramatically affected by noise.) Certainly, it is a crucial to determine whether sonar was in use nearby, but the recent tendency to assume that any stranding is sonar-related could be an over-reaction, leading to jumping on tenuous connections. Still, the seas in all three areas are far from silent. In Madagascar, a seismic survey underway 45km away was shut down after the stranding; it is not clear why some think the whales would have entered a narrow bay mouth in response to such distant noise (unless the survey was in a larger bay nearby, from which fleeing whales may have been chased--details are sketchy). In the UK, Naval live fire exercises had been taking place for two weeks, and ended mid-day Sunday, with the first dolphins apparently stranding on Monday morning and many more entering the rivers that day; the fact that dolphins died in three areas justifies suspicions that they were fleeing something at sea, through the algae blooms and fish concentrations could also be the link. In Japan, questions have lingered for several years about possible connections between strandings and US Navy bases and exercises, with a 2004 research paper finding some correlation between mass strandings and Navy activity; information from Japan is also sparse, so it is unclear whether this spring's rash of whale strandings is more than normal in that area, or what the Naval connection may be. The UK dolphins were found fresh enough to take tissue samples for testing, while the Madagascar animals were buried in a mass grave without sampling, and the Japanese whales were too decomposed to take samples from. Sources: (UK) BBC, 6/10/08 [READ ARTICLE], Daily Mail, 6/20/08 [READ ARTICLE], BBC, 6/10/08, 2nd article [READ ARTICLE], The Independent, 6/10/08 [READ ARTICLE], (UK/Madagascar) Brisbaine Times, 6/10/08 [READ ARTICLE], (Madagascar) BBC, 6/9/08 [READ ARTICLE] Global Voice, 6/11/08 [READ POST] AHN, 6/10/08 [READ ARTICLE], ABC, 6/10/08 [READ ARTICLE], (Japan) Mainichi Daily News, 6/10/08 [READ ARTICLE]

Navy Complains About Varying Sonar Rules - After routine pre-deployment training exercises in Hawaii, some Navy personnel have complained that the differing operational requirements imposed by federal courts in Hawaii and California are complicating, and at times compromising, their mission. Rear Adm. James P. "Phil" Wisecup, commander of the strike group, said the changing sonar rules "just complicate things" in a warfare area that's already very complex. "In the end, just give me a standard, and I can meet it," Wisecup said, "But if the standard changes -- and it is changing from one area to another -- as different judges interpret the law and make decisions on a very complex issue -- then we have to adapt." As a result of federal court decisions in California, the Navy must shut down sonar when marine mammals are within 6,600 feet. For anti-submarine warfare training off Hawai'i, sonar intensity must be reduced starting at nearly 5,000 feet from mammals, and shut down at 1600 feet. (The Navy's preferred approach would begin reducing sonar power at 3000 feet and shut it off at 600 feet) Off the southern coast of California, the Navy said it must post three watchstanders and two National Marine Fisheries Service lookouts. Off Hawai'i, the Navy has to have three dedicated marine mammal lookouts and at least three watchstanders on the bridge team. Cmdr. Curtis Goodnight, commander of the Howard, said while training off Southern California in March, he had cornered a U.S. submarine playing the role of an adversary. Goodnight dispatched a helicopter to drop a sonobuoy, but the helicopter saw whales in the target area. "It interfered with the training very profoundly, because I then had to make a tactical decision — do I break contact with the submarine? Or, do I take a chance that the whales will clear and that the sonobuoy can be dropped and regain contact?" Goodnight said. "So these become commanders' decisions that you probably wouldn't make if someone was really trying to shoot at you." Paul Achitoff, lead lawyer in the Hawaii challenge, said the Navy's refusal to adapt their training procedures after earlier court cases is behind the differing court interpretations. "Throughout this litigation, both in California and here, and in the 9th Circuit (Court of Appeals, the Navy's) position has been, time and time again, to absolutely reject any form of mitigation beyond what they themselves had proposed a long time ago," Achitoff said. Similarly, U.S. District Judge David Ezra last month noted the Navy was taking a "very hard line" in its request to modify his February court order governing Hawaiian training. Sources: Honolulu Advertister, 5/29/08 [READ ARTICLE] Honolulu Star-Bulletin, 6/1/08 [READ ARTICLE] Honolulu Advertister, 6/3/08 (enviros and judge comment on Navy hard line) [READ ARTICLE] Navy News, 5/29/08 [READ ARTICLE]

Seismic Surveys at Forefront of Offshore Alaska Development Resistance - A surge in lease sales along Alaska's west and north coasts has spurred predictable resistance from locals and environmental groups. While the effect of any possible oil spills in harsh waters is certainly a major focus of concerns being voiced, the impacts of the first phase of oil and gas exploration have moved to the forefront of discussions. The oil industry is gearing up to explore a record number of offshore lease areas in the next few years, and this summer, up to five seismic survey vessels are scheduled to be off the Alaskan coast, firing airguns 2-4 times per minute and listening for the echoes coming up from below the seafloor, searching for likely drilling locations. Earthjustice and the REDOIL Network, an Alaska Native grassroots organization that includes members of the Inupiat, Yupik, Aleut, Tlingit, Gwich'in, Eyak, and Dena'ina Athabascan tribes filed suit this week to block seismic exploration in the Beafort and Chuckchi Seas, challenging permits issued by the Minerals Management Service, in conjunction with NMFS. "Our culture revolves around subsistence, with numerous activities and festivals centered around whaling," said Lily Tuzroyluke of the Native Village of Point Hope, a federally recognized tribe and one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit. "When they're shooting the seismic gun, we definitely see marine mammals scatter." Sources: The Daily Green, 5/6/08 [READ ARTICLE] Reuters, 5/5/06 [READ ARTICLE] AP, 5/5/06 [READ ARTICLE Earthjustice Press Release, 5/5/08 [READ PRESS RELEASE]
Related: Bristol Bay Oil and Gas Planning Announced by MMS; CBD Vows to Stop Leasing Process Due to Critical Habitat Designation - The Minerals Management Service has officially announced the start of a planning process to consider a 2011 lease sale for offshore oil and gas exploration in the North Aleutian Basin in Alaska. The publication of the proposal marks the start of the process, which will involve a public comment period and months of gathering information for an environmental impact statement, said Robin Cacy, a minerals service spokeswoman in Anchorage. "No decisions have been made on the sale. This is just the beginning," she said. The area, which had been protected from drilling since 1990, is north of the Aleutian Islands near Bristol Bay. On the same day that the plan was announced, NMFS published its final decision naming parts of the lease sale as Critical Habitat for the North Pacific right whale. Based on this and other concerns, the Center for Biological Diversity, which spurred the critical habitat decision process with a 2006 lawsuit, also announced plans to sue to stop the lease sale planning. "It would completely eviscerate the protections that critical habitat are supposed to provide," said CBD's Brendan Cummings. "If there is actual development — tanker traffic, drilling noise, industrial disturbance — it will turn an area that is relatively pristine into an industrial zone. The whale's grip on existence is so tenuous as it is that this will likely push it over the edge toward extinction." Cacy said MMS is collaborating with the National Marine Fisheries Service on a $5 million study of the whales. Their distribution, numbers and habitat will be studied over a more than three-year period – enough time the agency says to collect environmental data on animals that could be affected by offshore drilling. “We are going to be striving to get the best scientific information available,” she said. Bristol Bay commercial fishermen also oppose drilling there. The bay, which was put off limits to drilling after the devastating 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill in Prince William Sound, has huge annual catches of salmon, cod, king crab and herring. Sources: AP, 4/8/08 [READ ARTICLE] Nature, 4/10/08 [READ ARTICLE] Mobile Press-Register, 4/11/08 [READ ARTICLE] [MMS ALASKA WEBSITE]


Bold Outline: Right Whale Critcal Habitat Red: Lease Sale 92 Area Crosshatch: North Aleutian Basin Planning Area
Map: Alaska Marine Conservation Council [WEBSITE]

Related: MMS Moves Toward EIS for Alaskan Seismic Exploration - The Director of the Minerals Management Service Alaska region announced at a recent energy and fisheries conference that continued expansion of oil and gas exploration in Bristol Bay, north of the Aleutian Islands, will trigger the need for a detailed Environmental Impact Statement, presumably to address the noise impacts of seismic surveys on the thriving populations of salmon and whales. "We've told companies that if anybody does want to come in and shoot seismic, it's very likely that we will have to do an EIS," said John Goll. Over the past several years, MMS has been moving from doing Environmental Assessments to doing full EISs of seismic exploration. Source: Petroleum News, 3/24/08 [READ ARTICLE]

Cheney's Office Behind Administration Foot-dragging on NMFS-Approved Ship Speed Limits Along Mid-Atlantic Coast - Representative Harry Waxman, Chair of the House Oversight Committee, has released letters documenting vigorous objections by NOAA to delays in approving a rule to require ships to slow down witin 30 miles of port, a measure designed to avoid whale strikes, with the extra benefit of reducing sound levels. Waxman has formally requested that the White House Office of Regulatory Affairs act on the rule, as they were supposed to do months ago. In the letter, Waxman notes that "officials working for the Vice President raised spurious objections to the science. According to this document, the Vice President's staff 'contends that we have no evidence (i.e., hard data) that lowering the speeds of 'large ships' will actually make a difference.' NOAA rejected these objections, writing that both a statistical analysis of ship strike records and the peer-reviewed literature justified the final rule. In its response to the objections from the Vice President's staff, NOAA reported that there is 'no basis to overturn our previous conclusion that imposing a speed limit on large vessels would be beneficial to whales.'" Sources: Letter from Waxman, 4/30/08 [READ LETTER] House Oversight Committee Press Release, 4/30/08 [READ PRESS RELEASE] New York Times, 5/1/08 [READ ARTICLE] TPM, 4/30/08 [READ ARTICLE]
Previous: Interior Dept Drags Feet on Ship Slowing Plan for Mid-Atlantic - North Atlantic right whales are migrating north from winter calving grounds, and airplane-based spotters are watching for them in order to notify shippers of their whereabouts. When seven adult whales were spotted off Charleston, SC, recently, spotter Patricia Naessig said, "They still have a bit of a gantlet to pass. There’s a huge amount of shipping interests in Charleston Harbor.” More than a year ago the NMFS announced plans to impose a 10 knot speed limit within 30 miles of ports; the White House Office of Management and Budget was supposed to review the rule within 120 days, but has yet to allow it to be implemented. Under the current voluntary speed reduction regime, a 2005 survey found that 95% of ships notified of whales did not slow down or skirt the area, as biologists would prefer. Ship companies, port authorities, pilot associations, the Navy and even operators of whale watch tours have opposed the rule, saying that the permitted speed would be too low for safe steerage, that foreign vessels cannot be forced to follow American speed limits or that the restriction would cost too much. They also object to the fact that private boats cannot be regulated in similar ways; indeed, increasing recreational boating is a major concern of biologists in the area. Reduced speed limits have the added benefit of greatly reducing the "sound footprint" of any given ship as it traverses coastal waters. Source: New York Times, 4/12/08 [READ ARTICLE]

Rash of UK Strandings of Deep-diving Whales Raise Questions - Since the beginning of this year, beaked whales and pilot whales have been showing up on Scottish and Irish beaches in unprecedented numbers. At least 17 bodies have been found in Ireland, and 24 in Scotland. "In the majority of cases, the animals died at sea and washed ashore in an advanced state of decomposition, which raises the question of how many others stranded in inaccessible locations or did not wash ashore at all," said Mick O'Connell of the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group. Most have been found on commonly-visited beaches, so are unlikely to have been on shore for long without being seen. In early February, several strandings took place in northern Scotland; these strandings were the first to became public, in early April, along with speculation that they may have died at seas as much as two weeks prior to coming ashore. In response to questions since then, the UK Navy has said that no vessels were in that area using sonar at time of the February strandings; it is unclear how specific they have been about the timeline in the week or two preceding the strandings, or whether they have addressed earlier or later periods, during which other Irish and Scottish strandings have occurred. While the decomposed bodies cannot provide clear indications of the cause of death, a few of the victims have been fresh; it is unclear whether tissue samples have been taken of any of the bodies. Almost all discoveries have been of a single animal. Both beaked and pilot whales are deep-diving species; beaked whales strandings have been associated with sonar-related injuries in some cases, while pilot whales are found stranded fairly commonly, very often in groups. Meanwhile, a routine training exercise is about to begin off the Scottish coast, involving 36 warships and about 70 aircraft from the UK and 16 NATO countries. Sources: Irish Independent, 4/20/08 [READ ARTICLE] BBC, 4/18/08 [READ ARTICLE] Independent, 4/7/08 [READ ARTICLE]

Eavesdropping on Noisy Fish - The National Marine Fisheries Service is turning to passive acoustics--ie, listening via hydrophones--in its efforts to identify key spawning grounds for fish species. By listening to the underwater soundscape, there are a lot of things we can determine about what’s out there and what they are doing,” said Brandon Southall, director of the ocean acoustics program at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The agency hopes that passive acoustics can help identify breeding grounds in need of protection and can be used as a tool to assess population numbers accurately. Such noninvasive techniques would be a big step forward, Dr. Lobel of Boston University said. “Without passive acoustics, they have to catch endangered fish like cod and cut them open to see if they are ripe with eggs,” he said. “They have been killing tons of fish just to find out where they are spawning.” Increasing appreciation for the wide range of fish species that rely on sound has raised some concern about whether shipping noise could make it more difficult for fish to find each other at spawning time, or for predators to find food; “The Top ten species of fish in the diet of a dolphin make sounds,” according to Joseph J. Luczkovich, an associate professor of biology at East Carolina. Source: New York Times, 4/8/08 (article includes collection of fish sounds and a nice video report) [READ ARTICLE]

IMO Considers Antarctic, Hawaiian Shipping Impacts; US Urges Consideration of Shipping Noise - The annual meeting of the International Maritime Organization's Marine Environment Protection committee included consideration of two issues related to shipping noise. The Committee invited countries to submit proposals to reduce environmental impacts of increasing tourist-related shipping in Antarctic waters, after an environmental consortium the Antarctic and Southern Ocean Coalition raised the issue in a paper that highlighted several accidents and fuel spills that took place in a 13-month period. While most of the concern at this point is focused on contaminating the pristine waters and coastlines, the relative "natural quiet" in Antarctic waters has also been noted, with the area offering some of the best possibilities for protecting the acoustic integrity of ocean habitat. The Committee also declared the new he Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument in Hawaii as a "Particularly Sensitive Sea Area," triggering new mapping of biologically and culturally important areas to be avoided by ships, and a reporting procedure for shippers moving through the area. In a related development, the US delegation submitted and "Information Document" to the committee, urging the IMO and individual countries to encourage dialogue with shipping industry and support ongoing research into the effects of rising low-frequency noise from shipping on ocean species; no specific action was called for, as this is the first step in moving the topic onto the table at IMO meetings. Sources: BBC, 4/7/08 [READ ARTICLE] Marine Technology Society News Release, 4/7/08 [READ RELEASE] [DOWNLOAD US INFORMATION DOCUMENT(pdf)]

Listening Buoys Deployed in Shipping Lanes Near Boston - Ten hydrohones installed in December in and near Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary are now active, monitoring the busy shipping lanes for whales. When a whale is heard, tanker captains are notified within a half hour, and required to slow down (which reduces noise) and post lookouts, so that fewer extremely endangered North Atlantic right whales are killed by ship strikes. The listening network will also help scientists to understand how the whales respond to the approach of ships. "A lot of the coastline throughout the world is becoming industrialized," said Sofie Van Parijs, a bioacoustician at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Northeast Fisheries Science Center in Woods Hole. You have to know what you are listening for to understand what is going on, Van Parijs said. "Most of the time, there is boat noise, and it's like living near a highway, and then every now and then you hear a whale coming through, like a bird flying by, singing," she said. Although humpbacks are known for their "singing" abilities, most of the whale sounds are creaking clicks, like a slowly opening door on a rusty hinge, or the distinctive "r-r-r-rooop" sound that right whales make. But ship noise is always present. Researchers are actually hoping for a big storm that drives all vessels to port, to record what Stellwagen sounds like without machinery's din. Sources:Cape Cod Online, 4/2/08 [READ ARTICLE] Boston Globe, 4/7/08 [READ ARTICLE] Science Daily, 4/3/08 [READ PRESS RELEASE]
See also: Project leader Chris Clark of Cornell has launched a new website that tracks whale detections each day, and includes audio and video about the project. [CORNELL LISTEN FOR WHALES WEBSITE]
Bigger Picture: Stellwagen Sanctuary Noise Monitoring to be Model for "Sound Budget" Research Worldwide - The hydrophone array deployed in Stellwagen Bank is far more than a ship-strike warning system; it is the first large field test of what many bioacousticians have been long calling for: a global network of monitoring systems that will dramatically increase our understanding of the distribution of human noise in the world's oceans, and the ways local animals respond. NOAA researcher Sofie Van Parijs says the Sanctuary is a perfect place to build a case study that can provide a benchmark to scientifically evaluate the impacts and interactions between various human-produced sounds and acoustically-sensitive marine animals. The abundance of endangered whales and human activities in the Sanctuary will help the team address many of the recommendations made by the National Research Council’s committee on the potential impacts of ambient noise in the ocean on marine mammals. The committee has cited the importance of sound in the lives of marine mammals, the potential for harm from excessive noise, and the lack of scientific data as to the amounts of noise introduced into the oceans by human activities and its potential impact on marine mammals. “We need to ground-truth current sampling and analysis techniques and identify gaps that must be addressed prior to implementing a large-scale domestic or international monitoring program,” Van Parijs said. “The products of this project will be a suite of tools designed to be transferable for use in other ecological regions or sanctuaries along with an extensive database of sounds. This project is a first step toward a much larger goal of establishing a global passive acoustic monitoring network to measure ambient noise levels in a variety of locations.” Source: NOAA Northeast Fisheries Science Center press release, 4/1/08 [READ PRESS RELEASE]

Navy Looks to Supreme Court for Sonar Relief - The US Navy has, as widely expected, asked the Supreme Court to review a decision by a Federal Appeals Court that upheld a lower court ruling imposing a larger buffer zone and other additional operational restrictions on its sonar training in southern California. The Justice Department petition argues that the restrictions jeopardize the Navy's ability to train sailors and Marines for service in wartime, and could possibly prevent certification of some naval strike groups preparing to deploy to the Persian Gulf. The agency also contends that national security interests can trump those of marine mammals, and that its use of mid-frequency sonar in training exercises hasn't caused any documented harm to dolphins or beaked whales in the waters where they're conducted. "We believe that this is an issue that is absolutely essential to national security and that a Supreme Court review of this case is warranted," said Cmdr. Jeff Davis, a Navy spokesman. The Navy specifically addressed two key restrictions: "The 2200 yard shutdown zone has a radius eleven times greater than the existing zone developed in consultation with the National Marine Fisheries Service, effectively imposing a 4.9-square mile shutdown zone around each of our ships. The requirement to reduce sonar power during significant surface ducting conditions would prevent our ships from detecting submarines in the very conditions in which submarines seek to hide, even when marine mammals are nowhere in sight." The NRDC, which is lead plaintiff in the legal challenges to the Navy's procedures, noted that the lower courts had concluded that hundreds of beaked whales would be exposed to sonar signals, and expressed confidence that the legal foundation of the rulings would stand. "We expected the Navy to seek review in the Supreme Court but we'd be surprised if the court agrees to take the case," said NRDC lawyer Cara Horowitz. NRDC feels that the lower court ruling are "fact-based" rather than interpreting legal precedent, making Supreme Court review unlikely; the Navy legal team may see it differently, as they feel the lower courts have misintrerpreted aspects of the impact analysis. Still, the dispute is over science and operational procedures more than legal issues; whether the Supremes will choose to wade into such difficult waters remains to be seen. Sources: AP, 3/31/08 [READ ARTICLE] Navy News Service, 4/1/08 [READ ARTICLE] The Jurist, 4/4/08 [READ ARTICLE] City on a Hill Press, 4/10/08 [READ ARTICLE]

Navy Releases Southern California Sonar Draft EIS, Proposals Fall Short of Court Orders - The Navy has released its long-planned Draft Environmental Impact Statement on offshore training exercises in Southern California, including the use of mid-frequency active sonar. Recent legal challenges to the Navy training, in which a circuit court judge imposed additional restrictions on use and an appeals court upheld the ruling, have been based on both the Navy's previous lack of comprehensive environmental analysis, and on the standing of the California Coastal Commission to impose its own restrictions beyond those imposed by the federal National Marine Fisheries Service. The DEIS continues to make the case that the Navy's existing operational procedures, developed in consort with NMFS, provide adequate protection to marine life; California state officials and laywers told the press that they are likely to challenge the final EIS if additional safety measures are not added. One such court-ordered restriction, a 12-mile coastal buffer zone free of sonar, was addressed by Capt. Neil May of the Navy's 3rd Fleet in San Diego, who said the coastal buffer would block ships from using sonar when helping the Marine Corps practice landings on the beaches of Camp Pendleton. To make such exercises more realistic, he said, the Navy would like submarines to try to sneak up on the expeditionary strike groups. "We will push back on anything that inhibits realistic training or strays from science," May said. Comments on the DEIs will be accepted through May 19. This is one of several regional EISs that the Navy is aiming to complete during 2008 and 2009. Sources: LATimes, 4/4/08 [READ ARTICLE] [NAVY SOCAL RANGE COMPLEX WEBSITE]
Related: Hawaii Restrictions Frustrate Navy - After conducting a series of training exercises in which recent court-ordered restrictions were followed, the Navy expressed concern that such restrictions would hamper training if imposed permanently. “[The court order] adds up to a very complicated situation that forces the sailors aboard those ships to devote more time and attention to marine mammal issues than to the anti-submarine warfare training that’s the point of the exercise,” said Capt. W. Scott Gureck, a spokesman for U.S. Pacific Fleet. Paul Achitoff, an Earthjustice attorney representing several groups that sued the Navy over sonar use in Hawaii waters, questioned the Navy's claim, noting that “There are a bunch of vessels in each exercise, so you’ve probably got 1,000 personnel out there on the water, and probably only about six of them have to even think about marine mammals, or maybe 10, or whatever, and the rest of them are doing completely other things,” Achitoff said. “So the [Navy] statement is absurd on its face.” The training impact of other additional safety measures, more substantial than manpower devoted to observing whales, including larger zones in which sonar must be powered down, were not addressed by either side in the exchange. Source: Honolulu Advertiser, 3/31/08 [READ ARTICLE]

Marianas Islands Touted as Key Sonar Training Area - Citing the need to protect global trade that travels predominantly by ship, Ed Lynch of the US Navy Pacific Fleet told the Western Pacific Regional Fisheries Management Council that sonar training taking place in the waters of the Marianas Islands is crucial to global security. The mix of deep and shallow waters provides the necessary mix, and the relative lack of whales is also a plus. The Western Pacific is home to both of the Navy's two ships outfitted with low-frequency active sonar, and an EIS currently in process will govern mid-frequency active sonar. The local government, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, has been attempting to establish its ownership of a 200-mile exclusive economic zone around the islands; US federal courts have rejected the claims, saying that CNMI surrendered these rights when it became a commonwealth of the US. Source: Marianas Variety, 3/23/08 [READ ARTICLE] [MARIANAS SONAR EIS WEBSITE]

California Appeals Court Hands Navy Sonar Setback; Supreme Court May be Next - The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Friday night rejected the Navy's appeal of restrictions that banned high-powered sonar within 12 nautical miles of the coast and set other limits that could affect Navy training exercises to begin this month. One of the key measures upheld by the court was the maintenance of a 2200-yard safety zone, with sonar being shut down if a whale enters that radius; the Navy called for a 200-yard shut-down zone, with power-reductions starting only when a whale came within 1000 yards. Navy commanders suggest the expanded radius will cause disruptions to training, necessitating shut downs five times as often. The appeals court closely analyzed Navy documents, and determined that marine mammal monitoring information from the six exercises (out of 14 weeklong missions currently planned) indicate that the 2200-yard safety zone would have only led to 21 extra shut-down in total, or two to three per week of training. They also noted that the Australian Navy maintains a 4400-yard safety zone. The Navy received a key concession from the court, however: for planned training sessions beginning this week, and another set of missions later in the month, the Navy can revert to its preferred power-down distances if a whale enters the 2200-yard zone during a "critical point" in the training. This temporary stay on the new rules is meant to give the Navy time to take its case to the Supreme Court before subsequent trainings. While the Navy maintains that restrictions beyond its own safety measures--including reducing sonar sound levels and prohibiting transmissions in certain ocean conditions that may increase impacts on marine mammals--will hamper their ability to certify crews for overseas deployment, the appeals panel said it reviewed "with the utmost care" the Navy's classified affidavits on such issues and concluded that the proposed additional measures "will not likely compromise the Navy's ability to effectively train and certify its West Coast strike groups." Ed. note: The legal foundation of the initial challenge, and of the ruling, appears to be that the Navy's Environmental Assessment did not fulfill the requirements of NEPA (completing a full Environmental Impact Statement and considering a sufficient range of alternatives), thereby opening the resulting operational standards to challenge; the Appeals Court noted that the District Court specifically rejected related challenges to the NMFS Biological Opinion and permits issued to govern the trainings, centering this case on the failure to comply with NEPA. The Navy is currently conducting full EISs for all sonar training ranges, but until these are completed, it appears that federal courts will keep their feet to the fire about their previous lack of NEPA compliance. Legal challenges to full EISs are somewhat more difficult, but can be founded on claims that reasonable alternatives were NOT considered; it will be interesting to see whether the Navy chooses to include formal alternatives that mirror some of the conditions that the courts, and other MFA users, have considered reasonable but that the Navy considers unneccesarily excessive (i.e., not providing significant additional biological protection, while impeding key aspects of training/operations). Sources: LA Times, 3/2/08 [READ ARTICLE] San Francisco Chronicle, 3/2/08 [READ ARTICLE] Navy News Service, 3/3/08 [READ ARTICLE] Jurist, 3/3/08 (includes pdf links to all relevant rulings) [READ ARTICLE]

Massive Offshore Oil Exploration Planned off Scotland - The UK government has announced the 25th offshore leasing round, a "record-breaking" offering of nearly 2300 development blocks, including nearly the entire coast of Scotland. "This represents the most substantial threat to Scotland's seas in the modern age," warned Green MSP Robin Harper, who demanded that UK ministers abandon the plans, and called on the SNP government in Edinburgh to oppose them. The UK secretary of state for energy, John Hutton, was positive: "We have been careful to avoid harming dolphins and other sea life that thrive in these areas in the past and will continue to do so," he said. Special concern is being raised about widespread seismic surveying of the region. "The latest research shows that the impacts of the kind of seismic surveys planned for Scottish waters may be greater than previously thought, with sounds travelling further, and with higher frequencies being produced," said Dr Chris Parsons from George Mason University in Virginia, US. A spokeswoman for the Scottish government said: "The regulation of oil and gas exploration is reserved to Westminster. In order to obtain a licence to explore any given area, oil and gas companies or seismic operators need to apply to the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform. Applications are subject to detailed scrutiny." Sunday Herald, 3/3/08 [READ ARTICLE]

Hawaii Court Adds Restrictions to Navy Sonar Training - A Federal District Court in Hawaii has issued a preliminary injunction forcing the Navy to use additional safety measures during routine mid-frequency sonar training in Hawaii waters; Judge David Ezra will hold another hearing in April to consider long-term measures. The restrictions are slightly less strict than those imposed by a different District Court in California: Ezra increased the safety zone in which sonar must be powered down by 6db, from the Navy's 1000m to 1500m, and sonar must be shut down if a whale is within 500m, rather than 200m as they Navy planned. Other court-ordered measures include staying 12 miles offshore, and prohibiting sonar use with multiple ships in areas with rapid changes in depth and narrow channels (the Navy now generally avoids such areas, but has in the past stressed the need to use some particular areas in Hawaii for such training, after being sure whales are not present). In addition, a dedicated aircraft must look for whales in the area for an hour before sonar is used. U.S. Pacific Fleet said in a statement that the restrictions "could seriously impact our ability to train effectively." Earthjustice attorney Paul Achitoff said he'll be seeking a permanent injunction. The order issued by Ezra will "have influence on the way in which they (the Navy) do any exercises from now on in Hawai'i," he added. It is unclear how this ruling will factor into the Navy's forthcoming first-ever Hawaii Training Range EIS, to be released this spring and meant to govern all sonar training in the area. Ezra's order seems to be trying to protect whales from exposures on the edge of the Navy's safety threshold of 173dB (which he suggested should be lower), by expanding the safety zone and ordering power to be reduced in more circumstances. His approach to balancing training needs and environmental concerns was somewhat more flexible than provisions imposed by other courts, including a graduated decrease of sonar power when 1, 2, or 3 specified environmental conditions are present. Still, some of those conditions (including surface ducts and choke points) are considered important to the Navy for some training sessions. Sources: Honolulu Advertiser, 3/1/08 [READ ARTICLE] Honolulu Star-Bulletin, 3/1/08 [READ ARTICLE] KITV, 3/1/08 [READ ARTICLE, SEE VIDEO]
UPDATE: Navy Asks Judge to Clarify Ruling - The Navy has petitioned Federal District Court Judge David Ezra to modify two elements of the additional safety measures he imposed on sonar training in the Hawaii Training Range. The first asks that safety zone requirements (power down and shut-down wheh marine mammals are present) be explicitly amended to clarify that dolphins choosing to approach the boat in order to ride the bow-wave. "Without this exception, an entire exercise could be jeopardized because of one marine mammal who chooses to follow the vessel despite the emission of active sonar," the motion said. The Navy also asked the judge to change his requirement that vessels power down their mid-frequency active sonar by two or three decibels because not all vessels can do so by precisely that amount. After proceeding with planned training this month, the Navy will consider whether to seek additional clarifications and modifications. "If we determine the restrictions impede our ability to conduct realistic training and assessment, the Navy will report these concerns back to Judge Ezra and ask for necessary relief," said Capt. Scott Gureck, U.S. Pacific Fleet spokesman. Source: AP, 3/12/08 [READ ARTICLE]
Previous: Third Sonar Suit in Hawaii; Hearing Held, Ruling Soon - In yet another lawsuit pushing for expanded mitigation measures, a federal district court in Hawaii has heard arguments will issue a ruling prior to planned Navy exercises at the end of March. The issues were largely similar to those in other recent mid-frequency sonar challenges, urging reduction or ceasing of sonar transmissions in times of limited visibility, among other things. The Navy is arguing that these exercises are different than the ones in California, with fewer marine mammals in the area likely to be exposed to sonar sounds. U.S. District Judge David Ezra said he had received "top secret" information from the Navy, as well as non-classified materials, as he noted the complexity of the case. Forty-five minutes were allotted for the hearing, but Ezra said the issues "couldn't be digested in 45 hours, quite frankly." Ezra and attorneys for both sides in the lawsuit visited a Navy ship on the day after arguments, to observe sonar operations. The training exercises prepare crews for tours of duty in the western Pacific and Persian Gulf; the Navy hopes to conduct a dozen such routine training exercises over the coming two years. Source: KITV, 2/11/08 [READ ARTICLE] Honolulu Advertiser, 2/11/08 [READ ARTICLE]
Related: Public Hearings Scheduled on Supplement to Draft EIS - The Navy has released a supplement to its Draft EIS for the Hawaii Range Complex, and is holding public hearings in March to collect public comments on the new aspects. The final EIS is still scheduled to be released this spring, leading to a Record of Decision before the summer RIMPAC exercises. The supplement addresses several areas: fine-tuning of the methodology used to assess behavioral responses to sonar sounds, a lower estimate of total sonar use, and a new preferred alternative in which future sonar use will not increase over current levels, while other training is expanded as planned. Source: Hawaii Reporter/Pacific Fleet Press Release, 2/23/08 [READ PRESS RELEASE] Maui News, 3/11/08 [READ ARTICLE] [HAWAII RANGE COMPLEX EIS WEBSITE]

Dolphin Strands on Navy Island at End of Recent Sonar Exercises - A single deep-water Northern right whale dolphin was found live-beached on San Nicolas Island on January 29, during a heavily scrutinized Naval training exercise. Navy personnel returned it to the water several times, but it did not survive. Curators at the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History worked all night to perform a necropsy because clues are lost to rapid decomposition. The head was removed and refrigerated, then taken to the nearby Alamo Pintado Equine Medical Center for magnetic resonance imaging. “At this point, we cannot rule in or rule out sonar or any other kind of intense noise,” said Teri Rowles, a veterinarian with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and head of the nation’s Marine Mammal Health and Stranding Response Program. Rowles said the initial review confirmed increased fluid in the ears. "That could be blood; it could be infection or parasites -- those are the three more common causes of fluid in the ears," she said. Or it could be trauma related to sonar, though Rowles cautioned against jumping to conclusions until more detailed studies are completed. "The lesions that we have seen to date are consistent to what has been found in whales in the Canary Islands and the Bahamas," Rowles said. More conclusive results will not come until pathologists can complete microscopic examination of the brain, the ears, and other tissues to look for gas or fat bubbles and related hemorrhaging. Such injury has been termed "gas and fat embolic syndrome," and is considered nearly synonymous with sonar exposure injuries, though it is not entirely clear whether the sound, or a behavioral reaction such as changed dive patterns, causes the damage. The microscopic analysis of most tissues should take about a month, Rowles said. It could take as long as a year to examine the ears because the bones must be slowly dissolved in fluid to reveal soft tissues inside. Previous sonar-induced strandings have involved multiple animals; northern right whale dolphins live in groups of 100-1000 animals, making this single stranding somewhat unusual. A Navy spokesman said that the nearest ship using mid-frequency active sonar was 62 miles away the previous day, and was not part of the exercise. Source: LA Times, 2/22/08 [READ ARTICLE]
Related: Three Beaked Whales Strand in New Zealand - A sketchy news report indicates that three Gray's beaked whales, two adults and a juvenile, beached in New Zealand last week, and that samples were taken for study. There is no indication of how fresh the carcasses were, and no information about whether sonar was in use nearby (an Australian submarine had been in the area, though we don't know whether mid-frequency sonar was in use) . The article confounds low-frequency active sonar (in use in the northwest Pacific), and mid-frequency sonar, widely deployed worldwide and linked with previous strandings. Colin MacLeod of the University of Aberdeen’s School of Biological Sciences says: "We can’t rule out that this stranding was linked to sonar usage, but it seems very, very unlikely. Similarly, we can’t say that is was due to some sort of navigational error that led them into shallow waters, but it is consistent with what we know about beaked whale strandings in other areas." This species of beaked whale has historically been found beached in the southern hemisphere between December and February. Source: The Bay Chronicle, 2/21/08 [READ ARTICLE] The Bay Chronicle, 2/28/08 [READ ARTICLE]

Blue Whale Deaths Surge in SoCal: Ships Strikes, Not Sonar is Cause, but Noise May Be Factor - An unprecedented surge in blue whale deaths in Southern California last year has raised concerns about shipping and noise in the busy shipping lanes there. Five blue whales were found dead on beaches last fall, and the three that were fresh enough to examine showed clear signs of being killed by ship strikes; examination of ear tissues showed now sign of hearing damage, and mid-frequency active sonar is not a factor. However, the researchers from the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History, who performed the analysis of the whales, note that ambient noise levels in the area could have made it difficult for the whales to hear approaching ships, especially if they were directly in front of them, where the ship itself creates a sound shadow, blocking the noise of its engines. The whales were lingering in the shipping channels because their primary food, krill, were congregated there. During October and part of November, ships voluntarily cut their speed in half, to ten knots, and no whales were killed during that time. A National Marine Sanctuary committee formed in response to the rash of deaths last year will monitor blue whale locations this summer and fall, in hopes of averting a similar situation. Source: Santa Barbara Independent, 2/27/08 [READ ARTICLE]
Related: Ship Noise in Santa Barbara Channel Studied - A hydrophone deployed on the ocean floor in the Santa Barbara Channel is listening in on passing ships and resident and transient whales; researchers from Scripps Institute will analyze the results in an effort to learn more about whether increasing shipping noise is hampering whale communication. Blue whales are the most commonly heard, and also the species whose calls occur in the frequency ranges dominated by ship noise. Megan McKenna, doctoral candidate at Scripps, says, "These animals evolved in a much quieter environment. You've got to think there has to be some threshold of them being able to use their acoustic capabilities in this noisy environment." If whales are communicating with one another about feeding opportunities at the same frequency as the ship's noise, there's a chance the whales won't have the knowledge of food sources they normally would, McKenna said. Ship noise could be loud enough to drown out whale calls about three hours a day, she said, when the most ships are present. Robert Ovetz, director of Seaflow, a Bay Area-based group that is fighting noise pollution in the sea, said he'd like a speed limit to be imposed in California's four national marine sanctuaries in order to quell some of the noise. Currently, ships have no speed limits. "Our marine sanctuaries are being violated by these superhighways of the sea," he said. The noise may also lead indirectly to the flustered whales being struck by the ships. Such occasions have historically been rare. Between Los Angeles and the Point Reyes Peninsula from 1986 to 2004, only 12 whales are known to have been hit by ships. But between September and October of 2007, three blue whales and two humpbacks were found dead on Southern California beaches with cracked skulls and other injuries plainly suggestive of violent interactions with big metal objects. Another humpback was found in similar condition at Point Reyes this fall. The abrupt increase in ship-whale collisions cannot be ignored, says Ovetz. "This is a record number of highly endangered species being killed by shipping traffic," he charges. Sources: Ventura County Star, 2/19/07 [READ ARTICLE] The Bohemian, 2/6/08 [READ ARTICLE]

Navy Hosts Acoustic Research Conference in Hawaii - One hundred Navy-funded scientists, fleet operators, and environmental staff attended a two-day conference in Hawaii in early February. The gathering, hosted by OPNAV N45, the Navy's environmental readiness command, ended with agreement to hold future gatherings to discuss issues ranging from the direction of future research to procedural improvements. While great progress has been made in recent years, many of the speakers noted that much remains to be learned about how sound behaves underwater and how it affects marine mammals. For example, Dr. Jim Finneran of the Navy Marine Mammal Program said hearing thresholds have been determined for 25 species of marine mammals through painstaking research. Hearing thresholds for the more than 100 other marine mammal species, including all of the large, baleen whales, have not yet been determined. The Navy spends $18 million per year on marine mammal research. "With a strong scientific foundation, we hope to be able to continue the sonar training that's so vital to protecting our Sailors at sea and become even better at preventing harm to marine mammals," said Adm. Robert Willard. "We're not sure some of the environmental organizations share our concern about understanding the science," he added. Source: Hawaii Reporter, 2/12/08 [READ ARTICLE]

MMC-Run Marine Mammal Research Program Introduced in House - Congressman Neil Abercrombie (D-HI) has introduced the National Marine Mammal Research Program Act of 2008 (H.R.5106).  The bill will create a national marine mammal research program to be administered by the Marine Mammal Commission.  Implementation of this research program will greatly improve our understanding of marine mammals, especially the impact sound has on these animals.  The need for increased support for marine mammal research was identified by the National Research Council (NRC) and the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy (USCOP). In their most recent report to Congress, the Marine Mammal Commission stated as their first recommendation: “Establish a coordinated national research program on the effects of anthropogenic sound on marine mammals and the marine environment.” Source: Consortium for Ocean Leadership press release, 1/28/08 [READ PRESS RELEASE]

Orca Recovery Plan Calls for More Study, Few Specifics - The US National Marine Fisheries Service has released its first take on a recovery plan for Puget Sound's endagnered orca population, albeit while expressing "considerable uncertainty" about how to proceed; the primary need is cleaning the waters of the Sound so as to encouarage increased salmon runs, the orca's main food. Environmental advocates were disappointed by the lack of specific actions, as the report largely pointed out the need for more research in several areas, including the effects of whalewatching boat noise on the orcas. Sources: Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 1/25/08 [READ ARTICLE] Victorica Times-Colonialist, 1/25/08 [READ ARTICLE] Seattle Times, 1/24/08 [READ ARTICLE]

Aussie Humpback Calving Ground Threatened by Noise and Nets - A key humpback whale calving ground off the western Australia coast is targeted for at least three disruptive developments in the coming years, prompting calls for its designation as a World Heritage Site. Camden Sound, a natural harbour north of Broome, and adjacent bays and islands are the main calving grounds for humpback whales making a 13,000km return journey from Antarctica each winter. The region is under threat from development proposals for gas exploration (including several seismic surveys), bauxite mining, and the recent approval of a local shark- finning industry using 2.1km long drift nets with a 15m drop. In addition, Japanese oil and gas exploration company Inpex also recently announced plans to build an $8.23billion liquefied natural gas plant in the region, which would create a surge in large tanker traffic. Source: Cambera Times, 1/23/08 [READ ARTICLE]

Electromagnetic Survey in Indian Ocean Could Reduce Seismic Survey Impact - The largest-ever electromagnetic survey, taking place before leasing of offshore oil development blocks, could help reduce the need for widespread seismic surveys. The survey, by Electromagnetic Geoservices (EMGS) will cover 2000 square kilometers, the size of about a hundred Gulf of Mexico lease blocks, with results available to any company considering placing bids on the leases. Scanning with EM technology enables operators to evaluate the prospectivity of license blocks more efficiently and to optimise their bidding strategies. Unlike traditional techniques using seismic surveys to indicate potential reservoir structures, EM scanning technology searches for electrical properties (resistivity) that indicate the location of hydrocarbons directly. EMGS Chief Executive Terje Eidesmo said, "An increasing number of the world's leading energy companies are turning to our advanced EM imaging technology to improve their exploration performance because of its proven ability to indicate hydrocarbons before drilling. Our unique EM scanning technology is reinventing how operators search for hydrocarbons." Source: Energy Current, 1/14/08 [READ ARTICLE]

Australian Seismic Survey to Commence in Blue Whale Feeding Grounds - A seismic survey is planned for late January off southern Australia, despite concern from some scientists that the noise will keep blue whales from their key summer feeding ground. The exploration company Woodside initially sought approval for the 320-square-kilometres survey in early October, then withdrew after the department declared it a controlled action, that would have demanded much closer government scrutiny. The company resubmitted the proposal three days after the election, having narrowed the timing and changed some of the operating conditions. The survey was approved on Christmas Eve, according to the department's website. A spokeswoman for Environment Minister Peter Garrett (!! of Midnight Oil...) said the department's decision was based on a policy that employed the world's most conservative measures to ensure protection from seismic surveys, including powering down the airguns if blue whales come within 3km. Still, lower levels of noise at much greater distances may keep the giants away from their summer feast of krill, which are nourished by upwelling deep ocean currents in this region. Scientists led by Peter Gill discovered the phenomenon in 1998. "Because of the potential for disturbance to the feeding whales, our advice to Woodside and the Government was that the seismic should not take place during the peak blue whale season," Dr Gill said yesterday. Delaying the survey until April, after blue whales have left the area, would subject the survey vessels to rougher seas, and would risk overlapping with the annual migration of right whales through the area. Sources: The Age, 1/9/08 [READ ARTICLE] Sydney Morning Herald, 1/9/08 [READ ARTICLE]
Update: Two much larger surveys proposed for same area - In the wake of government approval for a 320sq. km survey, another oil company has proposed two surveys, totalling 5900sq km, also in the whale feeding grounds in the next few months. Source: Sidney Morning Herald, 2/2/08 [READ ARTICLE]

Long Island Sound LNG Terminal Faces Challenge From New Application in Less Sensitive Area - A Liquified Natural Gas Terminal proposed for Long Island Sound faces a new challenge, in addition to active local resistance. Exxon-Mobil has propsed a similar facility off the New Jersey coast, and Adrienne Esposito, executive director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment, claims that "this just proves our point that there are alternative locations other than the middle of Long Island Sound." Consultant Richard Levitan, who has advised the Long Island Power Authority about Broadwater, agreeed, saying he doesn't see a need for three of the same type of plants: Broadwater, Exxon Mobil's BlueOcean Energy, and the Atlantic Sea Island terminal south of Long Beach, which is proposed by privately held Atlantic Sea Island Group of Manhattan. But others say Exxon's willingness to invest $1 billion into increasing the region's gas supply verifies the region's future needs for the fuel. Energy expert Matthew Cordaro of Long Island University's Center for Management Analysis said the Northeast region could absorb more than 3 billion cubic feet of natural gas a day that would be produced by all three terminals. In early January, Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal officialy weighed in, urging New York State to deny the Long Island permit, based on the NY Environmental Quality Review Act, which provides that the office must reject Broadwater if an alternative is safer with less environmental impact and provides comparable service. Source: Newsday, 12/13/07 [READ ARTICLE] ENS, 1/8/08 [READ ARTICLE]

Appeals Court Hears Arguments on Offshore North Slope Exploratory Drilling - In a hearing this week, evironmental and Native Alaskan groups asked a federal appeals court Tuesday to block Royal Dutch Shell PLC's plans for exploratory oil drilling offshore near the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. In August, the same court issued a temporary restraining order to bar the exploration until the justices could weigh arguments on whether to allow the drilling. The U.S. Mineral Management Service issued permits earlier this year to allow the energy giant to drill up to 12 exploratory oil wells in the Beaufort Sea off the northern coast of Alaska. Attorneys for the groups appealing the decision told a three-judge panel of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, in San Francisco, that the mineral agency didn't adequately consider the drilling's impact on endangered bowhead whales and other marine mammals. Attorneys for Shell and the government said they have conducted a thorough environmental analysis and measures in place already protect whales and other wildlife. They also emphasized the drilling is for exploration only and oil extraction would require more study. "We are gathering information," said Shell attorney Kyle Parker. "We are going out for a limited period of time to see what is there." Shell's drilling rigs and icebreaking machines can disrupt the bowhead whale's migration through the Beaufort Sea, prompting the animals to swim farther from shore where whale-hunting becomes more dangerous, said attorney Chris Winter, who represents the Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission. "Bowhead whales are very sensitive to underwater noise and they can be deflected from their migratory route," Winter told the judges. Past exploration has "subjected the whaling crews to extreme risk of death and injury," due to having to travel futher offshore in small boats. Justice Department attorney David Shilton told the court "exploratory drilling has taken place in several places of the Beaufort Sea before and there hasn't been any ill effects." Shell had agreed to suspend drilling activities during the time when whale hunters were active. A ruling is not expected for months. Source: AP, 12/5/07 [READ ARTICLE] Petroleum News, 12/4/07 (VERY detailed summary of the crux of the case: whether a multi-sale pre-lease EIS provided enough information to justify allowing exploratory drilling under an EA.) [READ ARTICLE]
Related: Shell Committed to Alaska Offshore as "Future Heartland" - Rick Fox, Shell’s Alaska asset manager, spoke far less tentatively than Shell's lawyer (quoted above), when he told reporters that the company is committed to developing its holdings in the federal waters along the state’s northern coast despite legal setbacks to its plan to search for oil starting this fall in the Beaufort Sea. Fox, who two decades ago managed Shell’s exploration drilling in Alaska’s polar oceans, said the company considers Alaska the “future heartland” of oil development. “What other places are available to free-market companies to operate that have this type of tax regime?” Fox said in an interview with in Anchorage in mid-November. “This is a good place for us to work.” A recent court challenge that ordered exploration to be halted until the case could be heard idled two drill ships and a fleet of support vessels waiting in Alaska and Canadian ports ready to sail for the Beaufort, the 2007 drilling season. “There was a lot of steel in the water ready to get some work done,” Fox said. In the meantime, Fox is working to try to ease the concerns of North Slope Borough officials. “We’re trying to make progress on the very issues that they’ve raised that they feel haven’t been handled well enough yet that would make them less inclined to stay in a suit to stop us,” Fox said. “We’re hoping we make enough progress that they feel comfortable soon enough to make a difference.” Since 2005, high oil prices and the promise of major discoveries have spurred the company to invest hundreds of millions of dollars on drill rigs, leases and office space in the state. Source: Fairbanks News-Miner, 12/9/07 [READ ARTICLE]
Related: A Dilemma in the Arctic - An overview article that discusses the uncertainty that oil development brings to native communities, where the industry has become a key source of jobs and revenue, while causing stresses on traditional ways of life. The NY Times version includes a compelling five-minute audio slideshow. New York Times, 12/4/07 [READ ARTICLE] [AUDIO SLIDE SHOW] [SAME ARTICLE SYNDICATED IN BLUE RIDGE TIMES-NEWS]
Related: Inuvialuit people hear Imperial Oil Plans for Seismic Surveys - A public meeting in the Alaksan north slope village of Inuvik heard from Imperial Oil representatives about a planned seismic survey offshore, which could take place in 2008. Evan Birchard, a regulatory and environmental advisor to Imperial Oil, said bowhead whales sometimes flee areas with high noise, and said Imperial Oil wants to avoid this. He said Imperial Oil would be hiring whale watchers to stand on the boat wearing binoculars and look for the animals. If a whale were seen, the sound modules would be silenced. "These techniques are becoming more common in the marine seismic industry, and we intend to use them as well," he said. While Inuvialuit people do not traditionally eat bowheads, Roy Ipana, who is director of the Inuvik Hunters and Trappers, said he wanted absolute assurance the noise wouldn't cause them harm. "All animals are important whether we eat them or not. Even the plankton, we're concerned about that. It's all in the food chain," he said. [ed. note: this article mistakenly refers to seismic surveys as using "sonar" sources; airguns are actually the primary noise sources being discussed] Source: Northern News Service, 11/29/07 [READ ARTICLE]
Related: North Slope Oil Boom Concerns Natives, Citing Past Impacts of Seismic Exploration - Rosemary Ahtuangaruak, former mayor of the remote Inupiat community of Nuiqsut, is travelling to other communties with a message of caution in the face of renewed efforts to explore and develop remote land and seas along Alaska's north slope and into the biologically rich Chukchi Sea between Russia and Alaska. Ms Ahtuangaruak says her community was one of the first to work with industry on an oil and gas development on tribal lands, but now some feel they were gravely misled. The community agreed to the Alpine development when told it would impact 14 acres of tribal land. After 10 years, she says, the project has spread incrementally across 500 acres and the community has no recourse. The seismic activity connected with exploration has disrupted caribou herds on land, and offshore, the whales have been driven away. Two hundred decibel booms have diverted bowhead whales migrations; they used to be caught within five kilometers of shore, but now pass by more than 30 kilometres out, making hunting even more dangerous. She says the community also negotiated a limit on flight activity in the area during June and July when people traditionally hunt caribou. Planes bring in resources, workers and more, but the 20 flights agreed to in negotiations has turned into 1,900 flights during the summer hunting months. The added noise has had an impact on the caribou: before the Alpine oil field was built, 97 out of 105 households in Nuiqsut successfully hunted caribou, while after the development, only three households hung an animal. Source: QCI Observer, 11/4/07 [READ ARTICLE]
Related: Humpback, Fin Whales Roaming Further North Into New Oil Development Areas
- During the past two summers, Humpback and Fin whales have apparently begun roaming much further north than normal, perhaps in response to the shifting of food sources as seas warm. Humpbacks have been seen in the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas, and Fins were detected acoustically in the Chukchi. No one was expecting humpbacks near the activity connected to Outer Continental Shelf lease sales, said Brad Smith, a protective resources biologist for the National Marine Fisheries Service. "We didn't anticipate that they'd been encountered in any of the OCS exploration activity that we're doing this year," Smith said. Deborah Williams, a former Department of Interior special assistant for Alaska and now an advocate for finding solutions to climate change, said the presence of humpback and fin whales so far north has significant implications. "We now have even more compelling reasons to protect the Arctic Ocean and the species dramatically affected by climate change," she said. Other species that use the Chukchi Sea are behaving differently because of climate change, said Brendan Cummings, Oceans Program Director for the Center for Biological Diversity. He cited gray whales seeking new feeding areas, and walrus congregating on Alaska's northwest shore this summer instead of on pack ice that had receded far beyond the continental shelf. "It looks like the populations are suffering from it," he said. "All signs point to global warming. That would be the first suspect of why the whales are there." Plans to expand oil and gas development in seas along Alaska's North Slope are not expected to be changed, though the continued presence of endangered species could increase pressure to leave the biologically rich Chukchi Sea, between Russia and Alaska north of the Bering Strait, free of development. Source: AP, 11/6/07 [READ ARTICLE]

Quiet Autonomous Gliders Promise "New Era" in Acoustic Monitoring - A major step forward in acoustic monitoring has passed its first test. “We are entering a new era of underwater sensing,” says Jim Theriault of Defence Research and Development Canada, in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, who ran the first trial of small torpedo-shaped "gliders" as a platform for acoustic monitoring. Unlike other systems, which require a boat nearby to monitor either the tagging of whales or other autonomous vehicles, the gliders can use a satellite phone connection to return data to distant research bases. Also, the new system has enough data capability to detect not only low-frequency baleen whale calls, but also the high-frequency calls of sperm and beaked whales, deep-diving species of special concern in sonar studies (there are some indications that sonar signals can disrupt their natural dive patterns, perhaps causing injuries due to surfacing too quickly or not having enough time at the surface between dives). Peter Liss from the University of East Anglia in Norwich, U.K., chairman of the U.K. government’s Inter-Agency Committee on Marine Science and Technology suggests that these gliders could be used in research to finally pin down whether noise does actually upset whales. “The link is probably there, but rather tentative,” he says. Since the glider is quiet and isn’t being followed at a close distance by a noisy ship, it should be able to gather the data needed to prove—or disprove—a link between sonar and whale strandings, he suggests. The glider being trialed runs on batteries and can last up to a month. But plans are afoot to make a low-power glider that can prowl the oceans for up to five years. Source: Conservation Biology, Oct-Dec 07 [READ ARTICLE]

Bay Oil Spill Highlights Ship Traffic Near Marine Sanctuaries - Quite apart from the dangers posed by oil spill such as the one that recently occurred in San Francisco Bay, the noise from shipping lanes is a direct threat to National Marine Sanctuaries, says Seaflow Executive Director Robert Ovetz. The Bay Area is home to three contiguous national marine sanctuaries: the Cordell Bank, Monterrey Bay and the Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuaries. The federal government has a system of 13 national marine sanctuaries — the ocean equivalent to our national park system — that protect the most sensitive and biologically diverse of our national waters. Running shipping lanes through these sanctuaries, into major ports including Seattle, the Bay Area, Los Angeles, and Boston, undermines the intent of the 1972 Sanctuaries Act to protect these biologically rich areas. Large ships and oil tankers emit intense low-frequency noise at the same frequency used by baleen whales, and are the biggest source of ocean noise pollution, which is on the rise locally and globally. Off the west coast of the US, scientists have documented that underwater noise levels have doubled every decade for the past 40 years. Source: Seaflow Press Relase/OpEd, Tracy Press, 11/28/07 [READ PRESS RELEASE]

J-Pod Back in Puget Sound, Noise Fluctuates Widely - After being missing in action for all of last winter, Puget Sound's most common orca pod has made an early appearance this winter, encouraging local conservationists. J-pod, numbering 26 whales, including at least one new-born, has been among the most healthy pods, with no members dying since 2000. Last year's absence was blamed on lack of salmon; this year, there are more fish. Amy Carey, a board member of Preserve Our Islands, noted that they tend to show up off Point Robinson shortly after the chum salmon arrive, and questions whether a proposed sand and gravel expansion and new loading pier is appropriate in an area so crucial to the orca. “You have a two-day old orca calf, incredibly fragile, just swim by where there would be an industrial port,” she added. “This is a specific and targeted-use area. It’s not like they’re just passing by.” Meanwhile, Ann Stateler, who runs the Vashon Hydrophone Project, which records whale calls and conducts other whale research, reports that noise levels vary widely in Puget Sound. Recently, when orcas swam through Colvos Passage, she could hardly pick up any of their calls through the sound of boat traffic in the pass. “It was a wall of noise,” she said. “We’re always worried about how much noise they’re subjected to, and it was just really bad in Colvos Passage when they were here." A few days later, on a Friday night, the orcas, and their human allies, found the area nearly devoid of boats: it was so quiet, Stateler said, she could hear their blows. Source: Vashon Beachcomber, 11/14/07 [READ ARTICLE]

First Human Fatality Due to Ocean Noise Reveals Whales Deafened by Ship Noise - After a passenger on a ferry in the Canary Islands died when the ferry struck a whale, biologist Michel André examined the ears of two whales killed in ferry collisions, and found tissue damage in both that indicates the whales were probably deaf. "The inner ear lesions we found in sperm whales came from two resident whales which died after collisions. These lesions affected animals of different ages," André says, indicating the damage is due to an external factor, not to ageing. The injuries also occurred at a place in the ear’s sensitive structure corresponding in frequency with the sounds emitted by shipping. To test whether the wider whale population was affected, his team ran controlled exposure experiments on 215 sperm whales in the Canaries in which they played sounds in the same low-frequency range as the affected regions of the ears. The whales failed to react. While it is impossible to be scientifically certain, André felt that the correspondence between the sound frequency emitted by shipping, the area of damage to the whales’ ears, and the lack of response by other whales to sound broadcast at the same frequency built a compelling argument: "It is very likely that these lesions are due to a long-term exposure to low-frequency sources," he concluded. André is developing a whale detection system that aims to hear whales and notify ships of their location in waters around the Canaries. Source: Powerboat World, 10/31/07 [READ ARTICLE]

D-tags Listen in on Manatees' Sound World - D-tags, which record the sound heard by an animal while tracking its motion in the water, have become a key tool in biologists' efforts to understand the effects of sound on cetaceans. Now, researchers have adapted D-tags for use with manatees (their non-invasive suction-cup attachment system had to be changed to work with rough-skinned manatees). Synchronizing boat sounds with the manatees' behaviors allows researchers to learn how manatees react -- or don't react, as filmed observations showed -- to boats. It will also allow researchers to determine if manatees react differently in shallow water versus deep water, where they might have more places to hide. This year, a total of 10 wild manatees were tagged. Florida State University researchers Doug Nowacek and Athena Rycyk said it is too early to draw conclusions about what they hear on the tags, although the sound files are interesting. “We hear a lot of chewing,” Nowacek said. Roars recorded from some passing boats was startling, Rycyk added. “When a boat flies by, especially a boat moving fast, it is really, really loud,” she said. What's more, boats can be heard for up to a minute before actually passing near the manatee. For years, Florida wildlife managers have asked boaters to slow down in areas populated by manatees. Reducing speed, they theorized, would give boaters a better chance of seeing and avoiding manatees on the surface and would give the animals fair warning to move away. But as the number of collisions has ballooned, critics have argued that manatees may not hear the motors of a slow-moving craft until the vessels are nearly on top of their backs. Recording sound will also help scientists learn about the sounds that manatees make: what type of vocalizations they use, how often they vocalize and how vocalizations change depending on their activity. Sources: Photonics, 10/16/07 [READ ARTICLE] WHOI Oceanus Magazine, 10/11/07 [READ ARTICLE]

Navy to Revise Atlantic Coast Naval Warfare Training Range DEIS - Two years ago, the Navy published a Draft Environmental Impact Statement for an Undersea Warfare Training Range (USWTR) being planned, with potential sites off the coasts of North Carolina, Virginia, or Florida. After being flooded with comments from the public, state agencies, and federal agencies, the Navy has decided to revise and reissue the Draft EIS, rather than move forward to a final EIS. A new scoping period for the DEIS is now open, through October 22. The new DEIS will be changed to include a fourth possible site, off Charleston, SC. In addtion, the Navy is working with NOAA Fisheries (formerly NMFS) to develop a better way to analyze the behavioral impacts on marine mammals. NOAA had been unusually direct in its critique of the Navy's previous approach, which was based on a simple maximum sound level criterion; over the past couple of years, a "dose response" approach has been developed, which accounts for the impact of lower sound sources occuring over longer perdiods of time. Further, the Navy's previous reliance on hearing and behavioral tests using captive dolphins will be expanded to include assessment of the responses of wild animals. Sources: PilotOnline, 10/1/07 [READ ARTICLE] Delmar Daily Times, 9/22/07 [READ ARTICLE] Charlotte News-Observer, 9/22/07 [READ ARTICLE]
Earlier coverage: NOAA Objects to Navy Undersea Training Range Draft EIS - In an unusually direct and public rebuke to the Navy, the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration has filed comments on the Navy's proposed Undersea Warfare Training Range which suggest that the Navy has set its allowable levels of noise too high, has underestimated impacts on migrating right whales, and has neglected to consider the likelihood of whale deaths. The comments may highlight growing tensions between the civilian agency in charge of regulating ocean issues, and the Navy's approach to operating its mid-frequency active sonar systems. However, Brandon Southall, a NOAA acoustician, said last week the agency's remarks are part of a bureaucratic process still in its early stages and shouldn't be interpreted as a battle between the governmental agencies. "The hard thing for both sides is that we're operating with not enough information," Southall said, referring to the dearth of research on marine mammals' noise reactions. Meanwhile, it has taken nearly two dozen people an entire week to sort 40,000 pages of public comments on the Navy's plans; many were form letters, though environmental organizations and state agencies submitted detailed comments. Source: The Virginian-Pilot, 2/26/06 [READ ARTICLE] Washington Post, 2/18/06 [READ ARTICLE]
Navy Takes NC State Officials on a Sonar Training Mission
- In an effort to stress the importance of sonar training and to counter local resistance to the proposed Undersea Warfare Training Range, state environmental officials and the press were invited to observe on a mission off the North Carolina coast. During the exercise, one of the three planned sonar emissions was cancelled when a pod of dolphins appeared. Officals noted that where they usually train now, off Jacksonville, Fla., or the Virginia Capes, there is no structured feedback from under water; the proposed network of sensors to be installed on the seafloor of the USWTR is one of its advantages. Response from state officals was mixed. “They’ve got to be able to train like that to know what they’ve got to do,” said Bryan Gillikin, N.C. Marine Fisheries Commission member. “I just would like to feel more comfortable that the concentration of active sonar use will not have significant impacts on our fisheries,” said Louis Daniel of the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries. Jene Nissen, with Fleet Forces Command Accoustics Policy Development, told the group that the Navy knows from public comments it received that it must expand its evaluation of acoustic impacts on fish, and the Navy has commissioned such a study from the University of Maryland that should yield some preliminary findings in a couple of months. Source: Carteret County News-Times/Evaneco.com, 3/17/06 [READ ARTICLE] Sun-Journal, 3/21/06 [READ ARTICLE]

Court Order Delays Arctic Drilling - A federal court has extended a temporary order issued July 20 and told Shell to suspend plans for drilling the Arctic's deepest oil well, saying that a legal challenge mounted by indiginous and environmental groups appears to be on solid ground. "This is a precedent-setting case in the age of global warming,'' said Peter Van Tuyn, an Anchorage, Alaska lawyer representing the conservation groups. "It shows that we have to be extra careful for polar bears, bowhead whales and indigenous people living in the Arctic when we we're considering oil development.'' The legal challenge claims that noise of drilling could disrupt bowhead whale migrations, and that Shell does not have an adequate plan to deal with an oil spill in the harsh climate of the Arctic. Bowhead whales are extremely sensitive to noise, avoiding noise as low as 130dB (most ocean noise mitigation does not kick in until 160-200dB); last year NOAA Fisheries attempted to impose strict limits on seismic surveys when groups of bowhead cow-calf pairs were within 20 miles or so of survey ships; survey companies successfully challenged the limits, which were the most precautionary ever imposed. The current court challenge may be the first time that the drilling noise has been used as a reason to stop a project. Source: Boomberg, 8/15/07 [READ ARTICLE]

LNG Terminal Approved in Beluga Birthing Grounds - A recently approved liquified natural gas terminal in eastern Quebec will be sited in the midst of a birthing area used by one-third of the threatened St. Lawrence beluga population. The underwater construction work needed to build the port will create a high level of water-borne noise that will aggravate the beluga population and may drive it away, said Véronique de la Chenelière, a biologist with the Group for Research and Education on Marine Animals (GREMM), which has asked the project's promoter, Énergie Cacouna, to ban underwater construction work during the calving season, which lasts from mid-June into September. The consortium hasn't said whether it would be able to comply with the request, said TransCanada spokeswoman Kiersten Tucker. "We are currently working with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans and specialists to determine when it would be required to stop construction, so we're currently evaluating that," she said on Wednesday. So far, there is apparently no consideration about whether LNG tanker traffic might be similarly limited during calving season. Source: CBC News, 7/19/07 [READ ARTICLE]
Related: LNG Company Funding Whale Detection System -
One of the companies building a liquefied natural gas terminal off Gloucester is paying for a new system that will help detect whales and avoid strikes by its massive tankers. Environmentalists and marine biologists hope it could dramatically reduce the number of whales killed by vessel strikes. Two whales that washed up dead on Cape Ann shores this summer died as a result of being hit by large vessels, officials from the New England Aquarium determined. Six buoys, which each have a microphone tied to it 50 feet below the surface and an antenna to transmit data and sound, surround the construction site of one liquefied natural gas terminal 13 miles southeast of Gloucester. Excelerate Energy LLC, based in The Woodlands, Texas, is building the Northeast Gateway Energy Bridge and paid for the whale monitoring system as part of a mitigation package the state ordered when approving the terminals. When whales are detected, LNG tankers are notified of their locations; the notifications may be extended to other ship traffic as well, if the system proves effective. Source: Gloucester Daily Times, 8/13/07 [READ ARTICLE]

Navy Gets Court Temporary OK For Sonar Training off California Coast - A Federal appeals court has lifted an injunction imposed by a lower court, allowing the Navy to proceed with planned mid-frequency active sonar training missions off the California coast while awaiting a full hearing, planned for early November. This particular challenge to active sonar was initiated after the Navy rejected additional mitigation measures imposed by the California Coastal Commission (including lower sound levels and suspension of training in times of low visibility). The lower court simply imposed an injunction, and the appeals court ruled 2-1 that national security needs must be balanced with the environmental concerns, primarily related to possible disruption or injury of whales. The Navy claims that their trainings have only rarely affected whales, while the NRDC is asking for the inclusion of more stringent safety measures. The panel ruled that the lower court had not explained why a full injunction was necessary, rather than proceeding with sonar exercises with the imposition of additional mitigation; it also suggested the navy may have an uphill battle at the full hearing: "Nor does the Navy explain why it no longer proposes to use these mitigation measures, a factor that militates against its probability of full success on the merits in district court." Sources: LA Times, 9/1/07 [READ ARTICLE] ENS, 9/4/07 [READ ARTICLE]
Related: Navy Sonar Training Off California Halted by Court - A federal court has upheld a challenge by environmental groups, ruling that the Navy must hold off on active sonar transmissions off the southern California coast until the court hears the case. The Navy had earlier rejected the Coastal Commission's more stringent monitoring and operational requirements, saying that their own protective measures were sufficient. The judge also took issue with an array of measures to protect whales that the Navy has already put in place, including rules that prohibit using the sonar within 1,000 yards of marine mammals. Sound waves may not dissipate to sublethal levels for more than 5,000 yards, she noted. Environmental lawyers have argued for a larger safety zone, as well as for a 12-mile buffer along the coastline. They want training missions to remain a respectful distance from the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary, and they want the Navy to use acoustic monitoring as well as spotters in aircraft to watch for whales.To remove the temporary ban, the Navy will have to take the case to the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. Navy lawyers plan to move quickly because the next training mission is scheduled to begin in September. The lawsuit, according to environmental lawyers, could be settled quickly if the Navy would agree to more sweeping precautions, such as shutting off or reducing the intensity of the sonar when visibility is too low for spotters stationed on deck to see whales that venture into harm's way. Sources: LA Times, 8/7/07 [READ ARTICLE] San Francisco Chronicle, 8/7/07 [READ ARTICLE]

LFAS Poised for More Widespread Deployment - NOAA is preparing to issue permits allowing expanded deployment of Low Frequency Active Sonar by the US Navy. For the past several years, the high-powered sonar, designed to detect "quiet" enemy submarines, has been limited to a small area of the West Pacific, as part of a settlement of a court challenge. Now, having completed a new round of environmental assessment, the Navy is preparing to use the system in most of the world's oceans, and to install the sonar on two new ships, in addition to the two already in use. Environmental advocates, including the NRDC, lead litigants in the suit that forced the reduced deployment pending further study, contend that the Navy has failed to show that more widespread deployment can be conducted safely. Sources: Honolulu Star-Bulletin, 7/11/07 [READ ARTICLE] NRDC Press Releasee, 7/13/07 [READ PRESS RELEASE] Seattle Post-Intelligencer Staff Blog, 7/12/07 [READ POST] AP/The Guardian, 7/12/07 [READ ARTICLE] Navy Perspective: Navy Admiral Letter to Editor, Post-Star, 7/17/07 [READ LETTER] Pacific Fleet Commander, in NavyCompass, 6/29/07 [READ ARTICLE]
Related: Draft EIS Released for Hawaii Naval Training - The Navy has released a draft EIS that will, when finalized in late 2008, provide a framework naval training in Hawaiian waters, rather than assessing each training individually. The Navy has granted itself an exemption from the Marine Mammal Protection Act, pending completion of this and similar EIS's in other areas where sonar training takes place. Sources: Honolulu Advertiser, 7/27/07 [READ ARTICLE] ENS, 7/27/07 [READ ARTICLE] Navy Times, 7/28/07 [READ ARTICLE] KGMB, 7/27/07 [READ ARTICLE]
Related: Navy Sued Over Upcoming Hawaii Sonar Exercises - Earthjustice and other environmental organizations have filed suit in federal court, asking that the Navy be required to impose additional safety measures before staging more active sonar training missions in waters around Hawii; twelve such missions are planned for 2007 and 2008. The plaintiffs complain that the National Marine Fisheries Service, NMFS, relying almost entirely on the Navy's assessments, made little effort to analyze the sonar's effects or require the Navy to implement protective mitigation, such as that to which the Navy agreed for the 2006 RIMPAC exercises in Hawaii. The Navy prepared and Envionmental Assessment for the series of exercises, which suggests that temporary disruption of feeding and migration patterns will cause insignficant impacts on the local populations; plaintiffs suggest a more complete Environmental Impact Statement should have been prepared. The Navy has been exempted from the Marine Mammal Protection Act while it prepares EIS's covering sonar impacts. A Navy spokesman said the service was complying with all applicable laws and regulations, adding that sailors have used active sonar in two undersea warfare exercises in the islands since January without incident. “We go to great lengths to minimize any potential effects on marine life through the use of protective measures and make every effort to safeguard marine mammals when exercises are conducted,” said Jon Yoshishige, a spokesman for the U.S. Pacific Fleet. Additional observers and the use of airplanes during exercises are planned to increase the chance that whales will be spotted before being exposed to sonar signals. The lawsuit also names the National Marine Fisheries Service, which awards permits to the Navy to carry out underwater exercises. Jim Lecky, director of the office of protected resources at the Fisheries Service, said his organization was working with the Navy to finish environmental studies governing anti-submarine warfare exercises. Sources: Environmental News Service, 5/15/07 [READ ARICLE] AP/NavyTimes, 5/17/07 [READ ARTICLE]
Related: Sonar Study Shows Little Effect on Fish - A study in which fish were held in a cage and exposed to the sounds of low frequency active sonar has shown that salmonoid fish seem to be little affected by the sounds. After a week of sound exposure, no fish died, and there was no damage to the fish's auditory system, though there was some presumably short-term loss in hearing sensitivity, and some increased swimming activity at the onset of the sounds. By contrast, a similar study by the same research team had shown long-term damage to ear hair cells when fish were exposed to seismic survey air guns. Source: Physorg.com, 7/5/07 [READ ARTICLE]

World Conservation Union Calls for Protecting Grey Whales from Low Level Noise - After the recommendations of its advisory panel were rejected by Sakhalin Energy, the World Conservation Union has voiced its concerns about the possible impacts of continued construction noise on the critically endangered Western Gray Whale population. “We are especially concerned that the company appears to have decided not to include thresholds for prolonged exposure to lower noise levels. Without more rigorous noise management and mitigation efforts on the part of Sakhalin Energy and other companies operating in the region, their activities may have significant long-term effects on gray whales attempting to feed in this area. Such a possibility is of particular concern with regard to pregnant females and females with calves.” The Western Gray Whale Advisory Panel recommended in April 2007 that Sakhalin Energy adopt dose-based approaches to managing noise from its construction activities. The panel said mitigation action should be taken when the level of broadband noise received at the edge of the feeding area exceeds 130 decibels for 90 minutes. It said that for every five decibel increase in noise level, the time that whales are exposed to the noise should be reduced by half. Similarly, for every five decibel decrease in noise level, exposure time could be increased. So, for example, sounds received at the edge of the feeding area at 125 decibels could continue for 180 minutes. The panel advised that time limits should be based on a daily schedule, so that exposure to 130 decibels for 90 minutes in total should only occur once in 24 hours. As far as we know at AEI, this is the first time that such dose-based noise standards have been proposed. Source: ScienceDaily, 7/25/07 [READ ARTICLE]
Related: Grey Whales Missing at Only Summer Feeding Ground - The remnants of the the Western grey whale population has gone temporarily missing at its only summer feeding grounds, off Sakhalin Island on Russia's North Pacific coast. Oil and gas development there has been a cause of deep concern for several years, with slight adjustments in development plans keeping the core feeding area free of construction. Noise from construction, however, does travel into the feeding grounds, and this week conflicting reports have emerged from the field. The World Wildlife Fund claims that construction noise, permitted to last four hours at a time, continued uninterrupted for 48 hours, with the whales apparently gone after that time. Industry representatives claim that noise standards were not exceeded, and that their observers have seen no ill effects on whales; they shared their monitoring data with the WWF and other groups after concerns were raised. Construction schedules are pressed due to the late melt-out of ice in the area. Sources: New Scientist, 7/3/07 [READ ARTICLE] Bloomberg, 7/10/07 [READ ARTICLE] WWF Press Release, 7/3/07 [READ PRESS RELEASE] Reuters/Scientific American, 7/3/07 [READ ARTICLE]


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