A plan to give whales some peace and quiet

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Unfortunately, this is not the “peace and quiet” we were hoping for; the Navy has evidently claimed another whale. Photo credit: Cascadia Research

June 6, 2016 – Another dead whale has been found in Puget Sound. This one was a young humpback that died after becoming trapped under the Navy’s docks at Bremerton (see photo below.) According to a report from Cascadia Research, “There was bruising at multiple locations consistent with it struggling after become trapped but these did not seem extensive enough to kill the animal. The exam could not rule out drowning related to becoming trapped under the dock. While not all tissues could be accessed and collected, additional tests will be conducted on some of the tissues that could be collected and these could provide additional insight into the cause of death.” This is the second whale death in little more than a month.

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Young humpback whale trapped under Navy’s docks at Bremerton. She died there. How could this happen? Photo credit: Cascadia Research

Starvation is not a likely factor in this whale’s death, because Cascadia’s report said, “There were food remains in the intestines and colon indicating the whale had been feeding recently on fish as well as possibly krill and these suggest the cause of death was more sudden and acute.”

This post explains the enormous increases in Navy activities in our waters.

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The Navy is disavowing culpability in this whale’s death; in fact, a Kitsap Sun news story reported that the “40-foot beast floated late Wednesday morning beneath a Puget Sound Naval Shipyard dock. A Navy boat towed it out of the way, into the bay.” It did not report that the whale had become trapped under the docks while still alive. Why? Did the Navy not notice a live 40-foot whale under its docks? Did they omit this or the fact that the whale was known to have been alive under there, when talking to news reporters? Does the Navy plan to retrofit its docks so this won’t happen again?

While shipping noise in general is a major factor in the silencing of whales’ ability to find food and each other, it is also a published fact that Navy underwater drones used in inland waters will increase from 140 to 161, that unmanned surface vehicles (which the Navy admits has trouble seeing sailboats) in inland waters are increasing from 2 to 25, that torpedoes used in inland waters will see huge increases, and worst of all, that acoustic testing and “life cycle” activity for sonar will increase at the Navy’s docks to 284 events per year.

Did the Navy run one of these acoustic tests while the whale was nearby?

Consider the fact that because of these increases the Navy is being allowed to “take” nearly 12 million whales, dolphins, porpoises and other marine mammals in the North Pacific, and that the takes breakdown for our waters covered by their Northwest Training and Testing EIS is as follows:

Coastal waters of California, Oregon and Washington:                575,258

Washington inland waters (Puget Sound, Hood Canal):              343,310

Southeast Alaska:                                                                              10,950

Eastern North Pacific (offshore)                                                     21,996

Consider also that because some of the Navy’s increases in activity are more than a thousand percent, it should be obvious that their contributions to the increasing levels of noise in the ocean are significant. Ocean noise has been doubling every decade. That’s from the Navy’s own figures.

The upshot? Maybe we should learn to expect more dead whales.

Or maybe there’s a better way. Natural Resource Defense Council Director of Marine Mammal protection Michael Jasny put it best. He said, “Unlike other ocean pollutants, this problem can be solved. Once you stop making noise, it goes away.”

An Ocean Noise Strategy Roadmap summarized in this New York Times article proposes to summarize the current status of noise in the oceans and the science that documents it; it will help NOAA to recommend cross-agency actions that will reduce this noise, and NOAA is asking for public comments. Please send your comments to Comment.ONS@noaa.gov, and make sure you put “ONS Roadmap Comments” in the subject line and any supporting data or literature citations with your comments, as appropriate. Even if you are not a scientist and don’t have data or scientific literature to reference, your comments are important because NOAA needs to know how much public concern there is.

The health of whales is an indicator of the health of our oceans. The health of our oceans is an indicator of the health of our planet. Even the most jaded person cannot ignore the fact that our oceans are worth $24 trillion dollars, and that if the ocean was a country it’d be the seventh largest economy on the planet.

Finance aside, the way we treat these intelligent cetaceans will be a measure of our collective humanity.

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Sperm whale. Photo credit: Sonic Sea

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