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Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The Sonar Issue Intensifies

Last month I posted a blog about L112 Sooke, a young Southern Resident killer whale that washed up on a beach on the Washington coast. Initial findings led many to wonder if maybe she was killed by Navy sonar activity in the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Since, then the Navy sonar issue has intensified and is getting more and more media attention.

An MRI was done on the head of L112, and while results from that test have not been revealed, a cranial necropsy was also conducted at the Friday Harbor Labs. (If you are interested in that kind of thing - it's not for the squeamish - video clips from the cranial necropsy can be seen here.) The scientists involved in the necropsy found trauma in the tissues of the head and evidence of hemorrhaging, though no official cause of death will be released until all tests are completed. Ken Balcomb, director of the Center for Whale Research, had some strong words about the issue in this San Juan Journal article. "It didn't die of disease or starvation. Clearly the the animal was blown up," said Balcomb, who was present for a beaked whale stranding that was also related to military activities.

As it is sounding more and more likely Sooke died of trauma related to sonar use, the question is looming: how many of her other family members have met similar fates? While it is not uncommon for members of K and L Pods, who were in the area during the sonar incident, to spend long lengths of time out of the Salish Sea this time of year, none of them have been seen again since Sooke was found. Until they are seen again, we won't know if Sooke was the only casualty. Candace Whiting ponders the same question in this Seattle PI blog.

Meanwhile, the Everett Naval Station has been conducting sonar exercises from their dock in Puget Sound, which has also been creating a stir. On multiple occasions the sound has been heard in the air or reverberating through the hulls of ships. While the Navy claims this is a standard procedure, it is being heavily criticized for coinciding with the arrival of the gray whales and occurring right in some of their prime feeding grounds in Puget Sound.

With all of these issues in the news, it's somewhat appropriate that there also happens to be a public comment period as the Navy seeks to reauthorize their training ranges in Oregon, Washington, and California. The draft Northwest Training and Testing Environmental Impact Statement can be read here. The proposed actions they hope to undertake are summarized here.

For some additional information on how sonar kills whales, as well as some suggested comments, check out the succinct summary posted by Candace Whiting on her blog.

I really hope many of you will take some time to learn a little more about this issue and submit your comments before the April 27th deadline. You can submit your comments online here. As is beginning to come to light with Sooke, this is a very real issue that could have some very serious impacts on our local marine mammals, including the endangered Southern Resident killer whales. Military exercises are a necessary event, but they can be done in areas and at time where their impact on cetaceans is limited. They don't need to happen in the Salish Sea, a habitat for so many marine mammal species. Please take a moment to make your voice heard!


Connie B said...

Thanks for a thoughtful post. I seem to remember that in the initial report of the canadian sonar use, it was preceeded by what sounded like explosions. Then we see the satelite tagged J pod whale swim through the explosives dumping ground off the washington coast. It almost seems more likely that L112's sad death could have more to do with explosives than sonar. Isn't there a potential timing issue between the time the sonar was used, and how many days L112 was determined to have been dead? Every day I think about K & L pods and hope they are ok. Thanks Connie

Connie B said...

Please don't get me wrong - I am completely against any sonar use within the Salish Sea.

The K said...

It's really scary to think about what might have happened to K and L pods. Let's hope for the best!