The Eco Echo Newsletter

Naval Sonar

Approximately 350 right whales are thought to be alive today - a number so perilously low that researchers consider every living right whale vital to the survival of the species. By mid-summer and into the fall months, large numbers of right whales migrate to Canadian waters, where they are fully protected. They then travel southward to the ancient calving grounds of offshore Jacksonville, where they give birth and spend the winter raising their young in the waters of Florida and Georgia.

Now the decision to compromise and/or destroy the right whale’s Critical Habitat calving grounds has been made. The U.S. Navy has chosen to construct an Undersea Warfare Training Range off the coast of Jacksonville, Florida. The planned site is 625 square miles. This, if allowed, will result in the signing of a death warrant for the right whale. The Navy estimates that the range, which would cost an estimated $100 million, would be used 480 times a year, from one to six hours at a time.

In 2000 a mass stranding of whales on the beaches of the Bahamas was linked to U.S. Navy exercises using mid-frequency sonar. Many of the beached whales died, bleeding from the ears and brain. This is but one documented example of the horrifying results of sonar upon cetaceans.

Sonar produces intense sound waves that probe the ocean to reveal underwater objects. The waves spread tens and even hundreds of miles and create ear-splitting noise comparable to rocket blasts. Navy sonar, in fact, reaches 235 decibels - the Saturn V rocket launch registered 220. Even low-frequency sonar affects whale behavior, and mid-frequency sonar can be lethal.

The IWC, the NRDC, IFAW, SELC and a vast number of international marine science institutes have issued reports that clearly delineate the known damage of sonar. Michael Jasny, a senior policy analyst for the Natural Resources Defense Council, said the 1,000 pages of analysis the Navy compiled to support its decision "makes no attempt to consider cumulative effects on marine mammals, beyond glib statements that they wouldn't occur."

He also criticized the Navy's lack of proposed mitigation efforts. The service should consider staying off the range in certain seasons or conditions, he said. Other measures that could reduce impact: restricting the use of sonar at night or in low visibility conditions, when Navy spotters can't easily see marine mammals on the horizon.

The Navy dismissed those alternatives in the document as impractical or contrary to the objectives of the training.

Dozens of organizations have been protesting this project – thus far to no avail. Raise your voice against the proposed off-shore Jacksonville Sonar Testing Range.




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