Imagine a dolphin. It’s playing in its school, splashing about, clicking away… The sight makes even human onlookers like yourself feel at peace. The dolphin swims over…. Does it want to say hello? As it approaches, your amusement turns to horror, as you realize that its eyes and ears are oozing blood…. Its school is floating belly-up in the calm ocean. Who could do such a thing to these poor animals?
We received a reader request recently regarding the South Korean and American navy drills going on near the Korean Peninsula. Beyond the simple human/political aspect of the region, where a poorly aimed shell could well set off World War 3, the reader was intent on finding out more about an issue that has been largely ignored by the mainstream media: the possible harm that these drills might have on the natural environment of the area, and the living beings that could end up becoming collateral damage.
His concerns are well-founded, with a shockingly high quantity of marine life dying off during and in the vicinity of other prior drills. Further, it is scientific fact that the navy uses a particularly harmful form of sonar, which is severely damaging to the sensory organs that dolphins and whales depend on to survive. It is strange that little coverage is given to this subject mainstream media; I suppose nobody likes to criticize the US navy when it comes to “national defense”. What are the lives of a few thousand marine animals that disappear into the ocean, when you’ve invisible terrorists constantly assaulting the homeland causing hundreds of invisible deaths?
The Effects of Weapons-grade Sonar
The Scientific American wrote an excellent piece explaining the harm that navy sonar does to whales and dolphins:
Unfortunately for many whales, dolphins and other marine life, the use of underwater sonar (short for sound navigation and ranging) can lead to injury and even death. Sonar systems—first developed by the U.S. Navy to detect enemy submarines—generate slow-rolling sound waves topping out at around 235 decibels; the world’s loudest rock bands top out at only 130. These sound waves can travel for hundreds of miles under water, and can retain an intensity of 140 decibels as far as 300 miles from their source.
These rolling walls of noise are no doubt too much for some marine wildlife. While little is known about any direct physiological effects of sonar waves on marine species, evidence shows that whales will swim hundreds of miles, rapidly change their depth (sometime leading to bleeding from the eyes and ears), and even beach themselves to get away from the sounds of sonar.
Macabre. These beautiful animals, the very reason for the existence of many of today’s “environmentalists”, die from noise so loud that it causes them to bleed from their ears, and even their eyes. These symptoms that suggest that even internal organs might be ruptured from the sound, and indeed, at 200Db (a decibel increment of 10 units is equal to a sound that is 10 times louder than the sound being referenced; for example, 140 decibels is ten times as loud as 130 etc. Hence 235 decibels is actually a few times more than 10,000,000,000, or ten trillion, times louder than the loudest rock concert ever witnessed, as had been mentioned earlier. Food for thought.), the vibrations can rupture your lungs, and above 210 Db, the lethal noise can bore straight through your brain until it hemorrhages that delicate tissue. The dying animals then literally opt for suicide over having to endure this torture any longer. These “drills” are beginning to sound like weapons testing to me, with any critter in range, a test subject. How would you explain the need for a sonar system more than ten trillion times more potent than the world’s loudest rock concert? I consider most normal rock concerts to be auditory torture as it is… I cannot even begin to comprehend….
And this is by no means a small-scale, once-in-a-blue-moon event either. The Scientific American continues:
In January 2005, 34 whales of three different species became stranded and died along North Carolina’s Outer Banks during nearby offshore Navy sonar training. Other sad examples around the coast of the U.S. and elsewhere abound, notably in recent years with more sonar testing going on than ever before….. recent cases of whale strandings likely represent a small fraction of sonar’s toll, given that severely injured animals rarely make it to shore.
The Natural Resources Defense Council led the charge, and won a lawsuit against the Navy to restrict the use of low-frequency sonar off the coast of California. Later, they also asked the federal courts to restrict testing of intense, harmful and far ranging mid-frequency types of sonar off Southern California’s coastline. They lost that case. In the end, the navy gets to continue using most of their sonar off the coast of California, and move their most inhumane drills elsewhere. To places where there are few people to notice. To places like South Korea perhaps.
The Navy Knows the Harm It Is Causing. It Does Not Care.
You might claim that the navy is completely unaware of the toll their actions have on the ocean, and that it would never purposefully try to harm the cute and cudly creatures of the Earth… Surely they’d take apropriate precautions to protect the animals while they test their weapons in South Korea…. but you’d be sadly mistaken. The navy is fully aware of the harm they are inflicting, and in a recent application to the National Marine Fisheries Service for permits for its activities, they were forced to take stock. By the their own estimations, their live simulations could kill 186 whales and dolphins off of the east coast, and 155 near Hawaii and southern California. Serious injuries for mammals off the east coast could number upwards of 11,267 with 1.89 million minor problems.
The reports said the testing and training might also cause marine mammals to change their behavior — such as swimming in a different direction — in 20 million instances. That’s the population of a small to mid-sized country. Beyond the impact of naval sonar, the estimates also include the number of marine life that would get blown up by the usual assortment of conventional explosives. That is the bare minimum effect that was estimated by the navy, let’s not even consider the potential for upward revision, nor the likelihood that every one of the 11,267 “serious injuries” would likely die soon after.
Thankfully this open environmental degradation in the Pacific is facing significant opposition; a Federal Judge invalidated the above plan, which had been approved by the National Marine Fisheries Service. It is unknown how much impact this decision would have on the navy’s actions, or if indeed it would continue to “accidentally” cause harm to marine life elsewhere….
In the Bahamas, the navy admitted responsibility for another 16 beached whales and dolphins.
The Canary Islands is yet another popular locale for navy drills, which has also resulted in mass strandings. Since navy ships have been restricted from performing their exercises nearby, these strandings have all but stopped.
In 1996, 12 whales became stranded on the west coast of Greece. Three years later, four whales stranded themselves in the U.S. Virgin Islands. The following year, there were three whale strandings on Madeira. All with navy drills occurring nearby.
In march 2009, more than 80 whales and dolphins beached themselves off the coast of Australia. more than 500 whales and dolphins have beached themselves in five beachings in the five months preceding that. No link was drawn to naval drills, but it should be noted that Australia often hosts controversial naval drills off its coast, together with the US and several of its partners. Given the proven link between low-frequency sonar and whale beachings, it is surprising that naval drills continue at a frenzied pace in a country that is as well-known for it conservancy advocacy as it is for its extensive marine wildlife.
The US-South Korean Drills
With record numbers of US and Korean naval and land troops( 200,000 for the South Koreans, and 14,000 for the US) engaging in war-games next to North Korea, this powder keg is set to cause even greater strife… to the marine life in the region. Brand new weapons are being tested, not to mention the impact of the “old-school” range of sonar tests and exposives. The Pacific is already facing the effects of Fukashima’s continuous “accidental” leakage of extremely radioactive substances…. It does not need large-scale naval drills to add to the ocean’s problems.