Whale research is booming

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, March 1998:

KAILUA KONA, Hawaii– – Ocean
Mammal Institute volunteers tried apparently unsuccessfully
to amplify last-minute opposition to
Surveillance Towed Array Sonar System Low
Frequency Sound testing northwest of Hawaii,
begun by the U.S. Navy in February, scheduled to
continue through March.
The area is “immediately adjacent to the
Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National
Marine Sanctuary,” explains a newly leaked August
1997 memo from Hawaii Division of Aquatic
Resources staffer Emily Gardner to state Board of
Land and Natural Resources chair Michael D.
Wilson. ANIMAL PEOPLE obtained the memo
from Carroll Cox of EnviroWatch, who said he
received it from an anonymous source.


Continued Gardner, “The experiments
will transmit sounds at a higher frequency range
than the proposed Acoustic Thermometry of Ocean
Climate trials,” better known as ATOC, controversial
among marine mammal defenders for at least
three years. “The potential result of the SURTASS
LFS research is that animals in the area may be
exposed to much greater and potentially damaging
sound levels. ATOC experiments are also scheduled
to occur during the same time period in waters off
Kauai,” likewise “in close proximity to the sanctuary.
I am concerned about the potential impact that
the simultaneous sound transmissions, at opposite
ends of the state and the sanctuary, may have on
Hawaii’s marine mammal and sea turtle resources,”
Gardner told Wilson. “The effects of such transmissions
on marine animals are poorly understood, and
there are a lack of reliable mitigation measures proposed
in both the LFS and ATOC research protocols.
I am also concerned about diminishing the
credibility of the whale sanctuary,” she added.
As ANIMAL PEOPLE reported in
July/August 1997, the whale sanctuary boundaries
were apparently already bent to exclude the waters
around Nihau island, to avoid interfering with Navy
interest in leasing or purchasing the island for use in
launching target drones which would be intercepted
in practice missions over the Pacific Missile Range.
SURTASS LFS is “the Navy’s solution to
finding the quieter new Russian submarines, and
older, virtually silent diesel models in the hands of
many forces,” explains Cetacean Society
International president Bill Rossiter. Part of the testing
involves using underwater sound waves to see
how whales react. The work is being done in preparation
to publish an environmental impact assessment,
required––after several years of SURTASS
LFS testing without one––as result of lawsuit by the
Natural Resources Defense Council.
Gardner recommended to Wilson that the
Hawaii Board of Land and Natural Resources should
encourage the Navy to brief the public and agencies
with potential jurisdiction about the SURTASS LFS
testing. The Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale
National Marine Sanctuary staff “did try to arrange a
public briefing by the LFA team for our advisory
council ,” acting sanctuary manager Allen Tom told
ANIMAL PEOPLE on January 14, “only to have
them cancel at the very last minute.”
Protest of SURTASS LFS by the Pennsylvania-based
Ocean Mammal Institute has an ironic
aspect, as OMI director Marsha Green’s own work
on whales’ response to noise landed her in hot water
last year with the National Marine Fisheries Service.
As ANIMAL PEOPLE reported in
September 1997, following up leads from Cox of
EnviroWatch, Green has in effect run a whalewatching
business since 1993 under the auspices of
a NMFS-issued research permit. By early 1997
NMFS Southwest Region protected species program
coordinator Eugene Nitta had allowed Green to
extend special privileges in observing whales to 63
“research assistants” and 38 “designated assistants,”
aboard nine different vessels. Yet Green’s four-page
brochure about her 11 pay-as-you-go “ecoadventures
and research expeditions” scheduled for 1997
included just one sentence about the supposed scientific
purpose of her work and one further sentence
about research that participants might do.
NMFS Office of Protected Resources
chief Ann Terbush took notice after Green and Jeff
Pantukoff, head of The Whaleman Foundation,
whose activities parallel those of OMI, released
video of marine artist Robert Wyland approaching a
humpback whale mother and calf as part of an unauthorized
“research” activity.
Green and Pantukoff were rebuked when
Terbush and staff found that Wyland’s actions did
not “appear to have a clear association with the
research as described in your research application
and authorized in your research permit,” but were
allowed to continue operations essentially as usual.
The ANIMAL PEOPLE probe of SURTASS
LFS also turned up some details of the littleknown
Arctic Ocean Acoustic Tomometry Project,
which will transmit sonic signals from Murmansk,
Siberia, to Point Barrow, Alaska, in July 1998.
Preliminary work was done in April 1994.
ACOUS project spokesperson Peter
Mikhalevsky wrote in a September 1997 memo to
David Duffy, director of the Alaska Natural
Heritage Program at the University of Alaska in
Anchorage, that ACOUS “is a joint U.S.-Russian
climate research project that has been part of the
Albert Gore/Viktor Chernomyrdin Commission
since December 1994.”
Duffy told ANIMAL PEOPLE t h a t
native whalers in the North Slope region not only
“do not seem worried by it,” but “hope the device
can be used to count whales for them. The environmental
impact statement process has yet to occur.
The whaling captains are a great line of defense on
this for Alaska,” Duffy opined, “but others might
have concerns about the Russian end of things.”

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