The New York Whale and Dolphin Action League

Cape Cod Humpbacks NO RED TIDE Letter

The investigation into the recent deaths of up to 17 humpback whales in the Gulf of Maine continues. The following letter was written in response to an article by the Canadian Press.

Subject: Re: NO RED TIDE
Date: Sat, 09 Aug 2003 12:45:44 -0400
Organization: New York Whale and Dolphin Action League

Regarding the article in the Canadian Press by Alison Auld, it would bear reminding that navy sonar has repeatedly been linked to mass whale beachings (and deaths): that in the Bahamas in March of 2000 a mass beaching of 18 whales was directly linked to a navy exercise using 235+dB of sonar; that in September of 2002 naval exercises coincided with another mass beaching of 18 whales off the coast of Spain; that just last month one navy vessel was putting out high intensity military sonar in full view of the J Pod of orcas in Puget Sound, a whale watching vessel and a marine biologist's study boat. Passengers heard and "felt" the sound, then saw a minke whale shoot straight out of the water (unheard of behavior), the orcas huddle together near shore then flee (also behavior not seen before), and within a few hours 10 porpoises were found dead. This after promises by the navy that they would not turn their sonar on when whales were present. In fact, the navy vessel, the USS Shoup, refused to turn off the sonar signals despite repeated pleas from the whale watch boat and visible whale distress. It wasn't until Canadian officials contacted the vessel that the sonar was turned off. The whale watch captain went below deck and was traumatized; she has suffered from dizziness, vertigo, tinnitis and a host of other illnesses; several of the passengers were also made sick.

It would be worth investigating a diver's cause of death, which occurred coincidently with the deaths of these 14 whales off Cape Cod. It should also be remembered that navy sonar at 240 decibels at the origin, whether it is low frequency or mid-frequency, is capable of traveling hundreds of miles without attenuating (weakening) and when it passes through the body of a mammal, a turtle, fish, or anything with air spaces (swim baldders in fish, lungs, ear and nasal passages in mammals or turtles for example), it will cause the areas to resonate, often violently, even to the point of rupture; i.e. the lungs and ears will explode, brains will hemmorhage, tissues will literally tear apart. This was seen in the whales in the Bahamas and in Spain; preliminary imaging has shown brain hemmorhaging in the Puget Sound porpoises similar to that caused by acoustic trauma. The fact remains that the sonar-emitting vessel may not even be in the vicinity while the powerful noise floods the ocean and wreaks havoc on marine life. One may have to look far "beyond the horizon" for this source.

I have no evidence at this time to say the whales died because of sonar, but you didn't even mention that possibility. Environmentalists all over the world have been made aware that military sonar and high intensity sound is now a prime suspect and has turned into a leading cause of mass whale beachings/deaths. In the past, routine necropsies have ignored acoustic damage. Today, thankfully, this is changing, but we must always ensure that acoustic damage as a cause of death is considered.

One can not rule out noise from seismic exploration and air gun from gas and oil drilling which has been of great concern to marine life in the Gulf of Maine. While a fresher carcass would bring definitive proof of acoustic trauma, until then, it must be given fair weight in the investigation.

In addition, there is an illusion that the feared "red tide" is a "naturally occurring" toxin. Let's not forget also that "red tide" is actually fed and proliferated by the presence of nutrient rich fertilizers and nitrates in the runoff from domestic lawns and agribusiness. The fertilizers in the water actually feed the algae and they "bloom." While the toxic plankton may be "naturally-occurring" their proliferation is certainly not. It's another case of human-induced disruption of the balance of nature. To much dismay, few articles bring this critical information to the public.

Please include some mention of the possibility of acoustic/sonar-related whale deaths in your next article on these dead whales, and some of the science behind the causes of "red tide" or other algae blooms. The only way to prevent these disasters is to educate the public and that is what you are here for.

Thank you.

Taffy Williams, Director
New York Whale and Dolphin Action League
PO Box 273
Yonkers, NY 10707 USA

The New York Whale and Dolphin Action League
PO Box 273, Yonkers, NY 10707 USA
Phone: 914-793-9186
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