[MARMAM] Application to expose beaked whales to sonar in Bahamas

Lindy Weilgart lweilgar at dal.ca
Thu May 10 11:40:28 PDT 2007

Although I have not thoroughly reviewed the application to expose 
beaked whales to naval sonar in the AUTEC naval training range in the 
Bahamas, I think I understand enough to be able to form an opinion 
that this research is very ill-advised.  Training maneuvers with 
naval sonar have occurred in this AUTEC range for many years, the 
range is well-equipped with a large array of bottom-mounted 
hydrophones, and beaked whales are present.  Thus, I am sure that 
years of archived audio recordings exist of these naval maneuvers 
which could be analyzed to see how beaked whales react to the 
sonar.  Vocalizing beaked whales could be tracked acoustically to see 
if there is spatial avoidance of the sonar, vocalizations could be 
analyzed to determine whether they change when the sonar is present 
vs. absent, and a wealth of other information must be available in 
these recordings which would illuminate the potential reaction of 
beaked whales to sonar.  Naturally, there are security restrictions 
to this information, and the tactical maneuvers must be kept 
classified, but I am sure there is a way around this 
problem.  Surely, random subsamples can be taken which would not 
compromise security but would allow useful biological data to be 
analyzed.  My question thus is:  why wouldn't these data be analyzed 
first before putting more beaked whales at risk unnecessarily?  And 
if there are really no archived recordings available (hard to 
believe), then why not make recordings of future naval maneuvers, 
which are ongoing?  Ideally, naval maneuvers involving sonar should 
not take place in an area of known beaked whale abundance, but as 
they are occurring anyway, why not take advantage of the 
situation?  If the Navy is unwilling to move its range to protect 
beaked whales, why not at least gain useful information that could 
help the whales?  However, as WDCS rightfully points out, these 
whales cannot be considered naive to sonar and thus could not 
possibly represent beaked whale populations in general.  The most 
sensitive individuals have probably long since left the AUTEC range.

I am also profoundly disturbed that NMFS personell are the holder of 
this permit (Boreman) and PI (Southall).  This appears to me to be a 
conflict-of-interest situation, and at the very least, provides a 
very poor example for a regulator of research ostensibly used to 
protect marine mammals.  If the Co-PIs (Boyd, Clark, Ketten, Tyack, 
Frankel, and Claridge) are so sure that this research will not 
disturb or endanger whales, then they should take on the primary 
responsibility and accountability themselves, and be permit holders.

I urge other marine mammalogists to comment on this application before May 17.

Lindy Weilgart, Ph.D.
Dept. of Biology
Dalhousie University

For more details, visit the website of the permit application:


and draft Environmental Assessment:


Lindy Weilgart, Ph.D.
Research Associate and Assistant Professor
Department of Biology
Dalhousie University
Halifax, Nova Scotia  B3H 4J1 Canada
Ph.: (902) 494-3723
Fax: (902) 494-3736
E-mail: lweilgar at dal.ca 
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