USA: video of Navy sonar damaging killer whales

This video says about itself:

Off the coast of Argentina, seasoned killer whales hunt sea lion pups.

From National Geographic in the USA:

May 2, 2007—When the killer whales of Washington State’s Puget Sound began vanishing, a biologist had to get an earful from the U.S. Navy to pick up clues to the mystery (Washington map).

Using supersensitive microphones, Ken Balcomb has been eavesdropping on the region’s resident killer whales, also known as orcas.

Unlike their transient brethren, these animals spend their entire lives in the sound.

But Balcomb’s years of research unveiled a disturbing trend: Mature orcas were disappearing in the prime of their lives, and no one knew why.

Then, when his equipment was blasted by a cacophony from a passing Navy vessel, Balcomb suspected he’d found at least one piece of the puzzle.

Watch the Puget Sound orcas in action [on video], and hear what the biologist and an expert at the Office of Naval Research have to say about sonar’s impacts on marine mammals.

See also here.

16 thoughts on “USA: video of Navy sonar damaging killer whales

  1. Looking for clues to save a species
    Researchers hope to learn about diet, genetic history of killer whales
    Larry Pynn, Vancouver Sun
    Published: Monday, July 09, 2007

    There are days when Brad Hanson figures he’s the guy with the shovel walking behind an elephant parade and not a federal researcher of killer whales.

    As head of a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) study into the contents of killer whale feces, he confirms they come in varying shapes, consistencies and sizes.

    “We’re poop and scoop,” Hanson jokes in an interview. “It can actually be fairly difficult to collect because it’s very diffuse, a brownish cloud often. Sometimes it’s stringy and sometimes it floats.”

    It gets worse. His study also looks for mucus and vomit, including bones and fish scales — anything floating on the surface that can be used to extract DNA and provide insight into the diet, genetic history, and hormonal stress levels of endangered southern resident killer whales.

    Whales are thought to excrete mucus through their blow hole, he said, perhaps part of a respiratory infection. “Mucus is essentially white cells, chuck full of killer whale DNA,” he said.

    Collecting it is gut-wrenching work. “It usually takes a lot to disgust a biologist. But we had one, like a quart jar of this green…how this whale managed to . . . it was pretty disgusting.”

    The study, in collaboration with non-profit Cascadia Research Collective of Olympia, is part of a growing body of research on both sides of the Canada-U.S. border aimed at collecting information on the natural history of the whales as part of recovery plans to save the species.

    Knowing what the whales eat is a basic component of the recovery effort, with the research results having implications for sport, commercial, and native fisheries should they be required to limit their lucrative salmon catches to benefit the whales.

    In a world of increasingly sophisticated technology, Hanson skims his samples off the ocean surface using a simple net used to clean swimming pools, extending it from the bow of a six-metre motorized inflatable craft used to follow the whales.

    Hanson’s research began in the fall of 2004 and is continuing this summer. Analyzing the results and distinguishing not just one prey from the other, but one closely related killer whale from the other, is difficult and laborious work, yielding only general findings to date.

    What Hanson can say is that killer whales prefer chinook — the largest of the salmon species — when it’s available, moving to chum as the chinook runs decline in falls. When salmon is absent, the whales can also eat groundfish.

    Not one of the 150 samples to date has shown evidence of sockeye, despite the millions that migrate through.

    “They’re picky about the salmon they eat,” he said, noting his research supports the findings of a more limited killer whale study of fish scales and tissues in recent years by B.C. whale scientist John Ford.

    Why sockeye are not caught — perhaps because of swimming depth or schooling behaviour — is open to debate. “Just because the species is there, doesn’t mean it is available,” Hanson noted. “Can they catch them easily?”

    The fact that salmon eaten by the whales in the San Juan Islands are largely bound for B.C’s Fraser River system highlights the need for international cooperation to save the whales.

    Whale Watch Operators Association Northwest, an organization representing commercial whale-watch vessels in B.C. and Washington, working with government agencies, has already adopted voluntary guidelines to limit disturbance of the killer whales. The guidelines apply to commercial and private boaters, including kayakers.

    Among the key guidelines: keep at least 100 metres/yards from the whales and do not leap-frog or otherwise block their path; reduce speed to less than seven knots within 400 metres/yards of a whale; shut off sonar, depth sounders, fish finders and other underwater transducers when in the vicinity of whales; limit viewing time to 30 minutes for any one particular group of whales.

    Currently, prosecutions for disturbing whales in the U.S. and Canada are rare.

    Corey Mendoza, a boater from Stanwood, Wash., was fined $450 US for gross misdemeanor for violating state wildlife laws after he drove his boat at high speed toward the killer whales last year, chasing them and repeatedly blocking their escape.

    Jim Maya, a guide from San Juan Island, was fined $6,500 in Duncan Provincial Court in 2004 for disturbing killer whales by following within 30 metres of a pod for three to five minutes off North Pender Island. A Victoria-based whale watch captain, Gerry Fossum, was also fined $6,500 for disturbing killer whales on the same day.

    Whale-watching guidelines are expected to get some teeth as both nations adopt recovery plans for the southern resident killer whales, numbering fewer than 90 individuals in three pods — J, K, and L — compared with more than 200 threatened northern resident killer whales in 16 pods.

    San Juan County already has a ban on personal water craft — often known as Jet Skis, after one manufacturer — to protect marine life and peacefulness in the archipelago. The county is also considering its own whale protection regulations.

    Canada’s proposed recovery plan, released last month, for the southern resident and northern resident killer whales, recognizes the need to protect critical habitat, ensure an “adequate and accessible food supply,” reduce harmful pollutants in the ocean, and manage physical and acoustic disturbance from vessel traffic.

    The recovery strategy is posted at for public comment.

    Marilyn Joyce, marine mammal coordinator for federal fisheries, confirmed Canadian researchers and managers are working closely with their U.S. counterparts on a common approach to saving the whales.

    The whale-watch guidelines are part of that, as well as the designation of stewardship boats — Soundwatch in Washington, and Straitwatch in B.C. — to monitor whale-watch activities and educate boaters.

    NOAA proposed its own wide-ranging recovery plan last November in which the agency estimated $15 million US would be pumped into whale research over the next five years, with $50 million US expected to be spent to recover the population over almost 30 years. Canada could produce no comparative figures.

    Some argue the U.S. plan still doesn’t go far enough, and continues to mix politics with science.

    Val Veirs, president of board of directors of The Whale Museum on San Juan Island, said NOAA’s definition of critical habitat excludes military sites and waters less than than six metres deep. Shorelines are known to represent important habitat for prey species, but are also where human activities are concentrated.

    Veirs also worries that the recovery plan offers no protection for habitat in outside waters where the whales are known to travel in winter.

    The U.S. recovery plan also urges that “land-based viewing of killer whales should be advocated as a way for the public to see and enjoy the animals without the impact of boat viewing.”

    There is no better place for land-based viewing than Lime Kiln Point State Park on the west coast of San Juan Island facing Haro Strait and Greater Victoria.

    Proof of the park’s outstanding location: killer whales made 44 passes alongside the park between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. from May 20 to July 1 this year. That’s up from 41 passes during the same time in 2006, 40 per cent of them within 100 metres of the shoreline. The park logged almost 180,000 visitors last year.

    The park’s lighthouse, built in 1919 on the rocky shoreline bluffs, is home to researchers recording the interaction of whales and boaters within a study area measuring one-half mile wide by one mile long.

    On Canada Day, July 1, researchers counted 43 commercial and private whale-watching boats from Canada and the U.S. combined within the study area plus another 25 outside the zone.

    Dan Kukat, president of Whale Watch Operators Association Northwest, said B.C. and Washington whale-watch operators take 350,000 to 400,000 passengers annually to see the southern resident killer whales.

    Several thousand more see them on their own private boats.

    “The number of boats is an issue,” confirmed Robert Otis, a psychology professor from Wisconsin’s Ripon College who spends his summers here. “There really is a sense the boats are a negative factor in the whales’ life.”

    He hopes to do follow-up research with the boating community, including trying to get at least a hazy sense of how people are positively influenced by seeing a whale up close.

    “Boats provide an educational platform,” he confirmed. “It may be better than we can provide on shore.”

    There can be little doubt that whale-watching is enhanced by viewing from the water in the whales’ habitat, even more so by going on your own in a vulnerable ocean kayak.

    Kayaking is as easy as launching from San Juan County campground, just north of Lime Kiln park, as soon as you see a whale or a whale-watch boat — a certain tipoff — just offshore.

    Just don’t expect a pristine experience unless perhaps you are there during the week or evening.

    On a sunny weekend afternoon, this reporter ventured out for a paddle just as a half dozen whales from J pod became fully surrounded by paddlers and motorized vessels, the inboard engine from one commercial operator by far the loudest as it droned alongside the whales on a parallel track.

    “It’s a feeding frenzy,” remarked another paddler, Gus Stuyt of New Westminster, staying two nights at the county campground. “Hard to believe that it’s not harassment.”

    Tough to disagree. Then a lone adult whale breaks the sparkling ocean surface straight ahead, emits a blast of seawater from its blow hole, and rolls to its side and out of sight.

    A female with a young also approaches from the near distance, diving in tandem, and emerging 150 metres later on the other side of the kayaks.

    Near shore another whale spy hops — pokes its head after the surface and takes a look around.

    Soon the whales have moved on, the press of boats dissipates, and observers are left only with smiles in the wake of a world-class wildlife experience at our very doorstep.


  2. I love killer whales my favorite animal ever!!! There so cute and adorable.There curious and sweet.More loving even than dogs and cats. I want a pet killer whale so bad when i grow up. Well got to go Bye killer whale loveres. Reamber send money end so they woln’t do extinct.I alredy sent and 100 dollars there and even more come my birthday. So help me out some please. Hurry up send in all your big cash and bills. I would hate to lose my babies. There inisent!!! Reamber that. Plus STAY AWAY FROM KILLER WHALES WHEN YOUR IN A BOAT Or i will haunt you.


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