The Navy had scheduled a sonar training program off the Southern California coast but the California Coastal Commission rejected the program last week. This decision was made when concern was expressed that sonar activity could harm endangered whales and other marine animals.
With their sensitive hearing, marine mammals are particularly vulnerable to sonar which disrupts their ability to communicate, migrate, breathe, breed, find shelter and, ultimately, survive. The Navy’s most widely used sonar systems operate in the mid-frequency range, which are known to affect whales. Using this mid-frequency range causes temporary and permanent hearing loss and hemorrhaging around the brain from decompression sickness when whales are startled by sound and surface too quickly.
Evidence of the danger of sonar surfaced dramatically in 2000, when whales of four different species stranded themselves on beaches in the Bahamas. In 2010, thirty-three pilot whales died on the coast of Scotland, possibly due to naval sonar activity. The U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service and the U.S. navy estimated that over five years, navy activities in the Northwest Training Range would result in about 650,000 instances of harm to marine mammals.
The California Coastal Commission have also required the Navy to create safety zones that would guarantee no high-intensity sonar activity near marine sanctuaries and seasonal areas that experience a high concentration of blue, fin, beaked and gray whales.
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