We Now Know Why Naval Sonar Leads To Mass Whale Strandings

Unfortunately for many whales, dolphins and other marine life, the use of Naval sonar can have a harmful impact. Based on newly available scientific information, this low-frequency sonar produces a high-intensity sound, therefore whales will swim hundreds of miles, dive very deep, (sometimes leading to bleeding from the eyes and ears), or even beach themselves in an attempt to escape the intolerable noise of sonar. According to a new review paper published Proceedings of the Royal Society B will reveal the reasons.


Beaked whales, one of the world’s deepest diving whale species, this species strandings happened very rarely before the 1960s. However, mid-frequency active sonar (MFAS is one of the sonar types which has used by the Navy to identify submarines. Due to the sound of MFAS, it disrupted the marine creatures and their diving behavior. Therefore, it is a very alarming situation for all the marine creatures.

From 1960 to 2004 many beaked whales were found washed up on beaches, while 121 mass stranding occasions reported. This incident had taken place in France, followed by Italy, the US, and the Bahamas. The unusual mass stranding happened during this time and majority were Cuvier’s beaked whales, such event has happened frequently while US Navy and NATO training exercises were taking place.

When it comes to why animal beach themselves, scientists were not been able to find an exact answer but still there are some speculations and ideas as to why this may take place. One reason given by marine biologists would be man-made materials and chemicals is affecting greater pollution in the ocean, therefore, marine mammals can have health issues and causing death as a result of human activities. Other reasons could be water pollution, Natural diseases, Attacks from sharks or other marine mammals, Poison from various aquatic species, Pneumonia, changes in the weather or global warming.

However, it is important to find out why sonar sound has harmful effects for whales to beach themselves. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, powerful underwater sounds produced by sonar can put out sounds of more than 200 decibels, this sound spread across the ocean and harshly harms sound-sensitive marine animals like whales.

“It’s like when workers in a high noise environment become deafened after a sudden high level of sound,” Said by Ken Balcomb, who is a senior scientist at the Center for Whale

According to the whale experts, Sonar sound brings a painful situation for beak whales where they end up with nitrogen bubbles in their blood. Therefore, this brings a negative impact to their vital organs. Due to this life threating situation, these marine animals would try to move to the surface quickly.

“In the presence of sonar they are stressed and swim vigorously away from the sound source, changing their diving pattern,” lead author Yara Bernaldo de Quiros told AFP.

“The stress response, in other words, overrides the diving response, which makes the animals accumulate nitrogen. It’s like an adrenalin shot.”

In 2012, a lower court ruled that military vessels were allowed to use a type of loud, low-frequency sonar, but a federal appeals court in San Francisco reversed that decision in July 2016, ruling that the Navy violated marine mammal protection laws, reports the Washington Post.

“It’s important to understand that the ocean is a world of sound, not sight,” Michael Jasny, director of the marine mammal program at the Natural Resources Defense Council, told Wired.

Although sonar can be a valuable resource to help the Navy pick up on any underwater threats, marine mammals can also perceive these sounds as threats and respond accordingly, Jasny said.


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