Subject: Sounds - low-frequency and HI humpbacks (fwd)

Mike Williamson (
Wed, 1 Apr 1998 07:57:48 -0500 (EST)


---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Tue, 31 Mar 1998 06:46:07 -0500
From: Dagmar Fertl <>
Reply-To: Marine Mammals Research and Conservation Discussion
Subject: newsclip - low-frequency and HI humpbacks

     Scientists, environmentalists clash over whale research

     Low-frequency sounds beamed at humpbacks in Hawaii

     March 31, 1998

     KONA, Hawaii (CNN) -- Endangered humpback whales wintering in Hawaiian
     waters are the subject of an experiment that is pitting environmental
     groups against researchers.

     The humpbacks spend the warmer months in the Gulf of Alaska,
     but return to Hawaii in the winter where they calve, sing, and play
     in the warm Hawaiian waters.

     Although the whales are a tourist attraction, the island waters are a
     marine sanctuary and whale-watching boats are required to keep
     their distance.

     The researchers are transmitting low-frequency sounds underwater in
     the direction of the whales and studying the reactions as recorded on
     research instruments.

     "There's no doubt that at some level sound is harmful," says
     testing director Joseph Johnson. "The question is, what is that level,
     and that's part of what we're trying to do here is study the lowest
     order of behavioral effects of low-frequency sound on marine

     But several environmental groups have tried to stop the
     experiments in court, and to disrupt them in the water.

     Both sides agree whales are highly sensitive to sound, but when it
     comes to whether the low-frequency transmissions are harmful to
     them, the two sides are oceans apart.

     "The references exist in scientific journals showing that whales avoid
     these kinds of sounds," says Marsha Green of the Ocean Mammal
     Institute. "We already have evidence whales can be killed,
     perhaps, by 195 decibels."

     The Navy is paying for the research because it wants to use
     low-frequency sound to detect submarines, and the researchers
     say they are taking every precaution not to harm the whales.

     "I would never propose an experiment of any kind that I thought
     could possibly harm a whale," says professor Chris Clark of
     Cornell University.

     Scientists say that early results show that no apparent harm is
     being done, and that the whales typically sing right through the

     But protesters say the sounds have driven whales away and
     caused strange behavior.

     "It seems as though the whales are much more engaged in surface
     activity," says Chris Reid, one of the protesters.

     "We'll look very carefully at these data and see if there is any
     statistical difference between their behavior when we're
     transmitting," says professor Kurt Fristrup of Cornell. "But at the
     moment there's no obvious feature that stands out."