Case Study: ATOC & Humpbacks (11/21)

Michael Williamson (
Mon, 22 Nov 1995 10:03:14

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From: Michael Williamson <WHE_WILLIAM@FLO.ORG>
Subject: Case Study: ATOC & Humpbacks (11/21)
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From:         Forsyth Kineon <>
Subject:      ATOC article #2 (fwd)
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Forsyth P. Kineon, Master's Candidate
School of Marine Affairs
University of Washington
Box 355685
Seattle, Washington, 98195
(w) 206/526-6316, (fax) 206/526-6615
Whale Deaths Delay Undersea Tests
Sound transmissions called off until probe completed
Stephen Schwartz, Chronicle Staff Writer
Three humpback whales found dead at Stinson Beach and the Farallon
Islands last week have caused further delays in a controversial
undersea sound experiment off the coast at Half Moon Bay, scientists
said yesterday.
 The sound transmissions by researchers from the Scripps
Institution of Oceanography at the University of California at San
Diego were intended to gauge whether a larger, $35 million program to
measure global warming would injure or disrupt marine mammals.
 While preparing the experiment, scientists tried out the device
that emits sound waves into the Pacific. Scripps does not believe
that procedure is linked to the whale deaths, but the subsequent
experiments were nonetheless called off at the request of the
National Marine Fisheries Service. The agency has asked that no tests
take place until it has completed an investigation of what killed the
 ``The operation of the sound source during the installation to
test its performance is not related to the whale deaths,'' said
Andrew Forbes, a Scripps researcher.
 But, he added, ``because the time of deaths of the whales and the
exact cause of their deaths is not known, we are taking a very
conservative position and will not operate our program until we
receive a report from the NMFS.''
 Testing of the sound program's effects on marine mammals is led by
Dan Costa, a researcher at UC Santa Cruz. Costa had already called
off a November 9 test because bad weather blocked an aerial survey of
an underwater mountain 48 miles offshore. The aerial test must be
conducted within 48 hours before the underwater tests begin.
 Then, the research ship used to monitor marine mammal behavior
during the tests became unavailable, further delaying the
 Scott Anderson, an Inverness field biologist, observed all three
dead whales last week. He said he went out into the Pacific off the
Farallones in a small boat and found two that ``were bloated,
floating high in the water, looking like little islands, with no
apparent wounds that would indicate how they died. They did not have
injuries such as they would if they had been struck by ships.''
 He said ``it is unusual for a group of baleen whales to die like
this all at the same time, especially at this time of year.'' A
humpback is a type of baleen whale.
 However, he discounted any connection between the sound
transmission program and the whale deaths.
 Other naturalists said the whales could have been poisoned by
toxins in the fish they ate or the buildup of potentially harmful
``brown algae'' in the water.
 The transmission experiment is designed to learn whether increases
in the rate of global warming can be detected by using underwater
sound waves to measure long-
term changes in ocean temperature. The project would place noise
emitters 3,000 feet under Pacific waters off Half Moon Bay, linked by
a one-inch diameter power cable to the shore.
 Although some experts say the sound emissions would be no louder
than those produced by passing ships, strong objections to the
program from environmental groups forced researchers to accept a
range of conditions, including a stipulation that the experiment be
substantially modified or halted outright if it is found to harm
marine life.
 In a similar development, Exxon Corp. began a seismic survey off
Santa Barbara yesterday, using sound waves to assess oil and gas
reserves in the 126-square-mile Santa Ynez field, the largest
offshore reserve in contiguous U.S. territory.
 Environmental groups and the state Coastal Commission had
threatened to block the testing, saying sound waves could disrupt the
migration of gray whales and adversely affect more than 34 other
marine species. But a compromise permitted Exxon to go ahead with the
probe on the condition that the emissions be halted if marine mammals
enter protected areas around the transmitters.
 Bruce Tackett, a spokesman for Exxon at corporate headquarters in
Houston, said yesterday that a trial run Friday resulted in a
decision to begin the test at midnight Monday.