Subject: Info: Puget Sound SOUNDS expt.

Michael Williamson (
Thu, 23 May 1996 10:58:54 -0400 (EDT)

More info on research in Puget Sound.

---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Tue, 21 May 1996 10:00:54 EST
To: Multiple recipients of list MARMAM <MARMAM@UVVM.BITNET>
Subject: news clip - underwater sounds

      Associated Press Writer

     SEATTLE (AP) -- Environmentalists and operators of whale-watching
     boats say they are concerned that a proposed underwater sound
     experiment off the coast of Washington state could harm local marine

     Scientists want to send bursts of sound through Haro Strait to
     learn more about the "front" where salt and fresh waters meet in the
     channel between the San Juan Islands and Canada's Vancouver Island.

     "The only way you can communicate underwater is using sound. That's
     what whales have known for millions and millions of years," said
     Henrik Schmidt, an engineering professor at the Massachusetts
     Institute of Technology who requested a marine mammal harassment
     permit for the Navy-funded study.

     The National Marine Fisheries Service has solicited public comments
     about the 26-day experiment, which is scheduled to begin June 10.

     The marine mammals that would be affected include killer whales,
     also called orcas, harbor seals, and harbor and Dall's porpoises.

     "Probably the orcas won't even notice we are there," Schmidt said.

     Others aren't so sure.

     The strait "is not a vast ocean ... it's a narrow highway that the
     orcas travel through," said Peter Hamilton of the Lifeforce
     Foundation, an environmental group in Vancouver, British Columbia.

     While the researchers' permit application suggests animals that are
     bothered can just swim away, Hamilton says it will take time for area
     marine life to learn that the noise is harmful. His group wants the
     researchers to shut off their equipment when they know whales and
     other marine mammals are nearby.

     The Northwest Whale-Watcher Operators Association, whose 18 member
     companies take people out to observe the whales and other marine life,
     voted 17-1 to oppose the project -- despite a bylaw that calls for
     them to support and encourage research.

     The scientists "just don't know what it's going to do. The industry
     just doesn't want to take the chance," said group president Roy
     Sayvetz from the Vashon Island offices of his Island Institute.

     Also, Sayvetz said, the experiment is planned for the height of the
     tourist season "when there are more whales around than any other time
     of year."

     Patrick Miller, a graduate student in biology both at MIT and at
     the Woods Hole (Mass.) Oceanographic Institution, has a separate grant
     from the Office of Naval Research to monitor the experiment's impact
     on wildlife.

     He maintains that more noise is made for longer periods by boats --
     including whale-watching boats -- and by fish finders, bottom sonars
     and deterrent devices at hatcheries.

     "It (the noise) might not bother them (the killer whales and other
     marine mammals) at all," he said. "They seem to be awfully resilient"
     about noise from area boat traffic.

     The fisheries service has noted that most of the sounds planned for
     the study are at levels so low they do not require authorization. The
     researchers "are correctly taking a cautious approach" because of
     recent controversy surrounding acoustic research off the California
     coast by the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, the federal agency

     The researchers plan to transmit sound -- in short-term clicks --
     from several points for about four hours a day. Two underwater robots
     will be used to collect data. The frequencies involved in the Haro
     Strait study will be much lower than those used by Scripps, Schmidt

     The researchers are consulting with whale study groups and trying
     to keep the process as open as possible, he noted -- to the extent of
     creating a web page on the Internet

     (file:// for those with an
     interest in submarine acoustics.

     The researchers are making every effort to reduce the impact of
     their experiment, said Miller, who was invited to participate when he
     raised concerns about the project.

     In addition, an independent panel of four area scientists will
     follow the effort and can call for suspending the experiment if there
     is evidence of harm, Miller said.

     The permit application suggests that the study's effects on marine
     mammals could include harassment, temporary or permanent hearing loss,
     habitat displacement or even death, though it says any harmful effects
     will be addressed with an effective monitoring plan.

     Miller said even temporary hearing loss was unlikely.

     The loudest sounds will register about 195 decibels. That's about
     the equivalent on land of a 135-decibel jet takeoff, Miller said,
     though he noted that is an ongoing sound, not short-term clicks like
     the sounds that will be used for the experiment.

     "Animals have been shown to respond very differently to clicks ...
     they have a very different impact than a long-duration sound," he

     An outboard motor registers about 170 decibels -- 110 decibels
     underwater, he said, contending that only by monitoring the effects of
     such sounds can society knowledgeably deal with the impact of boat and
     ferry traffic on marine mammals.

     Miller said he hopes his research "will give us some idea what
     levels of sound actually matter to the animals" and help protect them.

     Schmidt said the research is an environmental study "with no direct
     military application whatsoever."

     The salt and fresh water fronts the researchers want to study are
     similar to those in the atmosphere, but little is known about how they
     behave and develop, he said.

     Killer whales pass down the front to feed on salmon drawn by food
     that is stirred up there, he said. "The behavior of this front plays a
     very important role for that ecosystem."

     In the event of a major oil spill, the front would have a role "in
     determining how oil is mixed with water mass," Schmidt said, noting
     that 30 tankers a day pass through the strait.

     "That's a very attractive goal," said Howard Garrett at the Center
     for Whale Research, which has its headquarters at Friday Harbor in the
     San Juans.

     However, he said, he was not sure how the research would help
     increase such understanding. He noted that the Coast Guard is already
     quite familiar with area tides and currents.

     Porpoises likely will be driven from the area by the noise, Garrett
     said, though killer whales who avoid the area during the study would
     have no difficulty finding food nearby.

     The center, which monitors area killer-whale "pods" or family
     groups, is "taking a sort of noninvolvement stance," but will alert
     the study participants to any behavioral changes attributed to their
     activities, Garrett said.

     "They'll get to play with some very expensive toys and be on a nice
     island," he said.