Whales and Sonar

We’ll go a bit out of our field in today’s post and talk about whales and national security for a minute.  The Navy, attempting to perfect its ability to identify and locate precisely submarines of other countries, has developed a very loud, very long range sonar.  It seems to work well, unless you count the hundreds of whales and dolphins it kills.  The National Resource Defense Council (NRDC) is involved in a long running lawsuit against the Navy trying to stop the program.  By and large the NRDC is winning in the lower court.bkdlone1.jpg

Until recently, the Navy denied that its sonar had anything to do with the beached whales and dolphins, some of whom appear to have died from the bends resulting from panic-driven rapid rises to the surface of the ocean.  Now the Navy has agreed to fund a two year, six million dollar study attempting to learn how the loud sounds affect some whale species.

Hendrick Hertzberg writes about this in his New Yorker column which you can read here. We take the liberty of quoting him briefly:

Whales live in a world of sound. A large part of their brains, which in many species are larger than ours, is devoted to processing sound. We don’t know how they subjectively experience the processed sound, but it is reasonable to speculate that their experience of hearing is comparable in depth, detail, and complexity to our experience of vision. (They may be able, for example, to “see” inside each others’ bodies, giving them an analogue of the nonverbal communication of emotion for which we use gesture and facial expression.)

Hertzberg concludes the national security need for that kind of sonar is over.  About that, we lack qualifications to opine; but we do know this:  Dolphins and whales, like birds, have a right to be here even though they may perceive the world differently.  We all share the same planet.

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