Navy admits to sonar use
before odd whale activity
A pod of about 200 entered
Hanalei Bay during war games
Warships off Kauai did use sonar on July 3 before 200 melon-headed whales in an agitated state entered Hanalei Bay, the Navy has confirmed almost two months after the incident.
However, "there is no evidence that makes any connection between the training going on that day and the unusual marine behavior," said Lt. David Benham, a spokesman for the U.S. Pacific Fleet.
A pod of melon-headed whales, which usually stay in deep ocean water, were spotted in Hanalei Bay between 7 and 7:30 a.m. July 3. Wildlife officials and volunteers later coaxed the animals out of the bay, with only one known mortality: a recently born whale calf that apparently never got to eat.
Earlier reports from the Navy indicated that ships participating in its Rim of the Pacific war games northwest of Kauai would not have started using sonar until 8 a.m. that day.
But "subsequent investigation showed that there were two ships out there, testing sonar between 6:45 and 7:15 that morning, prior to the exercise beginning," Benham said yesterday.
The information is becoming public as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration plans to investigate the incident further, said Donna Wieting, deputy director of NOAA's Office of Protected Resources, which is responsible for upholding the Marine Mammal Protection and Endangered Species acts.
What exactly is a "safe distance" between marine mammals and sonar "is the $64,000 question," Wieting said yesterday. It depends, she said, on a complex interaction of the animal's biology and the sea conditions with the loudness, power and duration of sonar noise.
The Navy remains convinced that the sonar did not cause the melon-headed whales' behavior at Kauai because the ships were between 26 and 32 nautical miles from Hanalei when they tested sonar, Benham said.
Meanwhile, four national conservation and animal rights groups are calling for the Navy to reassess its use of certain types of sonar because of concern about its effects on whales and other marine mammals.
The groups asking Navy Secretary Gordon England to review Navy policies on high- intensity, midfrequency sonar are the National Resources Defense Council, Jean-Michel Cousteau's Ocean Futures Society, the International Fund for Animal Welfare and the Humane Society of the United States.
"We are asking the Navy to stop using sonar in areas important to marine mammals, that are known to be prime habitat -- like the waters off Hawaii, the Pacific coast and the Canary Islands," said Joel Reynolds, an NRDC attorney.
The groups ask that the Navy do such testing in "oceanic deserts" where marine mammals are not as common.
Hawaii-based Benham said he cannot respond to a letter addressed to the Navy secretary but did say that the "Navy is already complying with all applicable federal laws and regulations and will continue to do so."