Saturday, October 27, 2001

Researchers plan
ocean sound tests

Experiments off Kauai gauging
temperatures could start in January

By Diana Leone

A five-year experiment to measure the Pacific Ocean's temperature with sound waves could resume off Kauai as soon as January, its lead researcher said yesterday.

The state Board of Land and Natural Resources gave the Scripps Institution of Oceanography permission yesterday to use equipment it left underwater in 1999 after two years of preliminary experiments.

The permit the board gave the University of California-San Diego-affiliated institute allows for a five-year round of experiments, again using the underwater "boombox" that had raised questions about its effects on humpback whales.

Principal investigator Peter Worcester said he is optimistic that the Scripps Institution will get OKs from the National Marine Fisheries Service and the U.S. Navy facility at Barking Sands, Kauai, by the end of the year.

Worcester said the new data on ocean temperatures collected by sound measurements will be combined with information about climate change gathered by satellite and other methods. He said the first two years of testing proved that this method more than met hopes for its accuracy.

Typically the testing will transmit every four days, with six transmittals of 20 minutes within that one day, Worcester said. Sound will be emitted no more than 2 percent of the time during all but two months of the year, which will be the time whales are unlikely to be in Hawaii.

As part of the state Land and Natural Resources permit, the Scripps Institution agreed to pay for eight aerial observations of humpback whales and other marine mammals each year of the five-year experiment.

That's to document whether the sounds broadcast underwater disturb the animals.

University of Hawaii professor Joe Mobley headed a team of scientists that observed humpback whale behavior from a plane four times a year between 1993 and 1998, to gather baseline data and observe whales around Kauai when the experiment began in 1997.

Mobley said his team "did not discern any significant changes in numbers or distribution of whales or any other species" when the sounds were transmitted.

The provision to have Scripps pay for extensive aerial surveys of marine mammals will be a great contribution to research, Walters said. "That's a $50,000 value for each eight surveys and will provide a really valuable survey for whales around Kauai that we would not otherwise have."

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