POSTED: 2 SEPTEMBER 2004 - 8:00am HST

Recent Kauai Whale Stranding in Hanalei

melonhead whales were harmed at Hanalei when Navy tested new sonar

Safeguards can protect whales during sonar use
Editorial in the Honolulu Star Bulletin on 1 September  2004

The Navy has acknowledged that sonar was used in the hours before a pod of deep-water whales swam into Hanalei Bay. New information calls into question the Navy's contention that the use of sonar during maneuvers off Kauai had nothing to do with driving a large pod of deep-water whales into Hanalei Bay during the Fourth of July weekend.
The information further validates a collection of evidence, which the Navy dismisses, that sonar presents a danger to marine life and buttresses arguments for some restraints.

About 200 melon-headed whales alarmed residents and marine biologists they were spotted in the bay about 7:30 a.m. July 3, swimming in a tight circle about 100 feet from the beach. These whales normally stay at least 15 miles off shore. Specialists and volunteers managed to herd the whales out to sea, but a newborn calf became separated from the pod and eventually died of starvation.

At the time, Rim of the Pacific naval exercises were being conducted about 20 miles northwest of Kauai, but Navy officials said no sonar had been used before the whales were seen in the bay. A spokesman told the Star-Bulletin that active sonar-tracking simulations had not begun until 8 a.m. while another told the Washington Post the exercises began at 8:30 a.m.

The Navy now acknowledges that ships had used their sonar at intervals through about 20 hours before the whales appeared in the bay and specifically from 6:45 and 7:10 a.m. on July 3, according to the Post.

The Navy still maintains that the ships' distance and the time frame do not mesh with the near-stranding, but its conclusions appear as uncertain as its credibility.

Growing evidence suggests that sonar can kill marine mammals by causing their organs to hemorrhage or by frightening them so they beach, as the Navy has admitted happened in the Bahamas four years ago. There have been dozens of other incidents -- off the coast of Washington State, the Canary Islands, northwest Africa, the U.S. Virgin Islands and in Greece -- when strandings and deaths have coincided with sonar exercises.

Moreover, scientists suspect that most of the mammals harmed by sonar use aren't even tallied since their deaths may occur at sea.

The Navy says exercises are necessary to prepare sailors and Marines to counter a substantial and growing threat from diesel submarines that can only be detected by active sonar, but safeguards may be in order. Training can be conducted in low-risk areas and sonar signals can be reduced to minimize risk to ocean wildlife. Protecting whales and other marine animals need not be at odds with national security.




POSTED: 6 JULY 2004 - 12:00pm HST

Whales herded farther offshore by volunteers

Humpback Whale cow & calf illustration

I just read an article in the Star Bulletin about some melon headed whales in Hanalei Bay.The military says it is too early to tell if their sonar testing is to blame. It's not too early for me... Keith Mylett

Kayaks and canoes were used to move the animals out to sea
by Mary Vorsino on 5 July 2004 Honolulu Star Bulleten

Hundreds of volunteers herded a pod of about 200 melon-headed whales out of Kauai's Hanalei Bay and into deeper water yesterday morning, a day after the animals had initially come near shore in what experts called unusual behavior.

"It was a storybook ending," said Bob Braun, a veterinarian who helped lead the effort to get the whales out of the bay, "scripted from Hollywood ... and putting an exclamation point on Independence Day."

While in the bay, the whales stayed "in a fairly tight group" about 100 yards offshore and did not appear to be in distress, Braun said.

Some 200 volunteers, officials with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and marine biologists from other organizations drove the whales into deeper water by moving out from shore in kayaks and canoes, he said.

"There was an awful lot of people involved," Braun said. "It was an extraordinary effort by a very large, diverse group."

By about 10:30 a.m. the group had prodded the pod more than a half-mile out. No whales had returned to the bay last night, but residents were expected to monitor the waters and alert officials if the animals returned.

The whales were first spotted in the bay at about 7:30 a.m. Saturday. Lifeguards said they remained tightly packed together throughout yesterday and made no effort to swim toward the beach or the open mouth of the bay.

Marine biologists on Oahu who specialize in whale strandings arrived at the bay Saturday evening and camped on the beach overnight to make sure no whales came too close to shore. Bay residents also kept a close watch, Braun said.
Pods of melon-headed whales, which range from 100 to 500, are often seen in Hawaiian waters, but they usually swim at least 20 miles offshore.

"They're an offshore species," said Tamra Faris, a NOAA assistant regional administrator for protective species. "It's very unusual. ... The main pod was in a fairly healthy state."

The last time there was a mass sighting of melon-headed whales close to shore was about 40 years ago off the Big Island. There is no record of any similar events occurring in Hanalei Bay, Faris said.

It's still unclear why the whales came into the bay, she said.

And it's too early to tell whether Navy Rim of the Pacific sonar exercises Saturday morning were a factor in the whales' behavior, said RIMPAC spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Greg Geisen.

After the Navy received word of the whales' movement into the bay Saturday afternoon, sonar operations were suspended as a precaution.
"There's so many potential causes of this," said Brad Ryon, a NOAA marine biologist. "It's really hard to determine what it would be. There's always a potential that (the sonar) might have some effect. But there's not enough information to conclude anything about the cause."

The Navy had six ships about 23 miles northwest of Kauai at about 8 a.m. Saturday in operations that involved underwater sonar tracking, Geisen said.

He said the Navy will look over the ships' logs to determine how close they were to the pod while sonar was in use. He could not say when sonar tracking would be resumed.

"The best we can do is to make sure that we have a very good idea on where our vessels were when they were using that sonar," he said.
Navy scientists and mathematicians, Geisen said, are trying to figure out whether "sound could have traveled" in the direction of the whales.

NOAA Office of Protected Resources:


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