back to article 'Whales can't even hear naval sonar' says Navy boffin

A boffin funded by the US Navy has used a gigantic CT scanner, normally employed for inspecting space rockets, to X-ray the head of a whale. The results apparently indicate that naval sonars can't be the cause of whale beachings, as the mighty cetaceans are unable to hear the relevant frequencies. The boffin in question is Dr …


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  1. N2

    Whales can't even hear naval sonar


    Most Navy vessels, particularly submarines use passive sonar & thus completely silent!

    Active sonar gives the game away & anything close by would probably get a bit of a headache

    1. Danny 14


      that in peacetime warships use active sonar all the time. subs dont though.

    2. nero17

      Read this!

      Read this (if you'd like) it explains everything nicely...

      Wade, L., H. Whitehead and L. Weilgart. 2010. Conflict of interest in research on anthropogenic noise and marine mammals: does funding bias conclusions? Marine Policy 34: 320-327.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Shame we are not whales

    Because humans can get hearing loss from ultrasonic frequencies, due to the generation of subharmonics in the real world. (from the ouside world, or even inside the ear itself).

    Or was this just conveniently ignored?

    1. Swarthy

      an honest question

      I do know that humans can take hearing damage from sounds >20kHz and it may be from subharmonics as you say. but does anyone here know the possibility/probability of hearing damage from subsonic (<20Hz) frequencies? This report is talking about sonar being *below* wales' ability to the subsonic question would be more apropos.

      1. Neil Hoskins

        an honest answer

        Hearing damage isn't really the issue here.

      2. Inachu
        Thumb Up

        The best test is..........

        Build a pexiglass version of a whale and fill the innards with the same stuff they use for bullet testing on the fire range with body gel and fill the nose area with the eaxct same oil taken from whales used in oil lamps.

        Next fire up the super duper sound generator and put a few sensors inside the the wall cavity where the oil sits and record the findings. I am sure the sound is harmless until it hits disimilar liquid that is housed inside the mamals giant head.

        But any how I love it when I a proved wrong.

  3. cagaregras

    American boffins

    Who still believes in an American scientist probably working to deflect the blame from the guilty parties; who also probably receives funds from the aforementioned guilty party for his living and research, and who probably gives a fuck about whales inasmuch he is blaming Japanese fishers instead of the said party???

  4. Anonymous Coward

    Please do not buy it!!!

    First, Ted Cranford uses many untested assumtions in his work and it was brought up during recent conference in Quebec when he talked about beaked whales.

    Second, recent study published by Canadian (!) scientists showed that all studies funded by NAVY largely do not find any harmfull effect of any Navy actions on marine mammals. Given that no other studies exist to refute these claims it just slides by default. Who on earth can use such scanner and not be funded by the Navy? C'mon! There is NO FUNDING available to refute any of these claims and that is why Navy funded studies cannot be trusted and should be ALWAYS taken with a grain of salt, these boffins have an agenda and this agenda is to prove to the public that NAVY does not harm any marine creatures.

    1. Swarthy

      So what you're saying is...

      a) We can't trust the Navy to run a proper study that may find them at fault

      b) no-one else has done these studies

      So what I'm picking up is that rather than place belief in possibly massaged studies we should put all of our faith in conjecture with not even a whitepaper to back it up? At least with the Navy studies they have to make the conclusion seem like it matches the data. with the greenpeace protesters we don't even get that level of integrety, mostly a "I said so, and you can trust me more than you can trust them." Which is a poor argument biased on flawed logic.

      1. nero17

        Oh please...

        "At least with the Navy studies they have to make the conclusion seem like it matches the data"

        C'mon, don't you know you can twist and turn and omit data to fit it in your agenda??? Or you can just not to ask some questions and omit certain aspects of the problem? Such as for example, any beaked whale stranded in US is shoved in very quickly to some "stranding support facility" and no necropsy reports are available to the public? If indeed decompression sickness occurs because of the Navy sonar we will never know it, at least here in US, because it is all hush-hush. Also, at the same conference in Quebec there was at least one report saying that whales' blubber tissue has very good potential for nitrogen absorption and retention which makes whales even MORE vulnerable to decompression sickness. The same sperm whale Mr. Cranford studied, has a huge melon, just imagine what nitrogen saturation and bubbles will this huge whale get if it spooked by the sonar???

        There are many, many scientists in the marine mammal bioacoustics field who has been supported by the NAVY their whole career, the same people are scientific journals editors and conferences commissions, no wonder we do not see any reports which refute Navy studies. Even if you can scramble some monies from your own savings your study will simply not be published!

    2. Dennis Griffin

      More crap

      There is never/rarely any real scientific evidence produced by these animal rights groups. They sure seem to have plenty of funding to go to protests/get boats etc. If they want to prove something other than just aligations prove it. At least this person has presented his findings and his methodology for review, where is the other sides evidence. THERE IS NONE!!!

      1. Anonymous Coward

        Not correct

        Your comment just shows how ignorant you are about this whole situation. You just chose to ignore the fact that nothing can get published as long as navy funded scientists sit on editorial boards in major bioacoustical journals. But, hey! You can believe whatever you'd like to believe! Trusting in Navy funded studies results is the same as trusting in tobacco effect studies funded by major tobacco companies. So be my guest!

  5. Hermes Conran

    Navy funded research finds Navy blameless,

    also handsome and excellent lovers!

  6. ratfox
    Thumb Down

    I have to doubt the thruthiness of this

    I am not quite sure that science is to the point you can pretend to know what the whales hear or do not hear. And even if they do not hear, they can still be affected. How about studying the way whales react rather than making bold and unconvincing statements?

    I agree that whale beaching is not a huge problem, but pseudoscience is.

  7. Neil Hoskins

    OK, so...

    So what's the alternative theory to explain the correlation between mass strandings and military exercises? And why the emphasis on it damaging their hearing? It doesn't need to damage their hearing, all it needs to do is scare the crap out of them while they're half a mile down and decompression does the rest. Of course, it could also be the explosions clearly heard by locals but denied by the navy. Come on, Lewis, since you're clearly such an expert in the field I want to know your theories on mass strandings. Do tell, I'm all ears...

    Or you could read up on the subject and get a clue, maybe starting with

    1. Trygve

      Decompression? Eh?

      Tthe other points you make seem vaguely plausible, but even that paper you link to notes that it has only been 'postulated' that decompression might be an issue, and then only if normally deep-diving whales are scared into only making shallow dives for a prolonged period.

      If there's one animal on the planet that can come up in a hurry from half a mile down with no adverse effects, it's a whale - they are somewhat notoriously good at the whole diving deep and coming back up thing.

      1. nero17

        Not true...

        Please see my response about fat gas emboli...whales EVEN more vulnerable to decompression sickness because they have a lot of blubber and can get gas emboli in their fat tissue which is everywhere, even in their melons!

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton


    can the sharks feel the frickin lasers on the heads?

    People want to know.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Whale already deaf from previous exposure

    Note that sonar isn't just cute "ping" sounds on the telly. Down in the water it's loud enough to go instantly deaf even if you can't really hear the frequencies. Well, at least the US navy is bound by law to show that they're hiring scientific astrotorfers.

    1. Neil Hoskins

      Already deaf

      That's actually a very good point. There is a theory that "Buster" Crabb was killed by the Russians using the simple expedient of turning on the sonar.

  10. Acoustic Ecology Institute

    Moved on from strandings

    While this research's findings is being distorted somewhat here ("muffling" of the mid frequencies does not mean inaudible; it just means they don't hear these frequencies AS WELL as higher ones), I need to address your closing statement. In fact, most researchers and NGOs have moved on from obsessive focus on strandings, which everyone recognizes are very rare (though not without concern). For the past several years, the primary research, regulatory, and NGO focus has been on better understanding the behavioral changes triggered by exposure to human noise in the sea. Even moderate noise often causes animals to stop or reduce their foraging; noise from shipping and seismic surveys are both far more widespread than sonar sounds, though one commenter minimizes the extent of sonar by saying most Navy vessels use "passive" sonar, ie just listening. In fact at least 350 ships worldwide are outfitted with mid-frequency active sonar, which is routinely used by US and NATO navies to check for quiet subs when transiting choke points and preparing to enter harbors.

  11. nero17

    Did you know?

    The author says:

    "Other recent research has backed up the idea that mid-frequency sonar could only harm dolphins' hearing in highly unusual circumstances."

    The study he mentions was done in Hawaii. There are 2 dolphins there they have been using in psychoacoustical research for years and these 2 dolphins as well as all dolphins in the Navy facilities are nearly deaf, exactly because of these studies. So if you study the sonar effects on a deaf dolphin or a dolphin with substantial hearing loss of course you wil find no effect or very little effect. By the way this study blasted that poor dolphin with 180 dB re 1 mPa sonar puse, I wonder how on Earth did they get Univesity 's Animals in research committee approval???

    But see the public does not know about participating dolphins' hearing loss, so they buy the report and now even cite it in this article!

  12. Pete 2 Silver badge

    and I can't hear earthquakes

    but I still wouldn't want to be anywhere near one when it happened. It's not so much whether the whales can detect (or react) to the "sound" but whether the energy contained in it is damaging or causes adverse reactions (such as loss of navigational abilities). Same goes for all the other high-energy sonic weapo^H^H^H^H^Hresearch that's going on.

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Sonar frequency

    What frequency is being researched ?

    Active sonars use a 'chirp' of frequency's to allow pulse compression.

    As for sound of a sonar, begin a diver, and having been pinged once or twice over the last 30 odd years, I can tell you that you don't so much hear the sound, as feel it in your guts and in the centre of your head.

    It feels like your brains are popping out.

  14. Steen Hive

    WTF has "hearing" the sound got to do with it?

    There is no correlation between "hearing" a sound and high-energy waves damaging you. One can't "hear" at the frequency of ocean waves, which I'm sure many a sailor has found of great comfort as he is dashed to a pulp against rocks.

  15. bart

    Make it so

    What's the best way to make intractable problems go away? Commission a "study" that "proves" that there is no problem. Create tests that consider a small sub fraction of the variables involved with an arbitrarily selected and extremely specific test subject, find minimal evidence for the essentially redefined "problem," and claim victory.

    Works all the time.

    Here's a few things they might like to consider before deploying these sonars - oh wait, they're already deployed . . .

    ● What are the effects of repeated high energy shock waves to all marine life, let alone ones that can "hear" the cherry bombs repeatedly going off inches from their heads?

    ● For those that can "hear," what are the cumulative and long term effects? "Temporary deafness," as has been cited in dolphin studies, is not the end of the story. What effects do these high energy sonars have on long term health?

    ● What about effects on plankton, or even lower cell count animals, which account for a large majority of the biomass on this planet.

    ● What are the effects on early stage life, pregnancies, egg development, or even fertilization?

    It only stands to reason that, since the pumping of millions of joules of energy over time into the ocean in the form of high energy long range sonars does not naturally occur in the environment, man is creating an impact that is, as are all of man's large scale impacts on the environment, in all likelihood harmful.

    But what do we really care about the marine environment? All those fishies just mung up our oil rigs. Let ‘em boil . . .

  16. Deadlock Victim


    I thought all of the fuss was over very low frequency sonar anyway...

  17. RTNavy


    What did he say?

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Ping - Reality

    The cutesy TV/film ASDIC 'ping' is now probably only used for bottom sounding, overhead ice-thickness, or "I'm here".

    It is nothing whatsoever like, the multi-megawatt broad-spectrum output of a modern main array.

    For the unaware, it's a truly disconcerting primeval noise, which can be physically felt, and the audio component is like nothing you've ever heard.

    On low-power settings, with array submerged, in the past I've heard it drown out the TV in my living room, and I live > 2km from the source location, with intervening high-ground.

    It has damaged humans. SBS require ANC and other specialist kit, so I'm certain whales will hear it.

  19. The BigYin


    US Navy finds that US Navy is not to blame!

    Next story: Bankers say that banks are not to blame for poor economy

  20. Martin 6 Silver badge

    Can't hear doesn't mean no damage

    Excellent news, it's a real pain making our infrared lasers eyesafe. If I can prove that people can't see the frequency used then they must be safe at any power level. Same thing probably goes for x-rays, neutrons, microwaves etc.

    What the research says is that the animals can't hear the sonar and so aren't running aground looking for it. It doesn't mean they aren't dying because their brain/sonar/senses/body has been turned to mush by a couple of KW of sonar pulse.

    At the moment the rules say you cant have divers in the water within about 5000m of active sonar - if this research is true the Navy can have divers working on active systems. I'll wait to see that.

  21. gollux

    Hearing not the issue...

    Hold him underwater and set off a few concussion grenades.

  22. Colin Wilson
    Black Helicopters

    I can't hear microwaves

    but if I sat inside a large (admittedly industrial sized) microwave oven when it was switched on, it wouldn't matter for too long... I might smell crispy bacon before I expire though :-}

    Let's shoot the same scientist in the head, and see if he hears the bullet before it removes him from the gene pool :-}

  23. Anonymous Coward

    The Navy Lies, or is it its paid retainers.

    "A boffin funded by the US Navy" Quote .We read as lie for the Navy.

    Since WW1 active Sonar has increased output watts by 10.000 fold and more, has sweep frequency ( Covers many bands) ask the navy why it is forbidden to use active sonar with a diver in the water, why it is forbidden to use Active sonar within 15 miles of any beach where humans may be bathing, Why when fresh fish is required on board a naval craft of any nation, the jolly boat is launched but before any one gets aboard the small craft ( jolly boat) a full sonar sweep at full power is conducted, so the irks (crew members) can pick up the stunned fish.

    Active sonar damages all life forms, yes Active Sonar may be necessary for the protection of ones nation, but lies do no nation no credit , Adolf Hitler thought lies good for his nation, do you?

  24. Dave The Cardboard Box

    More science

    less partisan yack from all parties involved please.

  25. David Adams


    You don't have to be able to hear a sound for it to have a physiological effect on you.

    Probably worse for the Whales as the water carries sound better than air.

  26. Thomas 18

    on the plus side

    we probably have a great diagram of what a whale brain looks like in a state of abject terror at having a giant humming rotating CT scanner strapped to its head by lasso wielding divers (who possibly chase it down on sea horses... or dolphins)

  27. mick 7
    Thumb Down

    @ AC 12:02

    I call Godwins law

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Paris Hilton

      If not Hitler himself, then certainly Nazis

      There, I did it and feel better for it.

      And Paris, because she respects large heads.

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