Post image for WWIII Whale Wars

WWIII Whale Wars

by admin on November 14, 2014

When you’re at a party, and you have got a story to tell, what do you do? You talk louder than the background noise. Logical, right? Whales are fighting to be heard. What? Yeah, that’s what I said. But while we, as humans, want to be heard, being spoken over is not a threat to our survival.

So let’s talk about how a whale works. Whales produce sound in rhythmic patterns. The change in their pitch and high to low frequency patterns relay unique messages quickly and can span hundreds of miles. Each song has a unique meaning depending on how the songs are constructed. Humpback whales sing lengthy love songs by repeating long and short phrases a certain number of times each—the longest recording lasted 20 hours! Whale’s construction of song is similar to humans; they layer scales and measures to create their masterpieces. A short scale typically consists of six units and a long scale contains 180 to 400 units.

Whale communication typically ranges up to 188 decibels (dB). Keep in mind, a jet engine tops out at 140dB. In a study by Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI), researchers documented 18 calls from 14 individual whales in differing levels of background noise. Independent of gender and age, each whale, (as would a human at a loud party) hit higher decibels as ambient noise levels rose. They kept a constant level of 10 to 12 decibels above their surrounding noise.

Unfortunately whales have their limits to topping noise. To recap, whales peak at 189 decibels. Seismic and sonar testing ranges from 215dB to 259dB. Sound waves travel four times faster through water than air and also resonate for much longer. Forty types of marine mammal species are fatally impacted by sonar testing.

Whales rely on echolocation like humans rely on sight and speech. For example, they are able to differentiate the smallest of things, such as a bb pellet 50 feet away. They use sonar more than sight for everyday living to find food, families, and navigation. Sonar ripping through the ocean by Navy testing and ships causes their world to be deafening. The input of sonar that is conducted by the Navy cause’s whales to become disorientated, distracted, and deafened; ending with brain hemorrhaging and death. This was noticed in 2000, when U.S. Navy Destroyers used sonar in training exercises in the Bahamas. Just 36 hours later, 17 marine animals washed up on the shore. Fourteen of these mammals were the oceans largest deep diving creatures; whales. This whale beaching coincides with other incidents regarding the Navy in Greece and also the Canary Islands. “The LFA sonar being tested by the military can travel thousands of miles, and could cover 80% of the earth’s oceans by broadcasting from only four points” (Science Wire).

The Natural Resources Defense Council states that the Navy themselves report sonic waves, 300 miles from the source, as intense as 140 decibels. This is one hundred times greater than the minimal decibel level it takes to alter the behavior of whales. Here, you’ll see how this has impacted whales and other marine life as well as how to prevent future deaths: It seems the only solution must be to reduce anthropogenic (human-made) sound in order to save the whales and more importantly, save their home for future generations. This is the next movement of our generation to make a difference.

by Thea Butler


Photo by Nan Hauser

Photo by Kelly Slivka


Works Cited

Col, Jeananda. Enchanted Learning. 1996.

Nevala, Amy. Navy and scientists join efforts to learn more about marine mammals’ response to sonar. Originally published online February 15, 2008 : In print Vol. 47, No. 2, Sep. 2009.

NRDC. Lethal Sounds. 2008.

NRDC. Lethal Sounds narrated by Pierce Brosnan.

Greenpeace. Seismic and Sonar Testing.            2014.

NRDC. Protecting Whales from Dangerous Sonar. 2009.

DOSITS. What are common underwater sounds? 2013.

DOSITS. Behavioral Changes. 2013

DOSITS. Marine Mammal Navigation. 2013.

References by Discovery of Sounds in the Sea (DOSITS)

  • · Ellison, W.T., Clark, C.W. and Bishop, G.C. 1987, “Poential use of surface reverberation by bowhead whales, Balaena mysticetus, in under-ice navigation: Preliminary considerations.” Report of the International Whaling Commission 37:329-332.
  • Elsner, R. 1999, “Living in water: solutions to physiological problems.” Pages 73-116 in Reynolds, J.E. III and Rommel, S.A., (eds.). Biology of Marine Mammals. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington D.C.
  • Payne, R.S. and Webb, D. 1971, “Orientation by means of long range acoustic signaling in baleen whales.” Annals of the New York Academy of Science 188:110-141.
  • Tyack, P.L. 1999, “Communication and Cognition.” 1999. Pages 287-323 in Reynolds, J.E. III and Rommel, S.A. (eds.). Biology of Marine Mammals. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington D.C.
  • Wartzok, D., Elsner, R., Stone, H,. Kelly, B.P. and Davis, R.W. 1992, “Under-ice movements and the sensory bias of hole finding by ringed and Weddell seals.” Canadian Journal of Zoology 70:1712-1722.


James Burns November 20, 2014 at 11:37 pm

I really like your voice in this piece, you seem passionate and have provoked me to look more into this issue. As Megan just noted this does not seem like an topic which has been granted the attention it deserves and I commend you for wanting to shed some light on it. Also, your facts and links are impressive and allow the audience to engage directly in your cause. Overall fantastic!

Morgan Gosserand November 19, 2014 at 3:52 pm

I’m really glad you’re writing an article about this topic. It’s not very well known as an issue and it should be taken more seriously and put on a higher priority list. It is appalling how this isn’t more important and that the Navy is continuing to work on sonar and underwater testing, regardless of the huge amount of damage brought to the undersea creatures. I hope something is done about this issue and very soon, because they won’t have much more time.

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