In the wake of a whale stranding and dying on a Moloka`i beach on Monday following the Navy’s Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) exercises, reports have surfaced that the Navy’s sonar blasts could be heard nearby just prior to the whale stranding.
Colin Crosby of Kihei, Maui, an experienced diver and 20-year Hawai`i resident, was swimming and diving with friends at Moloka`i’s Papohaku Beach on Sunday, July 27, 2008 when he first heard a noise in the water. Crosby said his friends heard it as well, and “at first we thought it might be dolphins.” The noise repeated, so Crosby began to time it, and found it was repeated “about every 35 seconds.” Although Crosby said he first heard the noise while underwater, once he and his friends understood the pattern, they could easily hear it out of the water as well.
According to the Navy’s recent Environmental Impact Statement for its Hawai’i Range Complex activities, its high-intensity, mid-frequency active sonar transmissions are repeated approximately every 30 seconds.
Crosby described the sound as a “really, really loud screeching noise,” and unlike anything he’d heard before near the water. He said he and his friends heard it from the time they arrived at the beach around noon and continued to hear it when they left the beach about two hours later.
According to published reports, the Cuvier’s beaked whale that stranded on a south Moloka’i beach was first spotted at about 7:00 am Monday morning, July 28. According to the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), of the marine mammals that have stranded following naval sonar exercises around the world in recent years, some 81 percent have been Cuvier’s beaked whales, which the Navy has acknowledged appear to be particularly vulnerable to mid-frequency sonar. NMFS also has said that before Monday, there had been only five Cuvier’s beaked whale strandings reported in Hawai’i, in 1950, 1970, 1981, 1996 and 1998.
Paul Achitoff, an attorney with Earthjustice who has been representing groups in litigation with the Navy to increase protections for marine mammals during sonar exercises, commented: “The circumstantial evidence at this point is about as strong as it can be: A whale known to be particularly vulnerable to sonar, that has stranded all over the world following naval sonar, and that has been found stranded in Hawai`i only about once every decade, strands less than a day after sonar can be heard nearby. We certainly hope the Navy begins to take responsibility for its actions and adds mitigation measures, as courts have repeatedly ordered it to do.”
Report of the whale stranding from NBC affiliate KHNL, Honolulu (story appears after brief advertisement):