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Posts Tagged ‘cetaceans’

Yep, February was “Humpback Whale Awareness Month” in the states, but March is looking like a not-so-hot one for other cetaceans…

Military sonar among suspected causes of mass whale stranding on the Tasmanian shore over the weekend.

Mark Simmonds, of the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society and an expert on cetacean strandings, said that two species coming ashore together was enough to arouse suspicions of a human factor, including the use of sonar by the military.

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Female humpback whale calf will be buried at the Pacific Missile Range Facility (PMRF), perhaps appropriate–since PMRF is the place where much of the high intensity sonar activity in Hawaii is centered. The Navy 20 years ago placed sonar devices on the ocean floor off the west coast of Kauai to detect and track underwater activity.

Maybe we can count this one against the 20 serious injury or mortality ‘takes’ for seven species of marine mammals the Navy requested a few years ago. Sigh.

From the Associated Press:

Officials are conducting a necropsy on a dead humpback whale calf that washed ashore in western Kauai this week.

A veterinarian, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration officials and the Hawaii Pacific University Marine Mammal Response Team arrived on Kauai on Tuesday to determine how the whale died. A Kauai cultural practitioner met the group and conducted appropriate cultural practices over the remains. NOAA said the whale is 17 feet long and is female. The cultural practitioner is expected to return to conduct ceremonies for the whale, and the remains will be buried on site at the Pacific Missile Range Facility. A tour boat captain spotted the dead whale in the vicinity of Kokole Point in Kekaha at about 8:45 a.m. Monday.

Kauai whale2019s death a mystery | North Shore Kauai

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From Allison Winter, E&E reporter:

The Bush administration has failed to provide safeguards to protect more than a dozen stocks of marine mammals from injury or death in commercial fishing nets, congressional investigators said in a report released yesterday. The Government Accountability Office found that the National Marine Fisheries Service has failed to meet its legal obligation to guard whales, dolphins and other marine mammals from entanglement in fishing gear. The 1994 amendments to the Marine Mammal Protection Act require that the agency establish “take reduction teams” for certain marine mammals to reduce accidental injuries or death in fishing gear. The agency failed to set up teams of experts to protect 14 of 30 different stocks of marine mammals that deserve protection, the report says. False killer whales off the Hawaiian Islands, bottlenose dolphins in the Gulf of Mexico and Steller sea lions in the eastern and western United States are among animals left without bycatch protection teams.

And for the rest of the stocks, NMFS lacked a “comprehensive strategy” to assess the effectiveness of its program and frequently missed deadlines to set up teams and create safety plans. For most stocks, the agency relies on incomplete, outdated or imprecise data on population size or mortality, GAO found. Federal fisheries officials told GAO they were aware of some of the limitations but did not have enough funding to implement plans or improve their data. For some marine mammal stocks, officials said a take-reduction team would be useless, since the threats to the marine mammals are not from fishing but from other sources, such as Navy sonar exercises. NMFS officials agreed with a recommendation from GAO that the agency develop a comprehensive strategy for assessing the effectiveness of the plans and the regulations. The report came as President George W. Bush this week declared three new national monuments in the Pacific Ocean — a move than won praise from environmental and marine conservation groups. Bush used the announcement as an opportunity to defend his environmental record — often praised for ocean conservation but widely criticized for its policies on public lands, endangered species and climate change.

“For an administration that is desperately trying to create a legacy of ocean stewardship before leaving office, it is disappointing to hear that they have dropped the ball on reducing incidental deaths of mammals due to commercial fishing,” said House Resources Chairman Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.), who requested the report. Rahall said the report would create a “solid road map for the tremendous work that lies ahead” and pledged to work with the incoming Obama administration to try to secure protections for whales and other marine species. The report recommends that Congress amend the existing law to specify that the teams are only required for marine mammals that interact with a fishery and change the law’s deadlines to make them easier for NMFS to comply. GAO also recommended that lawmakers require federal officials to report on progress in developing the teams and any limitations hindering the agency. “NMFS faces a very large, complex, and difficult task in trying to protect marine mammals from incidental mortality and serious injury during the course of commercial fishing operations,” the report states.

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Via Diana LeBetz on Kauai, excepts from a SF Chronicle article:

Wednesday, February 6, 2008
(02-06) 19:27 PST San Francisco — For the second time this week, a federal court found today that a Navy anti-submarine training program threatened to subject whales and other sea creatures to harmful blasts of sonar and ordered protective measures in several sensitive zones, including one near Monterey Bay.

The ruling by U.S. Magistrate Elizabeth Laporte of San Francisco applies to the Navy’s use of low-frequency sonar in submarine detection exercises conducted in large areas of the world’s oceans. She said Navy officials, who had agreed to restrictions after she issued a similar ruling in 2002, failed to take adequate precautions when seeking a five-year renewal of the program last year.

In its plans to shut off the sonar when whales and other vulnerable creatures are spotted, the Navy is relying on visual monitoring, which is unreliable, and on sonar detection, which is limited in range and may miss dolphins and other small animals, Laporte said.

“Marine mammals, many of whom depend on sensitive hearing for essential activities like finding food and mates and avoiding predators, will at a minimum be harassed by the extremely loud and far-traveling (low-frequency) sonar,” the magistrate said.

She said the Navy must establish sonar-free zones around several areas where sensitive marine life is plentiful, including the Davidson Seamount, which adjoins the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary; the Galapagos Islands, 0ffshore from Ecuador; the Great Barrier Reef off Australia; the Pelagos, in the Mediterranean Sea, and a protected area of coral reefs and underwater habitat 115 miles northwest of the Hawaiian islands.

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Link to full article by Bob Egelko of the San Francisco Chronicle.

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