Mankind: A Destructive Force?

ShipThe U.S. Navy has recently submitted an extension on their ‘Hawaii-Southern California Training and Testing’ project for the next five years from 2014 through 2019, that will increase the use of sonar testing in waters off the coast of Hawaii to Southern California. The project aims to provide realistic training conditions for using active sonar devices to detect and identify new submarines that are difficult to “hear.” However, this project may put the marine mammal population at great risk by potentially killing thousands of species of whales and dolphins, and significantly injuring hundreds more.

Sonar, defined as Sound Navigation Ranging has been in use since the beginning of the 20th century, often for military purposes. Two types of sonar are commonly used to locate submerged objects, mostly submarines and underwater mines: passive sonar and active sonar. Passive sonar “listens” for sound waves generated by natural sources underwater, while active sonar uses sound waves to send out a blast called a “ping” that travels through the water, bounces off an object, and then returns to the receiver where it is deciphered as a visual representation to map out objects in the surrounding area. New submarines are now being used by over 40 nations that use battery power and air independent propulsion, making them very difficult to detect. Claiming national security reasons, the U.S. Navy believes that these training and testing activities, even during times of peace are essential to develop and maintain the skills needed to counter any future attacks.

Most marine mammals like whales and dolphins are auditory creatures, much like humans are visual ones. The physical environment of the ocean favors sound. Underwater, sound can travel four times faster than it does in air, and also travel miles at the same intensity. For these animals that rely on sound for their most basic functions like orientation, communication, and navigation the increase of the Navy testing will cause major damage to any animal within a 300 mile radius of the source. Evidence of this danger surfaced in early 2000, when whales of four different species stranded themselves on beaches in the Bahamas where Navy tests were being conducted. In a statement made by Michael Jansy of the Natural Resource Defense Council supports the research on the hazardous effects of the marine wildlife populations. “If you deafen a marine mammal for even a short period of time, you are affecting its ability to survive.” Many of these stranded whales have been discovered to have suffered physical trauma as well. Evidence shows that the trauma includes bleeding around the brain, ears and other tissues, and large bubbles in the organs which is similar to symptoms found in scuba divers who surface too quickly from deep waters. The experts on these research teams believe that this mid-frequency sonar blast are driving whales to change their dive patterns in a way that their bodies cannot manage and causing these fatal injuries.

A Navy funded study conducted in 2010 sought to project the possible damage these sonar blasts can have, and the numbers were immensely high. By totaling the hours the Navy will spend testing and practicing with sonar, torpedoes, missiles, and explosives, and combining it with data that is was already collected regarding marine mammals, experts were able to use computer modeling to estimate that 2,000 deaths, nearly 16,000 instances of permanent hearing loss, and over 5 million instances of temporary hearing loss may occur if the Navy does not use precaution. And remember, these are their numbers.

This issue presents an evident lack of concern for these marine animals and our natural environment. If the U.S. Navy is putting forth studies to determine what impacts their sonar testing can have on populations of marine mammals, but then disregards their own findings presenting warning signs against increasing these activities, we definitely have a problem. This issue can be added to the many examples of the increasing lack of concern our developments and advancements are having on our surroundings .Within the last decade, we can identify ten different species that have gone extinct. If the Navy increase the use of active sonar technology, we may be responsible for adding another one to that list. The recent studies off the Southern California coast have already found certain endangered blue whales and beaked whales that stopped feeding and fled from recordings of sounds that are similar to the military sonar. These species are at high risk for further endangerment if the Navy proceeds with its plans to increase their training and testing activities.

Active environmentalist are proposing solutions that can be are as simple as relocating their test sites to areas that are away from marine sanctuaries or areas that are frequented by these delicate animals. We need to be considerate of their habitat when it comes to situations like these. Who gave us the right to dominate over them? Even with the advancement of technology in today’s day and age, I feel that realistic simulations could be designed that would work just as well while also saving the Navy from the negative image they are currently finding themselves in.

Throughout history, the U.S. has usually been thought of as a powerhouse, a nation that sets an example for other countries around the world. We hold enough power to initiate great change for many things, so why aren’t we using it? By disregarding the advice from their own scientific experts just goes to show the rest of the world our declining values and increasing violent nature. The Navy claiming the importance of the use of active sonar for training and testing purposes even during peacetime to develop and maintain skills needed to counter attacks was quite a disturbing statement. The notion of peace is just an illusion, a concept that can never be attained or achieved. We will always strive to dominate anyone or anything that tries to challenge or defy us?

What will it take for us to realize it is time for change? With the way things are progressing in the world, I fear for our planet and our environment unless we do something now. Will marine creatures like whales and dolphins be just a story we tell our grandchildren fifty years from now? It is my opinion that mankind currently has the honor of quite possibly being the most destructive force to ever hit Mother Nature.

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