Case Studies in Earth & Environmental Science Journalism

Marine Mammals and Sonars.



Session 1: Navy SURTASS-LFA sonars

Session 2: Seismic surveying for hydrocarbon exploration and science

Session 3: interview: G. Michael Purdy, L-DEO

Questions to Ponder and Discuss


Background Information: Navy Sonar

Natural Resources Defense Council. 1999. Sounding the Depths, Wildlife & Fish: Whales & Marine Animals: In Depth Report. (Selected sections).

National Research Council. 2003. Ocean Noise and Marine Mammals, Prepublication copy. Committee on Potential Impacts of Ambient Noise in the Ocean on Marine Mammals, National Research Council of the National Academies, The National Academies Press, Washington DC, March 2003.

Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) of 1972. Reauthorized 1994, and amended through 1997, summary by NOAA.

Technical Articles & Government Documents: Navy Sonar

Miller, P. J. O., N. Biassoni, A. Samuels, P. Tyack. 2000. Whale songs lengthen in response to sonar, Nature: 405: 903.

Curley, M. D. 2002. Cover letter for: Resonance White Paper: "A review of the potential for in vivo tissue damage by exposure to underwater sound" , Dept. of Navy Commanding Officer, March 12, 2002.

Cudahy, E. and W. T. Ellison, 2002. A review of the potential for in vivo tissue damage by exposure to underwater sound, Report for Department of Navy, 6 pps.

Selection of 180 dB as the Upper Reference Point in the Risk Continuum for SURTASS LFA Sonar Signals, U. S. Navy's SURTASS site.

Department of Defense, 2002. Record of Decision for Surveillence Towed Array Sonar System Low Frequency Active (SURTASS LFA) Sonar. Federal Register, 67:141, pg. 48145, July 23, 2002.

Department of Commerce, 2000, Letter of Authorization, National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration and National Marine Fisheries Service. .

Web Documents: Navy Sonar

Cornell Labs, 1998. Effects of Human-made Sound on the Behavior of Whales, LFA Research Program, Phase III, Singing Humpback Whale and SURTASS LFA Sonar Signal, March 27, 1998.

Rainbow Friends Animal Sanctuary Website, The Spiritual Dialogue, Cetacean Community.


Twyman/Thomas First Message on LFAS, The Thomas Messages, Message One.

Humans and Cretaceans: The Spiritual Connection, from Revelations for a New Era: A Matthew Book with Suzanne Ward.

Joan Ocean on Low Frequency Active Sonar (LFAS).

Department of Navy Website, Why the United States Navy Needs SURTASS LFA.

Envirowatch Website, Whale Strandings: After Surveillance Towed Array Sonar System – Low Frequency Active Testing.

U. S. Navy, Update of the ongoing investigation into the stranding of beaked whales, Navy Press Release, Nov. 15, 2000.

U. S. Navy, navy pinpoints environmental conditions during whale strandings, Navy Press Release, Nov. 15, 2000.

Balcomb, K. Letter to the U. S. Navy in response to their EIS on SURTASS LFA, Voice of the Dolphin, 3(1), March 13, 2001.

Popular Articles: Navy Sonar

Holmes, B., Noises Off, New Scientist, March 1st, 1997.

Weiss, R. Whales become stranded after U. S. Naval Exercises: Bahamas incident drawing scrutiny, The Washington Post, A12, Mar. 22, 2000.

Kaufman, M. Navy tests linked to beaching of whales; Ear bleeding consistent with intense noise, The Washington Post, A3, June 15, 2000.

Williams, W. Dead whales underscore the threat of human noise to ocean world, Boston Globe, C1, June 27, 2000.

Cousteau, J._M., R. F. kennedy Jr., J. R. Reynolds, Commentary: We need sound sensibility in California’s coast, Los Angeles Times, B9, Dec. 6, 2000.

Malakoff, D. A roaring debate over ocean noise, Science, 291:576-578, January 26, 2001.

Rather, D. and D. Martin, Who Killed the Whales?; Investigation into whether Navy sonar is killing whales in the waters off the Bahamas, 60 Minutes II, April 3, 2001.

Dunagan, C. Sonar may be killing whales, Halifax Daily News, Science section p. 50, April 15, 2001,.

Weissman, R. Navy sonar may harm whales; Some fear program to find submarines may increase ocean noises, New York Times News Service, April 15, 2001.

Lin, J. Environmentalists step up campaign against new Navy sonar as hearings begin, Associated Press, April 26, 2001.

Manning S. Navy sonar too loud for whales, environmentalists say, Associated Press, May 4, 2001.

Sanders, E. Whales are all ears for Navy, Seattle Times, May 10, 2001, B2.

Edgecomb, M. Local activists fight Navy use of active sonar, Bangor Daily News, May 11, 2001, A1.

Anon. Whale hearing, Bangor Daily News, May 15, 2001, A8.

Knickerbocker, B. Whales to Navy: Less noise, please. Christian Science Monitor, August 15, 2001, P1.

Anon., Environmentalists sue Navy over sonar tests, Associated Press, September 11, 2001.

Williams, W. Sound Judgments, Scientific American, October 16, 2001.

Henry, N. Whales: Low frequency sonar not the cause of stranding in Bahamas, Greenwire, October 12, 2001.

O’Connell, S. The death song of the seas, Independent, Pg. 8, Nov. 9, 2001.

Anon, U. S. study shows Navy sonar likely caused whale deaths in the Bahamas, Associated Press, Dec. 20, 2001.

Troshinsky, L. Navy mitigates sonar use after report links it to whale deaths, Navy News Week, 23:2, January 7, 2002.

Daley, B. The noisy ocean: The once-quiet ocean sea becomes a cacophony of man-made sound, Boston Globe, C1, March 12, 2002.

Kaufman, M. Environmental groups, Navy square off on sonar system: Sept. 11 altered the disputes for survival of large whales, Washington Post, A3, April 15, 2002.

Palmer, M. U. S. Navy admits sonar killed whales, Earth Island Journal, 17(2): 10, Summer, 2002.

Kaufman, M. Navy cleared to use a sonar despite fears of injuring whales, The Washington Post, A3, July 15, 2002.

Weiss, K. and T. Perry, Navy use of sonar Okd despite risk to whales; Military: Some scientists say safety features in the submarine-detection system aren’t enough, Los Angeles Times, A1 July 16, 2002.

Kay, J. Navy wins OK for new sonar despite fears for whales, San Francisco Chronicle, A1, July 16, 2002.

Nesmith, J. Navy sued to stop ocean-spanning sonar, Cox News Service, August 7, 2002.

Valles, C. Environmentalists sue Navy in S. F. Associated Press, August 7, 2002.

Montagne, R. and A. Aubrey, Effects of sonar transmission on whales, National Public Radio, August 8, 2002.

Villamana, M. Whales: NRDC sues Navy over low-frequency sonar, Greenwire, 10:9, August 8, 2002.

Hymon, S. and T. Perry, The State; Groups sue to block federal use of undersea sonar system, Los Angeles Times, B8, August 8, 2002.

Kay, J. Environmental groups say anti-sub device harms whales and other ocean mammals, San Francisco Chronicle, A2, August 8, 2002.

Anon., In peril off shore, Boston Globe, D6, August 18, 2002.

Polakovic, G. The Nation: Environmental review of Navy’s sonar testing upheld, The Los Angeles Times, Sept. 20, 2002.

Weiss, K. The Nation: Researchers probe whether sonar caused death of whales, Los Angeles Times, A26, September 26, 2002.

Weiss, K. The World: Sonar tests a likely link to whale deaths, Los Angeles Times, A3, October 1, 2002.

Dyer, O. Death knell: The latest in a series of mass strandings of whales around the world has implicated Navy use of modern sonar equipment, The Guardian, October 30, 2002.

Anderson, H. Navy ordered to shut off sonar, United Press International, Nov. 1, 2002.

Weiss, K. The Nation: For whale’s sake, Judge halts sonar, Los Angeles Times, Nov. 1, 2002, A1.

Anon., Court ordered silence, Science, 28: 1155, Nov. 8, 2002.

Weiss, K. The Nation: Ruling ends ban but limits tests of new sonar, Los Angeles Times, A14, Nov. 16, 2002.

Siegel, B. The whale man; Ken Balcomb has spent a lifetime immersing himself in the giant mammal’s world, Los Angeles Times, Mag. 14, Dec. 9, 2002.

Carpenter, B. Sound and Fury; Whale death blamed on sonar have triggered a heated debate about man-made noise in the ocean, U. S. News and World Report, 133(24): 50-52, Dec. 23, 2002,

Robbins, M. Will the Navy’s new sonar harm whales, Discover, P. 75, Jan. 2003.

Lee, J. Military seeks exemptions on harming environment, New York Times, March 6, 2003.

Web Documents: Seismic, R/V Ewing and Whales

Center for Biological Diversity.

Selected sections:

About the center for Biological Diversity
Protecting Endangered Species and Habitats: Becoming a Biodiversity Activist!
Help Protect the Whales of the Gulf of California
Lawsuit filed to stop NSF and Columbia University seismic research in Mexico
NSF Letter of Response
Columbia Letter of Response

Menke, Bill, Seismic Reflection Profiling Tutorial, Website for Earth and Environmental Systems: Solid Earth Class.

Gentry, R. Mass stranding of beaked whales in the Galapagos Islands, April 2000, NOAA Fisheries/National Marine Fisheries Service, Nov. 4, 2000.

Technical Documents: Seismic, R/V Ewing and Whales

U. S. Department of Interior, Implementation of Seismic Survey Mitigation Measures, Notice to lessees and operators of federal oil, gas and sulphur leases in the outer continental shelf, Gulf of Mexico OCS Region, Effect August 8, 2002.

Finneran, J. J., C. E. Schlundt, R. Dear, D. A. Carder, S. H. Ridgway, Temporary shift in masked hearing thresholds in odontocetes after exposure to single underwater impulses from a seismic watergun, J. Accoust. Soc. Am., 111(6):2929-2940, June 2002.

U. S. District Court, Temporary Restraining Order against NSF filed by Center for Biological Diversity, No. C 02-5065 JL, pgs. 11, October 30, 2002.

Lizzarde, D. et al., Seismic and Geologic study of the Gulf of California Rifting and Magmatism, NSF Proposal Supporting Gulf of California Cruise of Ewing, Nov. 9, 2001.

Supplement: Ewing Cruise Prospectus, Seismic and Geologic study of the Gulf of California Rifting and Magmatism, NSF Proposal Supporting Gulf of California Cruise of Ewing, Nov. 9, 2001.

Popular Articles: Seismic, R/V Ewing and Whales

Schleifstein, M. Study to show whether noise harms whales, The Times Picayune (New Orleans), Page 1, July 2, 2001.

Gill, C. Big changes for geophysical data acquisition in the Gulf of Mexico, International Association of Geophysical Contractors, Proposed text for monthly newsletter, August 22, 2002.

Anon., MMS offers whale guidance, Inside Energy/with Federal Lands, p. 15, August 19, 2002.

Tyson, R. new obstacle to US gulf E&P: Whales, Platts Oilgram News, 80(172):1, Sept. 9, 2002.

Biers, J. M. Whale of a problem, The Times Picayune (New Orleans) Pg.1 , October 13, 2002.

Gold, S. Group blames whale deaths on seismic testing, Los Angeles Times, October 16, Part 2, P. 1, 2002.

Watson, J. Conservationists allege U. S. research linked to beached Mexican whales, Associated Press, Oct. 16, 2002.

Gold, S. Environmental group sues U. S. over whale deaths, Los Angeles Times, Part 2, P. 10, October 19, 2002..

DeFrancesco, L. Whales and sounds: low frequency acoustic noise implicated in Baja, California whale death, The Scientist, October 22, 2002.

Malakoff, D. Suit ties whale death to research cruise, Science, 298:722-723, October 25, 2002.

Gaudette, K. Federal judge finds sound blast harmful to whales, Associated Press, October 28, 2002.

Showstack, R. Controversy over beached whales affects operation of seismic research cruise, EOS, p. 503, Oct. 29, 2002.

Weiss, K. research involving sonic blasts halted, Los Angeles Times, Part 2:Page 1, October 29, 2002.

DeFrancesco, L. Mexico ocean survey shut down, The Scientist, October 30, 2002.

Kostel, K. Judge halts noisy science, Reporting on the Environment (Holloway) –Course Story, Nov. 7, 2002.

Staff Writer. Whales beach seismic research, Geotimes, January 2003.

Weiss, K. Judge bars use of experimental sonar in tracking gray whales, The Los Angeles Times, B8, Jan. 25, 2003.

Showstack, R. Report provides roadmap for improving understanding of impacts of ocean noise on marine mammals, EOS, 84(8): 70, Feb. 25, 2003.

Peterson. G. Effects of ocean noise on marine mammals still noisy, Geotimes, March 2003.

DeMont, J. Sound and Fury: Wildlife experts worry that undersea seismic mapping will endanger a whale population, Macleans (Toronto Edition), pg. 39, March 3, 2003.

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