Are NOAA scientists being silenced?

Since the beginning of December there have been at least twelve strandings of whales along the New York and New Jersey shores, all resulting in the death of these animals. An abnormal amount of strandings have been reported in a few southern states as well during this time frame, exacerbating
what NOAA has declared as an unusual mortality event taking place on the East coast that started in 2016. These deaths include, Humpback, Minke, Fin, Sperm, Northern Right Whale, various Dolphins and more since 2016. Many of the Mammals stranded are endangered species, with the Northern Right Whale considered critically endangered having a population of less then 350 animals remaining, which is down from close to 500 only a decade ago. A curious coincidence among these particular marine mammals is that they are classified as Low frequency cetaceans, meaning that they communicate, navigate and feed using low frequency sound. Similar to the frequency most commonly used for sonar mapping or submarine detection by the Navy.

The US Navy has performed extensive research into the effects of sonar on marine organisms including on its own divers, [Appendix 1 A -Safe diving distances from transmitting sonar], and reluctantly admitted that their sonar operations have been the cause of a number of marine mammal
strandings through the years. Granted they did not want to admit this, but the facts, and sheer number of “coincidences” of their sonar testing and marine mammal strandings were too hard to ignore. I believe that the Navy knows a lot more about the underwater effects of sound then they are letting on, as their use of Dolphins for military purposes undoubtedly would have involved extensive research into how much sound a Dolphin can experience without causing it physical damage. Stands to reason if they did extensive research into the effect of sonar on human divers, then they also did the same for the Dolphins they spent millions of dollars to train. Much of their research is available to the public, and most likely has been used by NOAA as source material, because it seems like NOAA refuses to fund their own research into the effects of both seismic and sonar operations. Why not?

I believe there is more information concerning the effects of sonar on marine organisms, but it is not available because of national security concerns. It may be that the recent mass stranding events happening along the East Coast are the result of Naval operations searching for Russian submarines
lurking offshore. The Russia/ Ukraine war has brought the world perilously close to WW3, and knowing the where abouts of enemy submarines is essential to our country’s defense and survival. The Navy does take extensive precautions before using their high output sonar before training operations, but in the case of war or avoidance of it, precautions may fall by the wayside. In matters of national defense, the protection of marine creatures, takes a backseat to the protection of humans, as it should.

But what about private companies using similar sonar operations for mapping the seabed for monetary reasons? If the US Navy has admitted and taken precautions to minimize harm to marine organisms from their sonar operations, what are the offshore wind companies doing to minimize the
effects? The Navy and the wind companies sonar are both operating in the low to mid-range frequencies, but the navy’s sonar operates at a higher power output of decibels that is only used in short and intermittent bursts, due to the powerful sound waves it generates. There has been a fleet of
research vessels off the US east coast for over five years now, and they are using high powered low to mid-frequency sonar to map the bottom and its substrates. This sound is almost continuous unlike the short bursts from the navy sonar, but it is not as loud by decibel measurements, which are measured differently in the water then the air. Low frequency sounds in the water travel much further then high frequency sounds, and that difference varies according to the environmental conditions the sound is traveling in. Marine mammals have been classified by the Navy into three different functional hearing groups, high-frequency cetaceans, mid-frequency cetaceans, and low-frequency cetaceans, meaning that enough research has been conducted to actually know what sound level certain species utilize for communication, and feeding, and how certain levels of that noise can affect [harass] them. While the Navy has admitted the effects of their high powered sonar using low to mid-frequencies in short bursts, there is no research into the effects of the cumulative impact of a constant stream of low to mid frequency sonar on marine creatures. Why not?

Sound waves dissipate over longer distances, but low-frequency sound can travel hundreds of miles or more under certain conditions and used in a consistent, relentless way, probably contribute to marine mammal stranding events, as the ambient noise of the underwater environment is vastly
increased by manmade noise, which interferes with the mammal’s internal navigation, and communication, leading to confusion and attempts to swim as far away from the noise source as possible. I say probably because this is only speculation as there is no per reviewed science to prove it.

Which leads to the question, why has NOAA, the parent agency of the National Marine Fishery Service, not funded research into the effects of sonar and seismic testing on marine creatures? It seems that an agency that prides itself on the protection and sustainability of our marine resources would want to know what effect these obviously loud noises would have, particularly on endangered species such as the Northern Right Whale. Over ten years ago while BOEM was trying to push through an enormous seismic mapping of the US east coast for offshore oil drilling, I found while trying to research the effects of seismic testing, that there was no research about it being done, except for a couple of studies from Spain and Australia, which proved that seismic testing had deadly effects on Squid {M .Andre, Spain] and on Scallops in an official Australian government study.

During these discussions BOEM constantly stated that there was no science to prove that seismic testing did any harm to marine organisms. There is a reason for that. Science doesn’t come cheap, it involves many work hours [years] by PHD level scientists that someone has to pay. The oil industry had no reason to fund research into the effects of seismic testing, they knew it would cause the end of its use. That means that the US government should be the funding source of research grants into the effects of sonar and seismic testing especially on endangered species. The protected resources
department of NOAA has spent hundred’s of millions of dollars to protect and restore populations of endangered marine species including Turtles, Whales, Porpoises, and Dolphins, meanwhile these animals remain endangered by this agencies lack of science about the effects of such loud noise to
them. One would think that if you are trying to save an animal from extinction you would want to know every threat that it faces. About 40 % of Whale strandings are caused by either a ship strike or entanglement with fishing gear, these are obvious, what about the other 60%? Necropsies are
performed on some of these animals, but there are no standards on what organs or tissues should be examined. Seismic and sonar testing have proven to damage the inner ear of marine mammals and should be a critical focus on any marine mammal stranding necropsy, yet we find it is rarely performed. Why? NOAA always claims that the animal is too decomposed for the necropsy of this delicate inner ear tissue, so why was the inner ear not examined on the Humpback whale that died on the beach in Lido Long Island? It was as fresh as they come. It seems NOAA doesn’t want to know, or confirm the public’s suspicions concerning sonar testing by offshore wind research vessels.

On January 16 th , Benjamin Laws, a deputy chief with NOAA’s fisheries office of protected resources said; “There is no information supporting that any of the equipment used in support of off- shore wind development could directly lead to the death of a Whale”. This statement is true only
because his agency refuses to fund the science to find out if we are seriously endangering the survival of many marine mammals. He should be ashamed of himself. He knows that it is almost impossible to directly kill a whale with sonar, but that whale can be deafened and lose his ability to navigate, communicate and feed, eventually dying. But not “directly”. This is the type of weasels we are dealing with in NOAA and BOEM. They do not want any research into sonar or seismic testing because the results will harm their biggest patrons, either the oil industry, or offshore wind investors. If this is the case, then science is being driven by politics,[money] and not a real concern for actual truth.

I know that this lack of science is not the fault of the scientists at NOAA, especially those that have dealt with marine mammals all their adult lives. These strandings must be killing them, to watch the majestic Northern Right Whale that many of them have spent their lives protecting, approach
extinction because of some unknown phenomenon causing excess mortality. Here is some information to help them. None of the recent strandings along the New York/New Jersey shore showed fishing gear entanglement, and during the months of December and January there is very little fishing activity that could cause entanglements along those shores. Likewise, the food source that NOAA claims the whales could have been chasing, Menhaden, have migrated south of New Jersey waters by December. They also rarely wander farther than ten miles offshore. As for shipping, there are major shipping lanes going into and out of the New York harbor in three different directions so ship strikes are a problem, and at least a couple of the recent deaths are from ship strikes. That leaves the rest them unexplained with the only difference being that prior to the start of the adverse mortality event in 2016, the east coast wasn’t plastered with sonar research vessels. These deaths are not a coincidence, and I’m sure many scientists employed by NOAA agree with that, but are afraid to come forward because not only will they be fired, but they will be blackballed from any job in their field. After spending a third of their lives earning a PHD in a very specific area of expertise with little usage except to government sponsored science, they are silenced by fear of unemployment and career destruction. So they remain silent, as the Northern Right Whale vanishes before their eyes.