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Homework answers / question archive / Discussion Forum 5: High Frequency Sonar 4242 unread replies

Discussion Forum 5: High Frequency Sonar 4242 unread replies


Discussion Forum 5: High Frequency Sonar

4242 unread replies.5656 replies.

Hearing is an important sense for many types of animals that live in the ocean. Since sound waves are able to travel efficiently in the water over long distances, some animals have adapted ways of listening to and producing different noises for sensory and communication purposes. Earthquakes, landslides, and undersea volcanoes have also added to these biological noises making the ocean a fairly noisy environment.

As maritime technology has progressed, humans have begun to significantly add to the amount and intensity of sound in the ocean. Man-made sources of sound range from ship and submarine propellers, to munitions explosions, and the installation of undersea cables and other hardware to various communication and research equipment.

Incidences of pods of small toothed whales beaching themselves in close proximity to Naval high-frequency sonar exercises has raised concern that loud noises in the ocean may have contributed to the deaths of these animals. This has prompted oil companies that use very loud air guns in order to search for potential drilling sites to hire marine mammal observers. These observers look for evidence of nearby marine mammals and have the engineers shut down the guns if they spot any in the area.

Navy exercises often cannot just be postponed or called off in the same way that oil exploration can. This has led to a clash between supporters of unrestricted naval sonar use on the grounds of national security, and those who feel that additional efforts should be made to safeguard marine mammals.

The controversy has gone back and forth for a number of years in the courts. In 2008, the US Supreme Court took up the issue. After two lower courts imposed restrictions on Navy sonar use during anti-submarine warfare training off the southern California coast to protect whales, the US Supreme Court overturned the ruling.  More recently, in 2013, the issue was once again evaluated by a court and U.S. District Court Magistrate, Judge Nandor Vadas, ruled that the National Marine Fisheries Service failed to consider the best available scientific data when approving permits for the Navy. This Federal Judge determined the initial review process also improperly focused on a narrow window of time to gauge the potential effects and said officials should consider longer-term effects when they reassess the permits that were approved for the Navy in 2012.

The science is somewhat incomplete. While we do know that sonar harms marine mammals, we do not know exactly how the loud noises affect marine mammals' physiology. Unfortunately, decisions often need to be made in the absences of complete data and leaders must weigh the available information as well as the costs and benefits of the potential resulting outcomes.


  1. Read through the various links that I have posted below and come to an educated opinion on what you would decide if you were one of the justices deciding on this issue.  
  2. Decide if you would side with those that support unrestricted sonar tests and war games conducted by the Navy to improve national security OR if you would side with the environmentalists that ask for more restrictions and regulations for Navy sonar operations. 
  3. For this post I would like you to A) state your decision, then B) detail why you came to that decision using scientific data/facts with proper citations (minimum 200 words).
  4. Then, after reading additional posts from your classmates, choose two that interest you and respectfully explain why you support or disagree with their position (at least 100 words for each response). 
  5. are not graded on which side you choose, but how well you address the criteria for this post.

To find background information on ocean acoustics, look at:

Additional information on the effects of underwater noise on marine mammals can be found at:

Read the article by the LA Times about dolphins deaths in San Diego during Naval exercises: 

 Also read Navy's Public position on the topic

Then, read about the latest news on the topic and listen to NPR report or read the transcription of the show that interviews a Navy's spokesperson:

Visit the NRDC website at (Links to an external site.)

Then watch the 2 minute video trailer at: (Links to an external site.)

Finally, follow these links for a news article on the US Supreme Court decision and to read the latest court decision about the issue.

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