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Engineering

Research project: Is there a causal relationship between the use of mid-frequency naval sonar and the mass-stranding of beaked whale species displaying injuries similar to those observed in human cases of decompression sickness.

Currently Active: 
Yes

The phenomenon of mass stranding has been observed in beaked whales since the first use of mid-frequency active sonar equipment by navies back in 1963 and contrasts strongly with the individual strandings that had been typical of these species prior to this date. These mass stranding events have also been noted to occur both temporarily and spatially coincident with offshore naval manoeuvres, with many examples of such incidences having been documented in recent years.

Project Overview

The phenomenon of mass stranding has been observed in beaked whales since the first use of mid-frequency active sonar equipment by navies back in 1963 and contrasts strongly with the individual strandings that had been typical of these species prior to this date. These mass stranding events have also been noted to occur both temporarily and spatially coincident with offshore naval manoeuvres, with many examples of such incidences having been documented in recent years. Necropsy results have indicated that the whales suffered from acute gas embolic disease, with the resulting injuries being similar to those observed in human patients with decompression sickness. The possibility of a causal relationship between the use of mid-frequency active sonar and the mass beaching of beaked whales with these injuries has been investigated here. To date, the results of this investigation suggest that the sound energy of the sonar is unlikely to be the cause of any effect of that sound on the whales. However, modelling work is currently underway to investigate the possibility of a behavioural response by the whales to the sound resulting in the growth of microscopic bubbles (nuclei) ordinarily present in the tissues of the whales undergoing growth by static diffusion, producing the injuries observed.

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