BEACHED WHALE in the Bahamas is examined by David Ellifrit of the Center for Whale Research. The whale probably died as a result of sonar from naval antisubmarine exercises. Image: DIANE CLARIDGE AP Photo
The beaching of some 14 Cuvier's beaked whales in the Bahamas in March 2000 brought to critical mass a long-seething controversy. At least eight of the whales died, and the cause of death for many was cranial hemorrhaging, probably from exposure to intense sound waves. After investigating, the U.S. Navy took responsibility. "In fact, there was some cause and effect" between the deaths and the navy's sonar, said Admiral William J. Fallon, vice chief of naval operations, in a congressional hearing on May 9.
The incident couldn't have come at a worse time for the navy, which is struggling to gain public acceptance of its new low-frequency active (LFA) sonar. For decades, the navy has relied mainly on passive sonar, or simple listening with hydrophones, which could detect sound generated by a ship's boiler or even by pots and pans from the galley.
This article was originally published with the title Sound Judgments.