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Whales and dolphins increasingly threatened by noise pollution, scientists say

A humpback whale launches like a missile in the Santa Barbara Channel.

Those who don't believe man is a blight on the planet ought to ask the whales.

But shout loudly, because they're a little hard of hearing these days.

So say environmentalists and government representatives gathered for a meeting of the U.N.-backed Convention on the Conservation of Migratory
Species of Wild Animals.

They cite noise pollution caused by increased commercial shipping, seismic surveys and military sonar -- which the U.S. Navy will soon use during training off Southern California, just in time for the gray whale migration -- as major threats to the survival of many species of marine mammals.

All these sounds and painful pings make it increasingly difficult for whales and other mammals to communicate with song. They also lead to mammal strandings.

Mark Simmonds, director of the Britain-based Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society, described it as a "cocktail-party effect" in an Associated Press story. "You have to speak louder and louder until no one can hear each other anymore," he said.

Aside from noise pollution is climate change, scientists said, that is altering ocean chemistry to cause sound to travel farther through water.

And to think there once was a time when all the whales had to worry about were the harpoons of whalers. Their future does not look bright.

-- Pete Thomas

Photo: A humpback whale launches like a missile in the Santa Barbara Channel. Credit: Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times

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Comments (7)

Wow, interesting. I thought whales were supposed to have great sonar or something like that, no? Its not like the future is bright and littered with LESS boats and noise out there...

Thank you, I am an environmental science teacher in a rural town in Georgia, Talbotton. We study human impact on the environment all year long. My students will critique and research aspects of this article.

"DEUTERONOMY 20:19 When thou shalt besiege a city a long time, in making war against it to take it, thou shalt not destroy the trees thereof by forcing an axe against them"

It's a sad world when old testament nationalists are smarter and more moral than the military officers of a modern democracy.

Let's hold our breath and wait for them to start blaming Janet Reno for this.

We won't have to wait long.

Or maybe it's the fault of the Indians, Chinese and Russians that we blast defenseless animals with nightmarish death waves causing them to die in agony their brains filled with blood.

Oh it is? Good to know. We can all relax now and keep defending ourselves from threats foreign and domestic with all the firepower we've got.

Military sonar killing whales? How about the millions of tons of toxic waste dumped into our oceans by unregulated Russian, Chinese and Indian industry. I'm tired of articles that ignore the real problem and focus on anything anti-U.S.

Sad. The truth is that most people like freedom without responsibility and such attitudes invariably lead to negative consequences.

To the LA Times: Can you please hire, find, or otherwise secure caption writers for the web who can actually write a caption that isn't childish, inane, or otherwise plain stupid? To wit, this gem above: "A humpback whale launches like a missile..." Not only is the metaphor completely inapt, since missiles actually leave the water and travel hundreds of miles thereafter, but given that it's military sonar that is causing whales so much distress, using a military metaphor is just plain tasteless. Nothing so puerile would ever show up in the print edition. And it's not only in this story. Day in and day out, the captions in the various photo stories throughout the site are routinely imbecilic. DO BETTER PLEASE!

We will continue to see more of this unless the explosion of powerful sonar is limited to reasonable use.

the US Navy pledges to restrict strong sonar when sea mammals are close, but as a former sonar tech myself I know how empty that promise is. For one, visual contact is iffy, such as at night and in rough sea conditions. And when any interesting contact is made, the sonar gang wants to know what it is. And so they blast away with what they've got.

SCOTUS Justice Roberts, in his arguments on behalf of the Navy, suggested that Korea might attack Pearl Harbor. Right, and Sarah Palin might attack Putin.


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Outposts' primary contributor is Kelly Burgess.