Effects of sonar on whales studied

March 15, 2011 at 8:22 PM

ST. ANDREWS, Scotland, March 15 (UPI) -- A study by Scottish researchers says whales can be disturbed by naval sonar and are particularly sensitive to the man-made sounds.

Scientists studying beaked whale populations in the Bahamas say sonar for naval communication has been a suspect in beaked whale stranding in the past, the BBC reported Tuesday.

Beaked whales are an elusive group of small whales named for their elongated snouts, long studied for their connection to the possible risks naval sonar poses to marine mammals. In 2000 and 2002, large groups of beaked whales stranded and died, and in both cases naval exercises involving sonar were taking place in the vicinity, the BBC said.

Scientists from the University of St. Andrews used underwater microphones to study whales in waters around the U.S. Navy's Atlantic Undersea Test and Evaluation Center on Andros Island in the Bahamas.

During live sonar exercises by the Navy, the whales stopped making their clicking and buzzing calls that are thought to be used to navigate and communicate.

Tagging of the whales allowed the researchers to track their movements by satellite, and they found the whales moved as far as 10 miles away from the area during sonar tests and did not return for three days.

"It was clear that these whales moved quickly out of the way of the [navy] sonars," Ian Boyd, chief scientist on the research project, said. "We now think that, in some unusual circumstances, they are just unable to get out of the way and this ends up with the animals stranding and dying."

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