More "Sonar Causes Sea Mammal Beaching" Stories
Well, there was another mass beaching of dolphins off of Marathon Key earlier this week, and since someone figured out that a submarine was operating nearby, immediately everyone jumps to the conclusion that the submarine's active sonar did it.
In this case, USS Philadelphia (SSN 690) was doing operations with SEALs somewhere off Key West, which is about 45 miles from where the dolphins grounded themselves. While I could see that active sonar could mess up the dolphin's sense of direction, I find it amusing that there is immediately this sort of immediate linkage. Also, since you don't want to operate active sonar when people are in the water near your boat, and we can assume the SEALs operating with Philadelphia may have gone in the water, I'm not sure that Philly would have used active sonar. This article is has a collection of stories that seem to show a relationship between active sonar operations, but it you look closer, you'll see that they blame some of the beaching from active sonar operating 1,000 miles away. Another one says that beachings in Japan only happen near a base where American submarines operate; apparently Japanese submarines, which also have active sonar in the same frequency range of American boats, don't cause this problem.
The obvious lesson to take away from these conjectures is that marine mammals never beached themselves in the time before active sonar was prevalent; hmmm, it looks like the imperialistic warmongers Lewis and Clark had more advanced weaponry than we've been led to believe. Of course, the numbers have gone up in the last century, which I'm sure has nothing to do with better communications and record keeping during this time. While there may be a relationship between active sonar and marine mammal health, it doesn't do any good to automatically assign blame on a seemingly plausible explanation, especially if you get to blame the U.S. military for it, without seeing if it's actually true. Could it be some disease? Ear infection? If you look at only two items in a cause and effect chain, this can lead to bad science. After all, we know that Russia had low life expectancy in the early 20th century, it went up after 1950, and started dropping again in1990. We also know that the USSR started doing above ground tests of nuclear weapons in the late 1940s, and stopped in the early 1990s. From this data, we can assume that above-ground nuclear tests, which potentially provide rapid genetic changes, were responible for the increase Russian life expectancy during this 40 year period...
Bell Ringer 2119 05 Mar: Alex at The Noonz Wire has posted his excellent thoughts about this issue as well.
Update 0830 06 Mar: Over at The Day, Bob Hamilton has a story (annoying free registration required after one day) on Philadelphia's "eyeball liberty" at Key West. It appears from the story that they might have been embarking VIPs of some sort. These BSPs, or Brief Stop for Personnel, were always frustrating when you did them at a really cool port; you got to see the port, but couldn't go ashore. Excerpt from the story:
"The south Florida port of Key West served as a submarine base from the 1930s until 1974, but it had been years since a submarine made a port call there until the Groton-based USS Philadelphia made a brief stop last week.
"Philadelphia got what is commonly referred to as “eyeball liberty” — stopping close enough to see the piers, but not actually pulling in — to take on some riders before heading back out to sea. "Phil McGuinn, a Navy Reserve captain and a spokesman for the Atlantic submarine force, said the visit is a result of a change in the policy of embarking important riders, which the force hopes will be more cost effective.
"Previously, submarines pulled into Port Canaveral, Fla., where the Air Force operates a base with waterfront access and the Naval Ordnance Test Facility is a tenant, but port stops there can be expensive. The Navy has an Air Station at Key West, which makes visits less expensive."