Now That's Some Investigative Reporting!
The whole world, it seems, was following the plight of the whale that swam up that Thames in London. Unfortunately, the whale died, and people are asking what could have caused it to get so confused.
While the CNN report linked above mentions an infected wound behind the whale's left eye, others in the press immediately suspected that old bugaboo, naval sonar. The British newpaper The Independent claims to have conducted an "investigation" which "established" that "secret sonar from naval ships is killing thousands of whales around the world and could have disoriented the two-ton mammal that died last night after becoming stranded in the Thames." Note it's not just any sonar, but "secret" sonar...
So, what methodology did they use in their investigation? How did they determine that this particular whale was disoriented by sonar? Did they check out which naval vessels had been operating in the area? Based on the article, the answer is "no". The article contains a statement that "experts believe that the whale's senses could have been damaged by military sonar." It also has a quote from a Canadian professor:
"We know that beaked whales - the group of species to which the northern bottlenose whale belongs - are particularly sensitive to underwater noise. There has been a lot of seismic activity off northern Scotland and in the North Sea, and I understand that the Royal Navy exercises frequently." (emphasis mine)
So, they "established" that sonar could have caused this whale's death based on a general statement from unnamed experts (the guy at the next desk, perhaps?) and an "understanding" from a Professor thousands of miles away that "the Royal Navy exercises frequently".
You convinced me! (Not)
The rest of the article is make up of random statements about previous groundings, none of which provide the discriminating reader with any confidence that the author has even the slightest clue. Examples included a report of 12 dead whales stranded "as Nato sweep (sic) the area with sonar" and the March 2005 report of dolphins beaching "as US Navy sub trails (huh?) sonar off Florida Keys; 30 die." I blogged about that report earlier; the USS Philadelphia's use of sonar in this case seems very unlikely to have caused the beaching. They also mention the recent beaching death of 120 whales off Tasmania and says that the "Australian Navy admits to using sonar". Yes, they did -- after the first group of whales to beach came ashore, some ships used short-range HF sonar; one other article thought it might be more reasonable to blame "seismic airguns".
And of course it wouldn't have anything to do with this theory...
All this leaves the careful news reader with the feeling that some people will rush to blame sonar every time a dead marine mammal shows up somewhere, without any proof at all; this should serve to make one more skeptical of any future such claims from these sources.