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Underwater Sonar Linked To Whale Deaths 187

Posted by samzenpus
from the killer-sound dept.
An anonymous reader writes "A group of scientists have confirmed a link between the sonar used by Exxon Mobil to map the ocean floor for oil and the death of melon-headed whales. From the article: 'A spokesman for ExxonMobil said the company disagrees with the findings. "ExxonMobil believes the panel's finding about the multi-beam echo sounder is unjustified due to the lack of certainty of information and observations recorded during the response efforts in 2008," spokesman Patrick McGinn told AFP in an email. He added that observers employed by the Madagascar government and the oil giant "were on board the vessel and did not observe any whales in the area."'"
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Underwater Sonar Linked To Whale Deaths

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  • That's it (Score:5, Funny)

    by jfdavis668 (1414919) on Sunday September 29, 2013 @02:01PM (#44986487)
    We can only use overwater sonar from now on.
    • Exxon's Response (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      "ExxonMobil believes the panel's finding about the multi-beam echo sounder is unjustified due to the lack of certainty of information and observations recorded during the response efforts in 2008"

      This is a perfect example of FUD (Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt). Well done legal team!

      • by GameboyRMH (1153867) <gameboyrmhNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Sunday September 29, 2013 @02:50PM (#44986803) Journal

        Is this real or a joke? I'm looking forward to finding out how simple of a cause-effect relationship can be denied. This is basically the equivalent of finding that the neighbor's eardrums were blown out due to you setting off explosions in your back yard, so it's pretty straightforward.

      • I see the uncertainty and doubt, but where's the fear? Have they suggested that the whale deaths may have been caused by murderous mutant whales who will soon turn to eating human babies?
    • Re:That's it (Score:4, Informative)

      by dargaud (518470) <slashdot2@nOsPAM.gdargaud.net> on Monday September 30, 2013 @07:19AM (#44990593) Homepage

      We can only use overwater sonar from now on.

      It's called a Sodar [wikipedia.org], and I've written software for them.

  • by girlintraining (1395911) on Sunday September 29, 2013 @02:03PM (#44986515)

    "ExxonMobil believes the panel's finding about the multi-beam echo sounder is unjustified due to the lack of certainty of information and observations recorded during the response efforts in 2008," spokesman Patrick McGinn told AFP in an email. He added that observers employed by the Madagascar government and the oil giant "were on board the vessel and did not observe any whales in the area."'"

    Certainty of information: Nobody requires absolute certainty in science. In fact, even the court system, sad as it is, needs it -- it requires "beyond reasonable doubt", whereas science is similarily situated at "best model that fits the facts". Type of cognitive distortion ExxonMobile uses here: All-or-nothing thinking.

    Out of date observations: It's 2013 now. By carefully hand picking your data set to be only, say, 2008, or pre-2008, you are discounting everything that came after. One supposes that an extra five years' worth of observations, we'd be able to narrow in on a cause. But let's humor them and take just 2008. In February of that year, before the incident in question, the US courts found there was enough evidence that high energy sonar was killing whales to ask the military to reduce its use in naval operations [enn.com].

    Impartial observers: Let me sum this one up real easy -- "Managment finds no problem with the management." The government was paid a lot of money to go along with Exxon, and employees of Exxon I think we can safely say aren't impartial observers. So one of the most basic things required for proper fact gathering went right out the window. This is, in effect, an admission that ExxonMobile has no valid data points from which to draw any conclusions whatsoever. It is, from a scientific perspective, pure speculation. "We're not wrong because, er, we saw ourselves doing nothing wrong." Okay... what about everyone else? "We didn't ask them."

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      P.S. The lack of whales being observed in the area might be attributable to all the observers being in a boat, above the ocean, rather than in the ocean, where the whales live. And regardless, the piles of dead whales that started washing up on shore is a good indication that whatever methodology used was deeply flawed... Perhaps they were simply listening for the whales in between their exceptionally high power sonar tests... that may have already killed or incapacitated them.

      So again, this is "cover my as

      • Exxon-Mobil's argument that saw no whales only fortifies the suspicion that they were driving the whales away.
        • by girlintraining (1395911) on Sunday September 29, 2013 @04:25PM (#44987331)

          Exxon-Mobil's argument that saw no whales only fortifies the suspicion that they were driving the whales away.

          Dude, stop using basic deductive reasoning. It'll get you into trouble on this website. Judging by the moderation on this thread, you need to swear more, use exclaimation points, and call everyone a moron -- this is apparently how you win arguments now.

        • by Xeno man (1614779)

          Exxon-Mobil's argument that saw no whales only fortifies the suspicion that they were driving the whales away.

          I have this rock that keeps bears away that I'm willing to sell you. It works because I don't see any bears around here.

    • by westlake (615356)

      Nobody requires absolute certainty in science. In fact, even the court system, sad as it is, needs it -- it requires "beyond reasonable doubt", whereas science is similarily situated at "best model that fits the facts".

      "Proven beyond any reasonable doubt" is the standard for conviction in a US criminal court, where the jury is expected to come to a decision based on the weight of the evidence, not their opinion of the defendant. You can never be certain, you can only go with what you have.

      The charge did at one point instruct that to convict, guilt must be found beyond a reasonable doubt; but it then equated a reasonable doubt with a ''grave uncertainty'' and an ''actual substantial doubt,'' and stated that what was required was a ''moral certainty' 'that the defendant was guilty. It is plain to us that the words ''substantial'' and ''grave,'' as they are commonly understood, suggest a higher degree of doubt than is required for acquittal under the reasonable doubt standard. When those statements are then considered with the reference to ''moral certainty,'' rather than evidentiary certainty, it becomes clear that a reasonable juror could have interpreted the instruction to allow a finding of guilt based on a degree of proof below that required by the Due Process Clause.

      Tommy CAGE v. LOUISIANA. [cornell.edu]

      • by fred911 (83970)

        In a civil matters the burden is weighed by the preponderance of the evidence.

    • Certainty of information: Nobody requires absolute certainty in science.

      Exxon is not requiring absolute certainty. I don't see a reviewed paper anywhere, just a report that says Exxon was "the most plausible and likely behavioral trigger". That is far from certainty. The court system is irrelevant, no sense talking about that since 1) I don't know the legal requirements of Madagascar, where the whales got beached and 2) there is no court case.

      You are guilty of the "all or nothing" here, not Exxon.

      Out of

  • by djupedal (584558) on Sunday September 29, 2013 @02:04PM (#44986527)
    "We're no worse than anyone else and you can't prove otherwise"
    • "We're no worse than anyone else and you can't prove otherwise"

      It is perhaps fortunate then that we use different standards of evidence in the courts and in science than self-rating one's behavior. Because if we did that, we'd all be above average drivers. It's always the other guy's fault.

    • More like "We can get away with it - we're not limeys!".

  • by MrL0G1C (867445) on Sunday September 29, 2013 @02:08PM (#44986557) Journal

    If some enlightened alien race came to earth and wiped us out after having looked at the atrocious way we treat other humans and all life on this planet, I'd understand. We don't deserve to live here.

    • by Kohath (38547) on Sunday September 29, 2013 @02:20PM (#44986629)

      Why are these hypothetical aliens always so judgmental and intolerant? What did they ever do for anyone? They have the energy to get here from other planets, but they've left us here, alone, digging in the sand for something to burn to keep from freezing in the winter. And now they want to sit on their thrones and second-guess our choices? Fuck them.

      • Please learn the meaning of tolerance in the political context, it's not the same as in the mechanical context.

        • Webster's Unabridged

          Tolerance:
          a permissive or liberal attitude toward beliefs or practices differing from or conflicting with one's own : sympathy or indulgence for diversity in thought or conduct : breadth of spirit or of viewpoint

          Please explain how he used the word incorrectly.
          • Tolerance of intolerance is just pandering.

          • That definition is correct but oversimplified. Tolerance in the political context is closer to the meaning of anti-discrimination - it involves disallowing prejudice, not simply allowance as the dictionary definition might suggest. This is why tolerating intolerance is anti-tolerance - otherwise the concept could indeed be made to collapse with a simple logic trick as many seem to think.

    • by niftydude (1745144) on Sunday September 29, 2013 @04:19PM (#44987293)

      In the past the whales had been able to sing to each other across whole oceans, even from one ocean to another because sound travels such huge distances underwater. But now, again because of the way in which sound travels, there is no part of the ocean that is not constantly jangling with the hubbub of ships’ motors, through which it is now virtually impossible for the whales to hear each other’s songs or messages.

      So fucking what, is pretty much the way that people tend to view this problem, and understandably so, thought Dirk. After all, who wants to hear a bunch of fat fish, oh all right, mammals, burping at each other?

      But for a moment Dirk had a sense of infinite loss and sadness that somewhere amongst the frenzy of information noise that daily rattled the lives of men he thought he might have heard a few notes that denoted the movements of gods.

      Douglas Adams, The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul, 1988

    • by argStyopa (232550)

      And this is precisely the sort of preciously absurd statement that would make me agree with you.

      Why would you assume humans are special? We're naked apes that have learned some clever tricks with tools so we can build Lamborghinis and rocket ships.

      Aside from that, our behaviors aren't demonstrably different. EVERY SPECIES THAT EVER EXISTED breeds to overpopulation, if possible. Every one will cheerfully out-compete and annihilate neighboring competitor or prey species without a second glance. Alligators

    • by delt0r (999393)
      What makes you think we bad in comparison to the rest of the universe? We certainly are not bad compared to the rest of the animal kingdom.
  • No! Not At All. (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday September 29, 2013 @02:15PM (#44986605)

    If you read the actual report [iwc.int], you'll see these statements:

    "There is no uneqiovocal and easily identifiable single cause of this event,"

    "This is the first known such marine mammal mass stranding event closely associated with relatively high-frequency mapping sonar systems,"

    "MBES systems (similar) to the 12 kHz source used in this case are in fact commonly used in hydrographic surveys around the world over large areas without such events being previously documented."

    "There may well be a very low probability that the operation of such sources will induce marine mammal strandings,"

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday September 29, 2013 @02:23PM (#44986643)

    who in their right mind would believe an oil company? Out of all the sociopathic entities known as corporations, oil companies are the lying, destructive ringleaders.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Exxon asked a representative of the whales to come in for an interview and fill out a form detailing the effects --if any-- that the sonar had on their habitat and ecosystem. Exxon even sent out a 30 day compliance notice. Not one, --NOT ONE-- whale even bothered to show up for the information seminars. Clearly the whales are either not concerned, or are going about doing one of those 'Environmental Protests' that you hear about. Exxon gave the whales a chance, and they missed it, so now Exxon can do wh

  • Some reference (Score:5, Informative)

    by Solandri (704621) on Sunday September 29, 2013 @04:06PM (#44987233)
    Most people have no grounds of reference for sound underwater, which can mislead one to wayward conclusions. dB in water is not the same as dB in air. dB is always given relative to a reference pressure and distance, usually re 1 uPa 1 meter. The higher density of water means an equivalent sound volume (in terms of loudness, or amplitude) will have a much higher dB in water.

    Typical sonars are about 160-200 dB re 1 uPa 1 m. The US Navy sonar which caused all the controversy years ago was 226 dB if I remember right. Yes these are loud, but remember it's measured at 1 meter. At 100 meters, it will have attenuated by -40 dB.

    Yes those are loud, but I'm a little skeptical of all these claims of sonar harming whales because as most of you know, whales and dolphins use sonar themselves. It's typically 170-190 dB re 1 uPa 1m, with peaks over 220 dB [google.com]. They're at different frequencies though (100+ kHz for dolphins, 10-25 kHz for most depth finders, 3 kHz for the Navy sonar), and higher frequencies attenuate more quickly in the water.
  • by Gothmolly (148874) on Sunday September 29, 2013 @04:48PM (#44987457)

    Whales weren't dying with hemorrages in their ears/heads before the new fangled sonar came out - and now they are.

  • Exxon seem confident. Then they should go for a dive in the same water and be subject to Sonar. What's not harmful to whales and other sea life could hardly be bad for humans.

  • by malacandrian (2145016) on Sunday September 29, 2013 @05:33PM (#44987647)

    A group of scientists have confirmed a link between the sonar, used by Exxon Mobil to map the ocean floor for oil, and the death of melon-headed whales.

    The whales are already having a tough time of it, what with the dying. There's no need to insult them as well.

  • surprised ? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Tom (822) on Sunday September 29, 2013 @07:09PM (#44988037) Homepage Journal

    A spokesman for ExxonMobil said the company disagrees with the findings.

    When is the last time you heard a corporation agree with any kind of information that threatens its profits? Did it ever happen? Is there a recorded case in the history of mankind of a corporation agreeing with some kind of new information without having to be pressured into doing so?

  • by n1ywb (555767) on Sunday September 29, 2013 @08:36PM (#44988461) Homepage Journal

    I spent three years sailing on the Scripps Institution of Oceanography research vessels, mostly the Revelle, and the Melville. One of my primary responsibilities was operating the multibeam sonar [wikipedia.org] and other acoustic instruments. Working on ship is interesting, it's sort of like college, where you live in one small floating building housing the dorms, labs, cafeteria, and plant, with 40 people, except you cannot leave the building for 50 days at a stretch. It's like being on a reality show living and working with scientists of all types, and some other colorful characters.

    None of the 50 or so marine biologists that I ever sailed with ever had the slightest concern about the multibeam's impact on marine life. And belive me they were very interested in sonar's effects on marine mammals. Anytime we would perform SEISMIC survey ops [wikipedia.org] we were required by law to have a marine mammal observer on watch. If they sighted any whales in the area, we shut down the air guns. In the old days they used sticks of dynamite, now they use 3000psi air guns. Loud.

    Bear in mind our ship cost up to $50,000 per DAY to operate. And that's just for the ship, crew, and technicians, not the scientists and who or what ever they bring. Commercial vessels probably cost much more to operate; the greatest cost is diesel; ships burn thousands of gallons per day; we bought ours from the Navy. But the MMO's were professional scientists and took their jobs seriously and we respected them and I would call them my friends. The idea that any of the other acoustic instruments could harm marine mammels was never broached. Another time I sailed with a large group of marine biologists who were basically pinging whales with high powered sonar to see what would happen because they were concerned with high powered sonars effects on whales. They never brought up any of the ships other acoustic instruments.

    It's possible that MB has an effect. You could hear our MB all over the ship. We ran a Simrad EM-120 [google.com] at 12khz, which I can hear pretty well. It sounded like a really loud bird chirping. And sometimes you could even hear the tinkling echos off the seabed. I can see how it MIGHT annoy whales. And I bet the commercial ships run a much higher-power sonar. They drag like 12 airguns when we drag one or two. I think a lot of it also depends on where you're operating. Most of the ocean is surprisingly empty and devoid of higher life forms. Perhaps greater percautions are needed close to whale populations. It's just surprising because as a member of the oceanographic community I for one was not aware that this issue was even on the radar (no pun intended).

    MB sonar is generally a "good thing". We can only get very coarse bathymetry via satellite. MB is necessary to map the seabed in any detail and seabed maps are critical to earth science. I just hope this doesn't turn into some sort of sonar hysteria where we are unecessarily restricting good scence based on bad science.

  • by SeNtM (965176) on Sunday September 29, 2013 @10:54PM (#44988915) Homepage
    Well, the crew and oil employee did not observe any "whales"....You see, the sonar causes the Melon headed whale to go through a process known as instantaneous inversion, or in other words, its insides are immediately flipped inside-out, due to water pressure and being hit by the pulse. What they did see was a new species of whale sized jelly fish...they called her Exxo...and they believe using this sonar will help increase their population.
  • Consider the source (Score:4, Interesting)

    by leereyno (32197) on Monday September 30, 2013 @11:11AM (#44992265) Homepage Journal

    Once upon a time I would have assumed that the claims of whales dying were made in good faith.

    Not anymore.

    The environmental movement is so overrun with watermelon-marxists (green on the outside, red on the inside) that any claims have to be carefully screened to ensure that they are not an anti-capitalist scam masquerading as environmental concern.

    That the target of this claim is an oil company looking for new sources of petroleum, makes me highly suspicious.

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