Hugh Pickens writes "Mass strandings of dolphins and whales could be caused because the animals are rendered temporarily deaf by military sonar, experiments have shown. Tests on a captive dolphin have demonstrated that hearing can be lost for up to 40 minutes on exposure to sonar and may explain several strandings of dolphins and whales in the past decade. Most strandings are still thought to be natural events, but the tests strengthen fears that exercises by naval vessels equipped with sonar are responsible for at least some of them. For example, in the Bahamas in March, 2000, 16 Cuvier's beaked whales and Blainville's beaked whales and a spotted dolphin beached during a US navy exercise in which sonar was used intensively for 16 hours (PDF). 'The big question is what causes them to strand,' says Dr. Aran Mooney, of the University of Hawaii. 'What we are looking at are animals whose primary sense is hearing, like ours is seeing. Their ears are the most sensitive organ they have.' In the experiment, scientists fitted a harmless suction cup to the dolphin's head, with a sensor attached that monitored the animal's brainwaves, and when the pings reached 203 decibels and were repeated, the neurological data showed the mammal had become deaf, for its brain no longer responded to sound. 'We definitely showed that there are physiological and some behavioral effects [from repeated, loud sonar], but to extrapolate that into the wild, we don't really know,' said Mooney."
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