Monday, July 13, 2009

whale wars: more than just harpoons

When the Supreme Court ruled that military training trumps protecting whales in a dispute over the Navy's use of sonar in submarine-hunting exercises, it became clear that whales face more danger than harpoons.

While the use of sonar in the water causes bleeding around the brains and ears of the whale, it is also suspected to be a causal factor in the stranding of whales in areas where this testing is conducted.

But the problem is more than sonar. A whale stranding on the beaches of Isla San José occurred near a research ship that had been "dragging an array of powerful underwater air guns that were repeatedly set off the previous morning in the course of seismic tests of the region’s ocean floor."

While the causal relationship between certain underwater technologies and groups of whales that show up dead nearby is not quite an indisputable truth, the suspicion is warranted and logical. New York Times writer Charles Siebert writes:

It might sound like something out of a bad sci-fi film: whales sent into suicidal dashes toward the ocean’s surface to escape the madness-inducing echo chamber that we humans have made of their sound-sensitive habitat.

And let's not forget that they are massive and intelligent creatures:

Whales, we now know, teach and learn. They scheme. They cooperate, and they grieve. They recognize themselves and their friends. They know and fight back against their enemies. And perhaps most stunningly, given all of our transgressions against them, they may even, in certain circumstances, have learned to trust us again.

That's right. For all that humans devastate marine life and degrade essential ecosystems, whales seem to enjoy playing with us.

At precisely the time when you’d expect them to be the most defensive, they’re incredibly social. They’ll come right up to boats, let people touch their faces, give them massages, rub their mouths and tongues.

That really adds a sick, sad twist to the whale wars. Check out the full article

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