Deadly Silence

Deadly Silence

text by Judy Anne Newton. Photography by Dave Moran.

It travels hundreds of miles at the speed of sound. It has no boundaries and no confined hunting ground. Its territory covers 85% of the world’s oceans. It has no natural enemy, no brain and no thoughts. It moves without detection.

When it attacks it doesn’t use jaws, claws, fangs or tentacles. It never touches its victim. The prey is unaware it is being stalked until it strikes and then there is no escape. Death is slow and tortured and leaves no telltale signs in its wake. It is lethal. It is accurate. It is the ultimate killing machine.

There is no fancy Latin name that evokes horrors from the abyss like Carcharodon carcharias. There are no ancient legends of monsters in the deep like megalodon. There are never any sightings or carcasses washed ashore like the Giant Squid. It is a modern apex predator. It can be anywhere, anyplace, anytime and there is no protection or defence from its deadly reach. It is SURTASS LFAS and there is no place to hide if you are a sea dwelling creature. It is 35-tonnes of precision and perfection. You cannot outrun, outsmart or out-manoeuvre it. Your only hope is to flee the sea.

And they do flee the sea – singularly or in massed groups. What awaits on shore is an equally undesirable death, but flight is the only hope for survival. In March 2000, 16 beaked and minke whales and one spotted dolphin stranded themselves to avoid the predator. Nine whales died. In 1996, a dozen beaked whales beached themselves on the beaches of Western Greece. In 1998, 10 grey whale calves beached themselves off the coast of California. Four mass strandings of beaked whales, sperm whales, bottle-nosed whales and dolphins occurred off the Canary Islands between 1985 and 1989. In June 2001, two adult beaked whales died and a calf was euthanized when they beached in Florida.

Autopsies on the whales in the Bahamas showed they died from haemorrhages to the eyes and ears – they bled to death.

Why haven’t we heard about this monster before? Why is there no best-selling book or blood-drenched movie? Isn’t anyone doing anything about this menace of the sea?

Oh, but someone has done something about it. The US Government has spent 20 years and over US$300 million to create it. This apex predator is the Surveillance Towed Array Sensor System Low Frequency Active Sonar. Eighteen speakers, each the size of a Volkswagen car, rhythmically emit 215-decibel pulses fanning out over an area that can detect a new ‘ultra-quiet’ enemy submarine – or a pod of whales – nearly 200 miles away.

The US government declares there is a real need for this ‘ultra sonar’ equipment to reveal the new ‘ultra-quiet’ class of submarines developed by Germany/Russia/China. The Navy declares the SURTASS LFAS system would be turned off when sea mammals were detected within 12 miles, but the long-range effects of 215 decibels of sonar ping can be equally deadly 125 miles from the source.

Scientists believe that whales are sensitive to any sounds exceeding 110 decibels and have recorded changes in mating calls, breeding, eating and migratory patterns in areas where noises exceeded that range. We all know the feeling we get when the volume is too high at a concert or we’re too close to a departing jet. We can feel the vibrations and there is an intense pain in the ears and in the head. When there is massive and continued vibration caused by such sound impulses, there is cellular damage – something has to ‘give’ – either the sound has to cease or the cell walls haemorrhage.

The US Government firmly denounces that any harm is done to sea life because of the use of sonar, but this has been a hotly contended battle for many years. Due to the secrecy of sonar tests in the past, there is no definable evidence that links all mass strandings to sonar testing. However, a fascinating study supervised by the Ocean Mammal Institute in the waters off Hawaii in 1998 recorded ‘unusual’ behaviour when the Navy tested the LFAS signals emitting only 180 decibels. In an observed pod of humpback whales, approximately 29% altered their ‘songs’ – their primary manner of communication – and others stopped vocalising completely.

Researchers also observed a lone humpback calf over a four-hour period as it ‘breached 270 times, slapped the water with its fins 475 times and hit its tail 60 times.’ The calf became exhausted and disappeared during the night. Not only is the frenzied activity abnormal, but also a calf alone is even more unusual. Humpback calves have an extremely strong bond with the mothers and stay with them for a year or more.

It is possible to consider that whales and dolphins may not be the only creatures affected by such sonar activity. Fish, turtles, corals and shellfish could also be influenced by low-frequency sound. According to Bill Crowe of The Fisherman’s Voice, and pointed to a study that reduce the ‘viability of shrimp eggs.’ Furthermore Crowe contends, ‘If it’s having an effect on whales, it can obviously have an effect on other species. Even the realm of microscopic organisms would be subject to these sound waves. According to Crowe, ‘Body cells are body cells regardless of species. It has the potential to affect a lot of marine life.’

In July 2002, President Bush’s administration approved a five-year exemption to the Marine Mammal Protection Act for the US Navy to conduct field manouvers with SURTASS LFAS. Two warships will be fitted with the sonar devices and they will randomly sweep 85% of the world’s oceans. The exemption of the Act allows for the ‘harassment’ of marine mammals by the Navy with the low-frequency sonar. However, the effect of converging of sound waves from the 18 individual speakers could reach signals of 235 decibels.

There is no warning when it comes. There is no wake, there is no fin, and there is no escape. There is only deadly silence.

text by Judy Anne Newton. Photography by Dave Moran.

It travels hundreds of miles at the speed of sound. It has no boundaries and no confined hunting ground. Its territory covers 85% of the world’s oceans. It has no natural enemy, no brain and no thoughts. It moves without detection.

When it attacks it doesn’t use jaws, claws, fangs or tentacles. It never touches its victim. The prey is unaware it is being stalked until it strikes and then there is no escape. Death is slow and tortured and leaves no telltale signs in its wake. It is lethal. It is accurate. It is the ultimate killing machine.

There is no fancy Latin name that evokes horrors from the abyss like Carcharodon carcharias. There are no ancient legends of monsters in the deep like megalodon. There are never any sightings or carcasses washed ashore like the Giant Squid. It is a modern apex predator. It can be anywhere, anyplace, anytime and there is no protection or defence from its deadly reach. It is SURTASS LFAS and there is no place to hide if you are a sea dwelling creature. It is 35-tonnes of precision and perfection. You cannot outrun, outsmart or out-manoeuvre it. Your only hope is to flee the sea.

And they do flee the sea – singularly or in massed groups. What awaits on shore is an equally undesirable death, but flight is the only hope for survival. In March 2000, 16 beaked and minke whales and one spotted dolphin stranded themselves to avoid the predator. Nine whales died. In 1996, a dozen beaked whales beached themselves on the beaches of Western Greece. In 1998, 10 grey whale calves beached themselves off the coast of California. Four mass strandings of beaked whales, sperm whales, bottle-nosed whales and dolphins occurred off the Canary Islands between 1985 and 1989. In June 2001, two adult beaked whales died and a calf was euthanized when they beached in Florida.

Autopsies on the whales in the Bahamas showed they died from haemorrhages to the eyes and ears – they bled to death.

Why haven’t we heard about this monster before? Why is there no best-selling book or blood-drenched movie? Isn’t anyone doing anything about this menace of the sea?

Oh, but someone has done something about it. The US Government has spent 20 years and over US$300 million to create it. This apex predator is the Surveillance Towed Array Sensor System Low Frequency Active Sonar. Eighteen speakers, each the size of a Volkswagen car, rhythmically emit 215-decibel pulses fanning out over an area that can detect a new ‘ultra-quiet’ enemy submarine – or a pod of whales – nearly 200 miles away.

The US government declares there is a real need for this ‘ultra sonar’ equipment to reveal the new ‘ultra-quiet’ class of submarines developed by Germany/Russia/China. The Navy declares the SURTASS LFAS system would be turned off when sea mammals were detected within 12 miles, but the long-range effects of 215 decibels of sonar ping can be equally deadly 125 miles from the source.

Scientists believe that whales are sensitive to any sounds exceeding 110 decibels and have recorded changes in mating calls, breeding, eating and migratory patterns in areas where noises exceeded that range. We all know the feeling we get when the volume is too high at a concert or we’re too close to a departing jet. We can feel the vibrations and there is an intense pain in the ears and in the head. When there is massive and continued vibration caused by such sound impulses, there is cellular damage – something has to ‘give’ – either the sound has to cease or the cell walls haemorrhage.

The US Government firmly denounces that any harm is done to sea life because of the use of sonar, but this has been a hotly contended battle for many years. Due to the secrecy of sonar tests in the past, there is no definable evidence that links all mass strandings to sonar testing. However, a fascinating study supervised by the Ocean Mammal Institute in the waters off Hawaii in 1998 recorded ‘unusual’ behaviour when the Navy tested the LFAS signals emitting only 180 decibels. In an observed pod of humpback whales, approximately 29% altered their ‘songs’ – their primary manner of communication – and others stopped vocalising completely.

Researchers also observed a lone humpback calf over a four-hour period as it ‘breached 270 times, slapped the water with its fins 475 times and hit its tail 60 times.’ The calf became exhausted and disappeared during the night. Not only is the frenzied activity abnormal, but also a calf alone is even more unusual. Humpback calves have an extremely strong bond with the mothers and stay with them for a year or more.

It is possible to consider that whales and dolphins may not be the only creatures affected by such sonar activity. Fish, turtles, corals and shellfish could also be influenced by low-frequency sound. According to Bill Crowe of The Fisherman’s Voice, and pointed to a study that reduce the ‘viability of shrimp eggs.’ Furthermore Crowe contends, ‘If it’s having an effect on whales, it can obviously have an effect on other species. Even the realm of microscopic organisms would be subject to these sound waves. According to Crowe, ‘Body cells are body cells regardless of species. It has the potential to affect a lot of marine life.’

In July 2002, President Bush’s administration approved a five-year exemption to the Marine Mammal Protection Act for the US Navy to conduct field manouvers with SURTASS LFAS. Two warships will be fitted with the sonar devices and they will randomly sweep 85% of the world’s oceans. The exemption of the Act allows for the ‘harassment’ of marine mammals by the Navy with the low-frequency sonar. However, the effect of converging of sound waves from the 18 individual speakers could reach signals of 235 decibels.

There is no warning when it comes. There is no wake, there is no fin, and there is no escape. There is only deadly silence.

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text by Judy Anne Newton. Photography by Dave Moran.

It travels hundreds of miles at the speed of sound. It has no boundaries and no confined hunting ground. Its territory covers 85% of the world’s oceans. It has no natural enemy, no brain and no thoughts. It moves without detection.

When it attacks it doesn’t use jaws, claws, fangs or tentacles. It never touches its victim. The prey is unaware it is being stalked until it strikes and then there is no escape. Death is slow and tortured and leaves no telltale signs in its wake. It is lethal. It is accurate. It is the ultimate killing machine.

There is no fancy Latin name that evokes horrors from the abyss like Carcharodon carcharias. There are no ancient legends of monsters in the deep like megalodon. There are never any sightings or carcasses washed ashore like the Giant Squid. It is a modern apex predator. It can be anywhere, anyplace, anytime and there is no protection or defence from its deadly reach. It is SURTASS LFAS and there is no place to hide if you are a sea dwelling creature. It is 35-tonnes of precision and perfection. You cannot outrun, outsmart or out-manoeuvre it. Your only hope is to flee the sea.

And they do flee the sea – singularly or in massed groups. What awaits on shore is an equally undesirable death, but flight is the only hope for survival. In March 2000, 16 beaked and minke whales and one spotted dolphin stranded themselves to avoid the predator. Nine whales died. In 1996, a dozen beaked whales beached themselves on the beaches of Western Greece. In 1998, 10 grey whale calves beached themselves off the coast of California. Four mass strandings of beaked whales, sperm whales, bottle-nosed whales and dolphins occurred off the Canary Islands between 1985 and 1989. In June 2001, two adult beaked whales died and a calf was euthanized when they beached in Florida.

Autopsies on the whales in the Bahamas showed they died from haemorrhages to the eyes and ears – they bled to death.

Why haven’t we heard about this monster before? Why is there no best-selling book or blood-drenched movie? Isn’t anyone doing anything about this menace of the sea?

Oh, but someone has done something about it. The US Government has spent 20 years and over US$300 million to create it. This apex predator is the Surveillance Towed Array Sensor System Low Frequency Active Sonar. Eighteen speakers, each the size of a Volkswagen car, rhythmically emit 215-decibel pulses fanning out over an area that can detect a new ‘ultra-quiet’ enemy submarine – or a pod of whales – nearly 200 miles away.

The US government declares there is a real need for this ‘ultra sonar’ equipment to reveal the new ‘ultra-quiet’ class of submarines developed by Germany/Russia/China. The Navy declares the SURTASS LFAS system would be turned off when sea mammals were detected within 12 miles, but the long-range effects of 215 decibels of sonar ping can be equally deadly 125 miles from the source.

Scientists believe that whales are sensitive to any sounds exceeding 110 decibels and have recorded changes in mating calls, breeding, eating and migratory patterns in areas where noises exceeded that range. We all know the feeling we get when the volume is too high at a concert or we’re too close to a departing jet. We can feel the vibrations and there is an intense pain in the ears and in the head. When there is massive and continued vibration caused by such sound impulses, there is cellular damage – something has to ‘give’ – either the sound has to cease or the cell walls haemorrhage.

The US Government firmly denounces that any harm is done to sea life because of the use of sonar, but this has been a hotly contended battle for many years. Due to the secrecy of sonar tests in the past, there is no definable evidence that links all mass strandings to sonar testing. However, a fascinating study supervised by the Ocean Mammal Institute in the waters off Hawaii in 1998 recorded ‘unusual’ behaviour when the Navy tested the LFAS signals emitting only 180 decibels. In an observed pod of humpback whales, approximately 29% altered their ‘songs’ – their primary manner of communication – and others stopped vocalising completely.

Researchers also observed a lone humpback calf over a four-hour period as it ‘breached 270 times, slapped the water with its fins 475 times and hit its tail 60 times.’ The calf became exhausted and disappeared during the night. Not only is the frenzied activity abnormal, but also a calf alone is even more unusual. Humpback calves have an extremely strong bond with the mothers and stay with them for a year or more.

It is possible to consider that whales and dolphins may not be the only creatures affected by such sonar activity. Fish, turtles, corals and shellfish could also be influenced by low-frequency sound. According to Bill Crowe of The Fisherman’s Voice, and pointed to a study that reduce the ‘viability of shrimp eggs.’ Furthermore Crowe contends, ‘If it’s having an effect on whales, it can obviously have an effect on other species. Even the realm of microscopic organisms would be subject to these sound waves. According to Crowe, ‘Body cells are body cells regardless of species. It has the potential to affect a lot of marine life.’

In July 2002, President Bush’s administration approved a five-year exemption to the Marine Mammal Protection Act for the US Navy to conduct field manouvers with SURTASS LFAS. Two warships will be fitted with the sonar devices and they will randomly sweep 85% of the world’s oceans. The exemption of the Act allows for the ‘harassment’ of marine mammals by the Navy with the low-frequency sonar. However, the effect of converging of sound waves from the 18 individual speakers could reach signals of 235 decibels.

There is no warning when it comes. There is no wake, there is no fin, and there is no escape. There is only deadly silence.

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