A new study offers evidence to support the theory that beaked whales get the bends when they surface rapidly, possibly after being startled by naval sonar.
A Navy-sponsored study on the behavioral response of toothed whales to various sounds in the ocean has provided fresh insights into these little-understood mammals.
The report could help scientists understand why beaked whales appear to be more vulnerable to the potentially harmful effects of sonar than other marine mammals.
Together with other studies, the results may also help scientists and regulators think of how navies could adjust their sonar use during training to prevent beaked whale strandings and deaths.
"Our goal was to develop and safely test responses of whales to sound, particularly beaked whales, which we know seem to be more affected by mid-frequency active sonar than other species," said Navy Rear Adm. Lawrence S. Rice, director of the Chief of Naval Operations Environmental Readiness Division, during an interview on Pentagon Web Radio's "Armed with Science: Research and Applications for the Modern Military" audio webcast, April 22.
Rice said the focus on beaked whales is due to several incidents in which groups of beaked whales stranded themselves near naval exercises using mid-frequency sonar.
The first such incident to attract national attention was in the Bahamas in 2000, where 17 whales stranded themselves. In the ensuing debate, sonar frequently has been depicted by concerned citizens and media reports as injurious to all whales.