Ever since time began, underwater creatures have used sound to communicate to one another. It didn't take long for us humans to figure out this age old technology and try to adapt it to our use. It all began with the idea of echo location around the year 1914 and soon developed into a system that either emits a pulse of sound that an operator listens for the echoes or the operator would listen to the sounds emitted by the object it is trying to locate.
Although this new evolved technology was proving a great success, it wasn't until 1996 when scientists started realizing the harmful affects it was having on whales and other types of marine life. Because whales and dolphins use their natural type of echolocation techniques to locate predators, prey, as well as communication among themselves, it was possible that human developed sonar would interfere and cause them to loose their way and prevent them from eating or reproducing.
In 1996, there were several whales that had beached themselves after NATO was testing low frequency sonar. These basic tests caused a lot of people to question the risks when it came to harming the marine life. Since the first noticed even of whales beaching themselves in 1996, there have been sever more occasions since then. Just as since 1996 different sonar has been created to generate one of the loudest sounds that it would be possible for a human to make, not even considering the harm it could do to marine life.
One send out of mid-frequency sonar can cause whales to change their behavior, even cause fatal damage to their lungs, brain, as well as their ears, and send whales and other marine life into a panic situation. Many of the whales found that had beached themselves died of immediate physical trauma where bleeding from the brain and ears were found.
After many years of pressure from many of the scientific communities, the Navy is funding a six million dollar project to learn more about negative effects that sonar and other loud noises may be having on whales and other marine life. The Navy has also been ordered by federal courts to discover ways to lessen the harm or discover ways to alter the sonar so it doesn't interfere with whales and other marine life.
As of this year, 2008, the federal courts are now prohibiting the Navy from conducting any more mid-frequency sonar exercises without specific safety measures as well as limiting the regions where they test low-frequency sonar. The White House apparently has authorization to excuse such groups from any type of environmental compliance, but will not bid to excuse the Navy from this. Species rich areas are also deemed as off limits to being test areas for any frequency of sonar testing.
One signal of sonar sent has the capability of flooding thousands of square miles of ocean with a level of noise pollution as high as 140 decibels. Anything exposed to 140 decibels can cause immediate damage and causes actual pain. In comparison, going to your favorite metal or rock concert for 4 hours doesn't even reach the decibel range of 140 decibels. 140 decibels is equivalent to standing next to a one of those big time Fourth of July firecrackers. Normally our ears can only handle these 30 minute shows, our ears hurt or have the ringing in them after 30 minutes. However, two hours or more of this constant 140 decibels would cause damage, even permanent damage to you.
When it comes down to it, what our technology does to explore and prepare for war or other types of engagement are killing our marine life. The marine life shouldn't have to die just for the sake sonar during training exercises. There are no excuses, and environmentalists are trying to get the Navy to use passive sonar, which is harmless. In using passive sonar, the Navy will be able to listen for the sounds that the marine animals are making themselves so they can locate the animals before using or testing the sonar so they don't perform these tests in the areas.
In the end, its just another step in protecting our environment and the animals that were here long before we were, and we should have no problem taking the extra day or however long it takes to check the location of the animals before putting them in danger and adding more marine life to the growing list of those on the endangered species list.