Sonar exposure is not, as the Navy suggests, a mere matter of annoyance to whales and dolphins. In fact, the harm ranges from significant disturbance to important behaviors – feeding, breeding, migrating, communicating, finding mates – to hearing damage and even mass stranding and death.
At risk are not only some of the most vulnerable whale populations on Earth – including the last remaining 300 North Atlantic right whales and the 83 critically endangered southern resident killer whales off the Washington coast – but the very fabric of life among species that, over eons in the dark ocean, have evolved to depend on sound as we depend on sight. According to government scientists, the "loss of even a single individual right whale may contribute to the extinction of the species."
In recent decades, a growing number of mass whale mortalities around the world have occurred in the shadow of military sonar training, in coastal waters as diverse as the Bahamas, the Canary Islands, Greece, North Carolina, Hawaii, Washington State, and many others. According to scientists – including the Navy's own consultants – there is no longer any doubt that sonar kills whales, whether by stranding or massive internal hemorrhaging – akin to what human divers experience as the "bends."