Friday, January 20, 2006

Politics, science and whales--Don't call me Ishmael--And don't call London

I'm sorry. What did you say about the whales? The sonar was so loud I couldn't hear a thing-- A federal scientist who linked navy sonar blasts to the stranding of 37 whales on the North Carolina coast last year, changed her report to eliminate the sonar before it was released. All references to the role the sonar played in the strandings were eliminated from the National Marine Fisheries Service report by the author, Teri Rowles, coordinator of the stranding response program, because, the service said, later investigation showed the early information was "inaccurate," the Washington Post reported. [Click on headline] Not everyone believes that since none of the early information was changed in the report, just the conclusion.

See, the navy wants to build a underwater sonar training range in the North Carolina area and any idea that the sonar might be harmful to marine life, particularly whales and dolphins, would create a public relations problem. So, to hell with science. This is the Bush Administration we're talking about here.

The early draft of the report, released under court order after the National Resources Defense Council sued the fisheries agency, said that injuries to several of the whales "may be indicative" of damage related tot he loud blasts of sound from active sonar. One injury, air bubbles in the liver of a pilot whale, was similar to mass strandings in the Bahamas and Canary Islands associated with sonar. But when the report was actually released, sonar was not mentioned. Rowles said the references were removed because sonar has not been implicated or eliminated. "It remains one of many possible causes." Right. And, she might have added--but didn't--I'd get fired if I left it in.

Meanwhile, a northern bottlenose whale (left) that decided to swim up the Thames and visit London had a bad trip despite heroic efforts by human allies. As it was being lifted into a barge to be brought back to sea, where it belongs, it went into convulsions and died. I wonder if it wasn't trying to flee the U.S. Navy's sonar. Probably not.

[Photos: Washington Post and AP]

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