Archive for August 2009

US Navy Press Release Regarding Sonar Effect on Whales

August 11, 2009

Interestingly, on the same day that the beaked whale died in Florida after becoming stranded on a beach in Hollywood, the Navy has put out a press release about two studies it has recently conducted on sonar effect on whales, particularly beaked whales. The press release is interesting on a number of levels. Note that one of the two tests was conducted by AUTEC, the Atlantic Undersea Testing and Evaluation Center on Andros Island in the Bahamas that figures prominently in “Beneath the Blue”.

Here is the Navy story:

[August 11, 2009]
US NAVY: Navy Continues its Commitment to Science through Marine Mammal Studies
Aug 11, 2009 (M2 PRESSWIRE via COMTEX) — By Tracey Moriarty, Chief of Naval Operations Environmental Readiness Division WASHINGTON (NNS) — The U.S. Navy and its partners recently completed two studies that monitored marine mammal responses to military exercises.

The studies were conducted April 20-May 20 on the Atlantic Undersea Test and Evaluation Center (AUTEC) in northern Bahamas, and July 15-July 28 on the Southern California Offshore Range (SCORE) off Coronado, Calif. Both studies used small dart tags with satellite transmitters to track the movements of whales before, during and after unit-level and larger battle group exercises that included the use of active sonar. Additional data is being collected during biological and behavioral studies of marine mammals in the western Mediterranean Sea project currently underway off the Spanish Mediterranean coast and in the Tyrrhenian Sea to the west of the Italian mainland.

These studies are a part of the Navy’s research program to understand the effects of anthropogenic sound on marine mammals. Follow-on studies are expected to be conducted at AUTEC and SCORE as well as the Navy’s other at-sea ranges during the next five years.

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Atlantic Undersea Test and Evaluation Center, Bahamas The AUTEC study took place during a Submarine Commanders Course (SCC) and was performed by scientists from Naval Undersea Warfare Center (NUWC), the Bahamas Marine Mammal Research Organisation (BMMRO) and the The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries Southwest Fisheries Science Center. David Moretti, principal investigator for NUWC’s Marine Mammal Monitoring Program, led the Navy’s effort to use AUTEC hydrophones to help determine behavior of whales on the range with and without active sonar present.

“The hydrophones are used to listen for vocalizations from the animals,” Moretti said. “Over the years we’ve been able to detect those animals, send trained observers to their locations and identify them. It has enabled us to associate vocalizations with particular species.” Moretti and his team monitored a screen display of 93 hydrophones on the 500 nautical mile AUTEC range. When a hydrophone detected vocalizations, the NUWC team would contact the researchers waiting on the University of Miami’s vessel, F.G. Walton Smith, and give them an approximate location of the whale. The research team would then race to the proposed location in hopes of deploying satellite tags and for photo-identification and biopsy work.

John Durban and Bob Pitman of NOAA Fisheries Southwest Fisheries Science Center worked with their Bahamian colleagues on the tagging effort, made difficult by unpredictable weather conditions. This collaboration successfully deployed nine satellite tags on three different species on and around the AUTEC range, including three Blaineville’s beaked whales, a Cuvier’s beaked whale and five sperm whales. Biopsy samples were also collected to obtain information on the genealogy, population structure and diet of the whales.

Scientists believe that beaked whales are sensitive to sound.

“The mere presence of these species on a Navy range is counterintuitive to the perception of beaked whale reactions to sonar,” said Moretti. “Given that this is an active Navy range where sonar is used, you wouldn’t anticipate this species to be present in this particular location if you believed the popular press.” Diane Claridge, director of BMMRO, was already leading a multi-year study to observe the distribution, abundance and population structure of beaked whales in the northern Bahamas. The timing of this year’s survey happened to overlap with the SCC.

“From working at AUTEC for previous projects, we have been photo identifying beaked whales in that area,” she said. “The animals are moving in and out of here, and one of the things I’m interested in is whether or not that movement is related to the activities taking place such as the SCC.” Though the team is still reviewing the data for this project, beaked whale monitoring during previous SCC events has shown a decline in acoustic detections of beaked whales during active sonar exercises. Beaked whale detections increased following the end of the multi-day exercise, leading to a hypothesis that animals moved off the range during exercises. However, this hypothesis remains to be tested, and the extent and distance of any movements remain unknown.

“We believe they avoid the sonar by moving off the range, and they return after operations are finished,” said Moretti. “We have opportunistic data based on acoustics that supports that idea. Once they’re off the sensors we really don’t know where they go. I can’t say definitively that the animals that leave the range are actually the same animals that come back.” The AUTEC study hopes to answer some of these questions.

“I think the most important thing is that it’s still very early,” said Durban. “Like any study, it’s tempting to want results straight away, but often the key results are only obtained from continued long-term monitoring of abundance and movement patterns. Only by having that background monitoring data can you detect any key responses. So in some sense, we’ve just started, but it’s been a good start.” Claridge agrees.

“We’re really on the cusp of what we’re going to learn because we’re just getting into the analysis of all survey data.” Researchers intend to return to AUTEC prior to the SCC event scheduled later this fall.

Southern California Offshore Range On the West Coast, the SCORE Marine Mammal Research Project involved collaboration between NUWC, SCORE, NOAA Fisheries Southwest Fisheries Science Center, Cascadia Research and Scripps Oceanographic Institution. Whales on the instrumented Southern California Antisubmarine Warfare Range (SOAR) are monitored on 83 hydrophones mounted on the ocean floor at an average depth of 2,000 meters. Like AUTEC, the phones are used to monitor an area in excess of 500 square nautical miles. Cetaceans are photo-identified, biopsy sampled and electronically monitored to examine their response to military exercises.

The on-water tagging effort is led by Cascadia Research Collective’s Greg Schorr and Erin Falcone.

“We are experiencing success tagging species in this region, especially beaked whales – beyond what we initially thought possible,” said Falcone. “The combined experience of collaborators on this project, from this and other regions, is allowing for continuous improvement in our data collection.” Eight animals were successfully tagged in eight days during fieldwork in July, including a Cuvier’s beaked whale, bottlenose dolphin, Risso’s dolphin and five fin whales. These tags supplement data collected from one Cuvier’s beaked whale and three fin whales tagged at SCORE in 2008.

Scripps High Frequency Acoustic Recording Package (HARP) buoys are used to monitor locations off-range. By combining these data from the multi-sensor SOAR range, satellite tags and HARP buoys, the spatial and temporal distribution, movements and vocal behavior relative to active operations is being investigated.

“With each study, we’re moving closer to answering the big questions relating to health of populations,” said Moretti. “We’ve made great leaps in knowledge from when the Navy started studying beaked whales 10 years ago. Back then we didn’t even know what they sounded like, let alone the nature of their vocalizations. We now have preliminary data predicting how these animals move in sites of intense study, which we are beginning to interpret in an effort to answer those big questions.” When researchers return to SCORE this fall, they will be testing a new “fast and light” weather dependent model for studying beaked whales in offshore waters of the Pacific, which frequently experience high wind and swell conditions. Beaked whale dives can last more than an hour, with the animals only surfacing briefly and keeping a very low profile. Because of this, any unfavorable weather compromises the researchers’ ability to locate and tag the animals. The “fast and light” model will mobilize researchers more quickly in favorable weather conditions to increase the amount of data collected.

Mediterranean Sea Unlike the SCORE and AUTEC studies, the Mediterranean tests are being conducted through controlled exposure experiments, in which the animals’ behavior is measured before, during and after specific sound exposures planned by the researchers, rather than sonar sounds generated during naval exercises. Researchers for this project, referred to as MED-09, include representatives from the NATO Undersea Research Centre, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI), Genoa Aquarium and several other international scientific and academic organizations.

The researchers are studying whales with tags that can record sound, animal orientation and depth measurements. These “Dtags,” short for “digital acoustic recording tags,” were developed by WHOI and are invaluable in the study of beaked whales and other species that dive deep and seldom visit the sea surface. Dtags are attached using non-invasive suction cups.

“In MED-09, we’re duplicating the experiments from 2007’s behavioral response study at AUTEC,” said Moretti. “The difference is that unlike the AUTEC animals, these animals are na’ve to sonar. We don’t know if they’ll behave the same way as animals that are accustomed to sonar exposure.” The scientific results expected from MED-09 will contribute to a greater understanding of marine mammal biology and oceanographic features in the western Mediterranean. The data will be provided to local and regional government, conservation and educational organizations to increase public awareness and appreciation of these areas and species. Specialized information obtained regarding the baseline behavior of beaked whales and their response to manmade sounds will be integrated into ongoing Navy environmental planning for exercises and also be made available to science organizations worldwide to support their research efforts.

MED-09 began in late July and lasts until early September.


Beaked Whale Dies; Calf Euthanized

August 11, 2009

The two beaked whales that became stranded yesterday near Hollywood, Florida are dead. The mother died yesterday afternoon, and the calf was euthanized shortly thereafter. There are multiple media reports now reporting this. No accusations of Navy sonar are being made yet, but as noted yesterday this is almost certainly the cause of the stranding. There has been no mention in the articles yet as to whether a necropsy will be performed.

This article from the Daily Mail has some heartwrenching photos of the rescue attempt.

Breaking News: Beaked Whales Stranded in Florida

August 10, 2009

CNN is on the air reporting about the stranding of a Cuvier’s Beaked Whale mother and calf on the beach near Hollywood, Florida.  Here is a picture of the rescuers working on the mother — note that these are not, for the most part, just casual beachgoers.  Some are wearing NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) and others are clearly pros, so they know what they are doing.

Picture 14

Kyra Philips, CNN’s anchor at the moment, doesn’t seem to have any idea that this is probably Navy Sonar related.  Cuvier’s Beaked Whales (which are basically oversized dolphins in the same way that pilot whales and Orcas are actually dolphins) are especially sensitive to Navy Sonar.

Here is a link to a National Geographic Article:  Military Sonar May Give Whales Decompression Sickness.

And here is what comes up when you do a search “beaked whales sonar” — dozens of articles to read.

Hope this has a happy ending but I’m doubtful.  They’ve managed to get both animals out into the water far enough so that they could swim away if they were able to.  We’ll see.

Some Sample SFX Shots We’re Working On

August 10, 2009

I’ve mentioned in some recent posts that we are at the stage now where we are working on special effects shots, among other post production matters — and some have come in with comments that you’re curious about what SFX shots we have in the movie, since it wasn’t immediately clear to them what these shots would be.  I’ve got some pix here which give an idea of two of the shots — fairly simple ones, but each shot takes a little time and effort and there are over a 100 such shots int he movie.

In the story, Hawk goes to the island of Andros where there is a US Naval Base called “AUTEC” which stands for the Atlantic Undersea Test and Evaluation Center.   This is a real facility on a real island and is a naval facility that has been involved in testing of Active Sonar — so our use of it in the story is factually appropriate.   Although there are a good number of aerial photos of the facility available on the internet — it was only with some rather long and hard searching that we came up with a water level picture of the facility — but we did find one.  Here it is.

Picture 13

This gave us a good idea of what the facility actually looks like, so one of the first things we did with it was to rebuild the images in high resolution, creating a backdrop that is not an exact match for the “real” facility — but is quite close.

In the story, there is a marine mammal facility at AUTEC.  But we actually had to shoot the supposed AUTEC facility in a corner of the UNEXSO facility on Grand Bahama.  So below is a picture of our set at UNEXSO, without the AUTEC features added in.

Autec Marin mamma before

And here it is after we have “roughed in” the AUTEC background.   This is not a finished product — but rather is a first draft of how it will look, just so that we can get the basic idea into the cut for viewing purposes.  The blending of images will be enhanced before we go to final — but you get the idea.

Autec Marin mamma afterl

Another application of the same background images has to do with the various times in the story when Hawk or others approach Andros, or drive away from it.  Here is a series showing how this aspect of it works:

First, a photograph of a Naval Patrol boat supposedly coming out from Andros Island as it was actually shot:

Navy ship island before

And here is the boat with the island and a naval vessel inserted behind it.  Seen as a still — it’s basically a “photoshop” exercise –but in a motion picture where the camera is mounted on a boat and thus is not stationary, and the waves themselves are moving in the frame — getting the island and moored Navy vessel to “stay put” requires a bit of effort and specialized software. The image below is very much a work-in-progress — especially the island, which is too small and is being reworked and improved.

Navy ship island

Anyway — as noted above there are more than 100 of these kinds of SFX shots in the film and we’re grinding through them one by one.

Samantha Jade Single Released in Australia

August 10, 2009

Samantha Jade’s new single was released last week in Australia and has already jumped to #2 on the Aussie charts. Samantha is in Australia promoting the single and her upcoming album which, according to her manager John Harris, will be released in November. We’ve also received a demo of the song (a very beautiful, appropriate ballad) which Samantha has written for the BTB soundtrack.

Here is the single