Do marine wind turbines drive whales to beach themselves? Nobody knows for certain. (UK)

Mar 18, 2011

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Editor’s comment:  The other day (March 15th), The Telegraph (UK) flashed the bulletin that “Wind farms blamed for stranding of whales.”  The article peaked my interest.

As is my habit, I began tracking it down—to its source.

After several minutes of digging, I discovered the article had not only been pulled from the Telegraph, it was conspicuously absent from the lead investigator’s website.  (The lead author being Professor Ian Boyd, at the University of St. Andrews—Scotland.)

Beginning to suspect something was amiss, I fired off an email to Professor Boyd, asking if he could send me a copy of the paper on “whales responding to wind turbine noise.”

Within minutes, I got this reply:

The press reports that you probably saw are wrong. One reporter jumped to a conclusion that was incorrect and it snow-balled out of control.

The paper itself (attached) says nothing about wind farms and I never talked to anybody from the Press about wind farms. This is a non-story manufactured by a part of the British Press.

Below, is the Abstract from Professor Boyd et al’s paper, “Beaked Whales Respond to Simulated and Actual Navy Sonar.”  Click here for the entire paper, published in an Open Access journal.

If you do a “search” through the paper, there is nothing about wind turbines therein.

The punchline?  All you readers who were, as I was, intrigued by the headline news about beaked whales being troubled by wind turbines at sea, had better withhold judgment on the matter.  They may indeed be affected by turbine infrasound and low frequency noise—but this paper does not demonstrate that.
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Beaked whales have mass stranded during some naval sonar exercises, but the cause is unknown. They are difficult to sight but can reliably be detected by listening for echolocation clicks produced during deep foraging dives.

Listening for these clicks, we documented Blainville’s beaked whales, Mesoplodon densirostris, in a naval underwater range where sonars are in regular use near Andros Island, Bahamas. An array of bottom-mounted hydrophones can detect beaked whales when they click anywhere within the range.

We used two complementary methods to investigate behavioral responses of beaked whales to sonar: an opportunistic approach that monitored whale responses to multi-day naval exercises involving tactical mid-frequency sonars, and an experimental approach using playbacks of simulated sonar and control sounds to whales tagged with a device that records sound, movement, and orientation.

Here we show that in both exposure conditions beaked whales stopped echolocating during deep foraging dives and moved away.

During actual sonar exercises, beaked whales were primarily detected near the periphery of the range, on average 16 km away from the sonar transmissions. Once the exercise stopped, beaked whales gradually filled in the center of the range over 2–3 days. A satellite tagged whale moved outside the range during an exercise, returning over 2–3 days post-exercise.

The experimental approach used tags to measure acoustic exposure and behavioral reactions of beaked whales to one controlled exposure each of simulated military sonar, killer whale calls, and band-limited noise. The beaked whales reacted to these three sound playbacks at sound pressure levels below 142 dB re 1 μPa by stopping echolocation followed by unusually long and slow ascents from their foraging dives.

The combined results indicate similar disruption of foraging behavior and avoidance by beaked whales in the two different contexts, at exposures well below those used by regulators to define disturbance.

  1. Comment by Melodie Burkett on 03/18/2011 at 9:47 am

    Well, even if the vibrations just make it so miserable for the whales that they have to leave and go elsewhere does that make it right to impose this on their home??? Don’t forget about the 12 whales that beached in Germany’s north sea when the off shore wind turbines started up. It seems plausible to me …where there is smoke there is fire. Big wind has to PROVE it doesn’t hurt the whales. OR PEOPLE.

  2. Comment by John Gilbert on 03/18/2011 at 11:49 am

    Sun Tzu in his 2,500 year old “The Art Of War” is still studied by generals today, stresses the importance of DECEIVING opponents. Wind turbine manufacturers and their entourage have convinced the public with lies of omission. Nice try, it works.

    Mans’ underwater noises causes whales to beach. Don’t spread the science of war, spread the art of war.

  3. Comment by Bart Sutton on 03/18/2011 at 12:51 pm

    An area that may be worth looking into for this is the damage to the hearing canals suffered by many bird species that are sensitive to infrasound. Whales use infrasound for echolocation and proximity to wind turbines may well in fact cause physical damage or confusion to some species. Quite often marine mammals ground themselves where there are no wind turbines YET but if you check with the various rescue organizations you may very well find that the animals had some type of hearing issue. Another area I have thought about is the possibility of high iron content in the bloodstream and possible EMP affecting their global positioning that seems to be inate in marine mammals. A wind turbine would create a certain amount of harmonic and magnetic anomolies that could very well affect this. But it’s little more than a guess on my part, I tend to think about lots of things I have no real expertise in. But that may help by looking from a different prospective.

  4. Comment by Phil Karn, Sr. on 03/19/2011 at 12:14 am

    Melodie:

    “Big wind has to PROVE it doesn’t hurt the whales. OR PEOPLE.” Last time I looked, my logic book said that you cannot prove a negative.

    Bart:

    How is sound converted into magnetic flux?

  5. Comment by Bart Sutton on 10/16/2011 at 12:03 pm

    Sorry, Mr. Karn, for the late response; I don’t often review the same webpage after a visit.

    But, to answer your question. Sound doesn’t convert to magnetic flux, but the neodymium magnets, that weigh approximately one ton per megawatt of rating, certainly would.
    .
    neodymium
    Neodymium magnet
    .
    Just a thought, I take it for granted that anyone who has to deal with the blowhard industry is well versed in the toxic nature of neodymium from mining to end product, and all the problems associated with it. It requires radioactive and acid waste by the tons to build a single turbine, before they can be built to destroy communities.

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