Abstract: Mass strandings of beaked whales (family Ziphiidae) have been reported in the scientific literature since 1874. Several recent mass strandings of beaked whales have been reported to coincide with naval active sonar exercises. To obtain the broadest assessment of surface ship naval active sonar operations coinciding with beaked whale mass strandings, a list of global naval training and anti-submarine warfare exercises was compiled from openly available sources and compared by location and time with historic stranding records. This list includes activities of navies of other nations but emphasizes recent U.S. activities because of what is available in publicly accessible sources. Of 136 beaked whale mass stranding events reported from 1874 to 2004, 126 occurred between 1950 and 2004, after the introduction and implementation of modern, high-power mid-frequency active sonar (MFAS). Of these 126 reports, only two reported details on the use, timing, and location of sonar in relation to mass strandings. Ten other mass strandings coincided in space and time with naval exercises that may have included MFAS. An additional 27 mass stranding events occurred near a naval base or ship but with no direct evidence of sonar use. The remaining 87 mass strandings have no evidence for a link with any naval activity. Six of these 87 cases have evidence for a cause unrelated to active sonar. The large number of global naval activities annually with potential MFAS usage in comparison to the relative rarity of mass stranding events suggests that most MFAS operations take place with no reported stranding events and that for an MFAS operation to cause a mass stranding of beaked whales, a confluence of several risk factors is probably required. Identification of these risk factors will help in the development of measures to reduce the risk of sonar-related strandings.

Key Words: stranding event, mass stranding event, mid-frequency active sonar, MFAS, beaked whale, Navy sonar, Ziphiidae

Document Type: Research article

DOI: 10.1578/AM.35.4.2009.452

Page Numbers: 452-472

$12.00 each Vol. 35, Iss. 4, D' Amico et. al.

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