US Navy


Marine Species Monitoring

New publication on beaked whale response to military sonar

Posted on August 31, 2017

Diving behaviour of Cuvier's beaked whales exposed to two types of military sonar

Erin A. Falcone, Gregory S. Schorr, Stephanie L. Watwood, Stacy L. DeRuiter, Alexandre N. Zerbini, Russel D. Andrews, Ronald P. Morrissey, David J. Moretti


Cuvier's beaked whales (Ziphius cavirostris) have stranded in association with mid-frequency active sonar (MFAS) use, and though the causative mechanism linking these events remains unclear, it is believed to be behaviourally mediated. To determine whether MFAS use was associated with behavioural changes in this species, satellite tags were used to record the diving and movements of 16 Cuvier's beaked whales for up to 88 days in a region of frequent MFAS training off the coast of Southern California. Tag data were combined with summarized records of concurrent bouts of high-power, surface-ship and mid-power, helicopter-deployed MFAS use, along with other potential covariates, in generalized additive mixed-effects models. Deep dives, shallow dives and surface intervals tended to become longer during MFAS use, with some variation associated with the total amount of overlapping MFAS during the behaviour. These changes in dives and surface intervals contributed to a longer interval between deep dives, a proxy for foraging disruption in this species. Most responses intensified with proximity and were more pronounced during mid-power than high-power MFAS use at comparable distances within approximately 50‚ÄČkm, despite the significantly lower source level of mid-power MFAS. However, distance-mediated responses to high-power MFAS, and increased deep dive intervals during mid-power MFAS, were evident up to approximately 100‚ÄČkm away.