UPDATE: Wednesday 8:15 p.m.
Navy spokeswoman Sheila Murray received confirmation this evening that the fast-attack submarine USS San Francisco, accompanied by a surface ship, was operating its sonar last night as it passed through the Strait of Juan de Fuca.
The sub was conducting “required training dives” and did not enter Haro Strait, she said. The Navy undertakes precautions to protect marine mammals, she noted.
The voices heard on the hydrophones were from an underwater communication system between the ship and the submarine, she explained.
I have requested additional details, including the precise
precautions that Navy personnel took to protect transient killer
whales that may have been in the area.
I have asked a Navy public affairs officer to help me track down an unusual incident involving a human voice heard underwater last night in Haro Strait near the San Juan Islands.
Val Veirs, who operates hydrophones in the San Juan Islands, picked up odd sounds that he and his computerized monitoring system have never heard in at least seven years of operation.
As best as anyone can tell, the sounds consist of a human voice interspersed with loud sonar pings.
“I have never heard anything like this before,” Val told me this morning. “I have computer codes that try to reject the usual things. The Shoup came out of that, and these programs are getting better at discriminating unusual sounds. They were telling us last night that this was something very different.”
Val, currently president of the board for The Whale Museum in Friday Harbor, was the person who added scientific credibility to the loud pinging caused by the Navy destroyer USS Shoup as it passed through Haro Strait in 2002. Biologists on the water at the time reported that killer whales seemed to be fleeing from the sound. Since then, Navy ships are required to receive permission from fleet commanders before operating sonar in Puget Sound.
If anyone has specific or general information about the kind of sounds heard last night, please comment on this blog or send me an e-mail, firstname.lastname@example.org.
During last night’s incident, Val said he went outside, where he has a clear view through Haro Strait. He says he is more than 90 percent sure that no surface ships were operating in the area.
“The sounds were filling the deep waters of Haro Strait, from one end to the other — and there was no visible source,” he told me.
Unlike the Shoup, which moved on through the Strait, Val said he could hear the strange sounds on two distant hydrophones, and they seemed to be moving back and forth in the channel.
Meanwhile, Jeanne Hyde of Friday Harbor, a frequent listener to the online Salish Sea Hydrophone Network said she heard the sounds and began making phone calls.
“I contacted the Bellingham Coast Guard Station and they called back and said it was the Navy, and it was a submarine,” Hyde said in an e-mail. “This was sonar all night, up until the last I was listening until 4:30 this morning.”
One of the concerns among whale observers is that transient
orcas were seen in the area
two days ago yesterday
afternoon. Of course, the Navy is supposed to follow
procedures to make sure marine mammals are not within a range where
sonar could harm them.
Fred Felleman, Northwest consultant for Friends of the Earth, points out that this unusual incident comes in the midst of the Navy’s effort to expand its training operations off the Washington Coast. See the Navy’s Web site for details.
“If the Navy wants to maintain their operations here, let alone expand them, then they should contribute information,” Felleman said.
Felleman has made the point many times that the Navy surely has a wealth of information that could add to the science about marine mammals, but the Navy keeps its information under wraps in the name of national security.