Four of the 14 beaked whales that were stranded on the Canary Islands during NATO sonar training exercises in 2002

Four of the 14 beaked whales that were stranded on the Canary Islands during NATO sonar training exercises in 2002

Whales ruled the oceans for tens of millions of years. Until man came along. Like other great creatures on Earth, they may have met their match in modern-day weapons and technology. A new book tells the story of a fight for survival that pits whales against the U.S. Navy. It has been described as an eco-thriller, except it’s non-fiction. It begins in the Bahamas with a mass stranding of whales. A researcher passionate about marine mammals teams up with a relentless environmental lawyer, and together, they seek to prove that Navy sonar is harming whales. We discuss their battle as it goes to the U.S. Supreme Court – and continues today.


  • Joshua Horwitz Science and environmental writer; he spent six years doing research for his current book on whales.

Read A Featured Excerpt

From WAR OF THE WHALES: A True Story by Joshua Horwitz. Copyright (c ) 2014 by Joshua Horwitz. Reprinted by permission of Simon & Schuster, Inc.. All rights reserved.

War of the Whales, Chapter 1


  • 11:06:53

    MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. A determined environmental lawyer tries for years to prove that the Navy's use of sonar causes harm to marine mammals. Then a mysterious mass stranding of whales in the Bahamas seems to offer the evidence he's been searching for. The lawyer teams up with a passionate marine biologist to take on the U.S. Navy. It sounds like fiction, but it's not. It's the theme of a new book titled, "War of the Whales: A True Story." And author Joshua Horwitz joins me in the studio.

  • 11:07:35

    MS. DIANE REHMI'll look forward to hearing your questions and comments. Join us on 800-433-8850. Send us an email to Follow us on Facebook or send us a tweet. Joshua, it's good to have you here.

  • 11:07:55

    MR. JOSHUA HORWITZDiane, it's such a pleasure to be here.

  • 11:07:58

    REHMThank you. Talk about what happened in the Bahamas in March of 2000.

  • 11:08:05

    HORWITZWell, this is -- the site of this event was the deepest underwater canyon in the world. It's about four times as deep and wide as the Grand Canyon, if you can imagine such a thing. And this underwater canyon in the Bahamas has been home for about 30 million to 40 million years, give or take, to a species of whales called beaked whales that had lived there and hunted at depth and flourished there. And...

  • 11:08:37

    REHMThey're called beaked whales. Why?

  • 11:08:40

    HORWITZWell, they -- if you see a picture of the beaked whale, you'll see, they have a snout. They look something like dolphins, though they're larger. They are actually -- an entire quarter of all -- there are about 80 species of whales, and about 20 of them are beaked whales.

  • 11:08:55

    REHMI see.

  • 11:08:56

    HORWITZAnd they're not well known because they spend so much time underwater, at depth, because they are the deepest diving mammals or animals in the entire world. So they dive to depths of up to two miles.

  • 11:09:08


  • 11:09:09

    HORWITZAnd stay underwater for up to two hours at a time.

  • 11:09:12

    REHMSo what happened on the 15th of March?

  • 11:09:16

    HORWITZWell, on the 15th of March in 2000, there was a whale researcher named Ken Balcomb who had been studying these beaked whales for 10 winters in the Bahamas. And on this morning, he came out literally on his front yard and found a stranded beaked whale. And this was unusual.

  • 11:09:34


  • 11:09:35

    HORWITZOne, initially. And this was unusual because beaked whales are, as a species, very rarely strand alive. Occasionally a whale -- a beaked whale will die at sea. And if it doesn't sink, it might wash ashore in a storm. But he had never seen -- he had studied these animals for decades -- he had never seen a live beaked whale this close up. And it was confounding. It was immediately a mystery. And no sooner had he and some volunteers who were with them pushed this whale back out to sea, then he got reports -- somebody came by to say, Ken, there's a stranded whale up the shore -- a mile up the shore. And this continued through the day.

  • 11:10:14

    HORWITZBy the end of the day, there had been 17 beaked whales of three different species that had stranded -- or two different species of beaked whale plus a dolphin had stranded. And they had managed to push some of them back to shore successfully. Seven eventually died. But this was the beginning of a mystery that he unraveled.

  • 11:10:33

    REHMBut don't some whales beach naturally?

  • 11:10:39

    HORWITZYes. There are certain species that commonly strand in certain -- particularly in certain topographies. In New Zealand and Australia, there are certain areas where there are mass strandings, particularly of pilot whales, which is a species of whales that have a sort of follow-the-leader behavior, where there will be a leader. And if the leader of the pod gets disoriented and heads in the wrong direction, they'll all follow. So -- and dolphins sometimes mass strand, often in reaction to toxic algae blooms. There are different reasons why certain species.

  • 11:11:10

    HORWITZBut this is what was called an atypical mass stranding, because these whales typically do not strand.

  • 11:11:16

    REHMSo your person that you just mentioned, Ken Balcomb, he teams up with an environmental attorney, Joel Reynolds. How did they come together and why?

  • 11:11:33

    HORWITZWell, Joel Reynolds -- who was a senior attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council, NRDC, he ran the L.A. office -- he had been on the trail of this story, if you will, because it hadn't been verified by a physical evidence trail, though there had been more than rumors. There had been incidents of mass strandings in the presence of Naval sonar exercises.

  • 11:11:57

    REHMOh, ah.

  • 11:11:59

    HORWITZBut they had never been able to capture a physical evidence trail because, as you can imagine, if you're in the tropics where a lot of these animals live, if they mass strand, within hours they're rotting flesh on the beach. And if it's in a tourist area, the locals are in a hurry to chop them up and -- or drag them out to sea or bury them. So he had been, for about five years at the time, trying to put together a case that he could take to court to try to get the Navy to comply with environmental laws that protect marine mammals. And so this was a significant event because Ken Balcomb -- it just happened to happen on his front porch.

  • 11:12:36

    HORWITZAnd he knew these animals. He knew how unusual this was. And he also had a secret history with the Navy that gave some insight into the possible cause.

  • 11:12:44

    REHMWhat do you mean, a secret history?

  • 11:12:47

    HORWITZWell, I don't want to go into all the details, because this book is something of a mystery story. But he had, during the Vietnam period, been a Navy -- trained as a Navy pilot and had served in the Navy for seven years. And so he was -- what's remarkable about this story and the reason I dove into it with such relish as a writer is that it was so unlikely. I mean you'd have to -- it would have to be a novel to be true. And yet it's nonfiction.

  • 11:13:14

    HORWITZWhere he's one of the few people in the world who would have known not only how to collect a physical evidence trail -- which in this case was cutting off their heads and dragging them into a walk-in freezer -- and also who to call at the Navy to initiate an investigation.

  • 11:13:31

    REHMBut why was he assuming that Navy sonar was responsible for these whales that had ended up on the shore?

  • 11:13:45

    HORWITZWell, he didn't know it at the time. But what he knew was that there was a Navy installation on Andros Island, which is over the horizon but not very far away.

  • 11:13:54

    REHMHow far?

  • 11:13:55

    HORWITZAbout 100 miles away.

  • 11:13:57


  • 11:13:57

    HORWITZAnd that's a long-running -- since the sixties been a place where the Navy does exercises and trains -- tests submarines. In fact, the Navy had never been training -- done sonar exercises in the Bahamas before. This was actually a result of the fact that they had been kicked out of Vieques, which was a big training range. And Vieques is a training range in Puerto Rico, which the Navy had bombed and shelled and damaged to the point where the locals rose up in protest and essentially occupied the range. So they were looking for a new training range.

  • 11:14:32

    HORWITZSo this, as it turns out, was an experiment on the Navy's part to try the Bahamas, because it had certain characteristics.

  • 11:14:39

    REHMAnd how did they find that these sonar waves, sounds, got to and through the whales?

  • 11:14:56

    HORWITZWell, that's what's so interesting about this character, Ken Balcomb, because he was not in any way an activist before this event. In fact, he was a field researcher. He had spent 10, his whole -- he was 60 years old when this happened. He had spent his whole adult life, after his Navy terms, to studying orcas in the Northwest United States and the beaked whales here in the Bahamas. And he was a scientist. But he also was very committed to these animals and to their welfare. And he really is the person who pressed the Navy to have a true investigation, because the Navy obviously is not eager to investigate incidents like this.

  • 11:15:37

    HORWITZThey were -- I should back up. They do -- internally, the Navy is very rigorous. When anything goes awry during exercises or trainings, the Navy absolutely wants to know what happened. They're not as eager to share their findings with the public. And that was what was different here, is that he really compelled them to do that.

  • 11:15:55

    REHMYou know, when I looked at the title of your book, "War of the Whales," I immediately thought of Orson Welles and "War of the Worlds." And this is kind of a war of the worlds, isn't it? It's a war of the manmade world versus the natural world, and how the two inevitably come into conflict with each other.

  • 11:16:29

    HORWITZWell, and that's correct. And it's also a cultural war, because the story that emerges, which ends up in a court -- it begins in the beaches in the Bahamas and it ends up in the Supreme Court and other courtrooms. And it's really a culture clash between a generation of Americans who were raised on "Flipper," and looking at falling in love with...

  • 11:16:52


  • 11:16:52

    HORWITZ...whales, in the wild initially, but eventually in aquariums and in marine parks and on National Geographic specials. And people who actively or in other ways supported Greenpeace and other Save the Whale movements. And so for those people, they're self-evidently valuable creatures whose habitats and, you know, deserve protection. On the other side of this cultural war though, you had the U.S. Navy, which ironically -- it's the great irony of this story -- the Navy really created the discipline of marine-mammal science. It didn't exist before the Navy took an interest in whales.

  • 11:17:26

    REHMAnd how did it do that and why?

  • 11:17:29

    HORWITZWell, the Navy had a very serious and scary mission. This is going back to the beginnings of the Cold War. So after -- after the end of World War II, the Soviet Navy was very quickly cranking out submarines, as were we, but not at the same rate as the Soviets. And these submarines were very quickly, snorkeling submarines, they were hard to track under water. And they were very soon armed with intercontinental ballistic nuclear weapons. So this was something the Navy had never had to contend with. And that was their mission, to track every single submarine in the ocean. And there were hundreds of them.

  • 11:18:04

    HORWITZAnd they were all over the oceans. So this was a fearsome task. And they used sonar to do this, which is basically bouncing sound off of an object and the way a bat echo locates in the air, a radar works in the air. So they discovered -- they were the first people to figure out that whales, particularly toothed whales, which are half of -- approximately half of all whale species, echo locate. And when they figured this out, they investigated.

  • 11:18:36

    REHMJoshua Horwitz, his new book is titled, "War of the Whales." Do join us. I look forward to hearing from you.

  • 11:20:02

    REHMAnd welcome back. If you've just joined us, Joshua Horwitz is with me. He's talking about his new book. It is a true story titled "War of the Whales." And it's really to explain the relationship between whales and sound and how they use sound to survive. And Josh, before the break you were talking about how the Navy developed these submarines and began using sonar.

  • 11:20:46

    HORWITZWell, they had used sonar going all the way back, active sonar, which is bouncing sound waves off of objects to locate them in the dark ocean. And they've been doing that since World War I. But it was a somewhat crude technology. And so when they heard that there was this -- these animals that might be echo locating, they heard rumors based on other research. And so they sent their best researchers down to the first marine park in America, which was Marineland in Saint Augustine, Fla.

  • 11:21:16

    REHMAnd just before you go on, explain the technicality of echo locating.

  • 11:21:22

    HORWITZRight. Well, first it's important to understand that whales and dolphins tend to operate in a very dark environment. They -- below 100' it's a perpetual midnight in the ocean. So it's -- if you can imagine having to hunt --forage for food, to communicate, to navigate on long migration paths. So these animals in very specialized ways adapted to their different underwater environments by becoming masters of sound.

  • 11:21:50

    REHMSo even though they have eyes, because everything is, as you say, midnight beneath the ocean, they cannot really see.

  • 11:22:01

    HORWITZNo. They are blind visually and they are totally dependent on their sense of sound for survival. And they've been very successful. They are the top predators in marine environments around the world because of their ability to specialize in this. Not all whales -- it's a little complicated, but only tooth whales, about half the species echo locate. But the ones that do have become very sophisticated about using sound to identify landmarks in a seascape. They need to navigate, to hunt squid in the case of beached whales two miles down.

  • 11:22:37

    HORWITZAnd they can do things that dwarfed what the Navy could do with their own sonar. And this is what the Navy -- where the Navy fell for these animals, if you will. It's really kind of a love story gone sour in a way because they became transfixed by what these whales could do. They could find objects buried in the mud, 6' in the mud. They could tell the difference between ball bearings in infinitesimal different sizes. They could tell the difference between a zinc disc and a copper disc. And if you start thinking like a Navy man, it's not long before you come up with different possible uses for this.

  • 11:23:13

    HORWITZAnd so the Navy began this marine mammal training program in the early '60s in California in Point Mugu. And they were training -- initially training these whales to be combatants alongside them in war zones. They were deployed in Vietnam to patrol harbors for enemy swimmers. They turned out to be wonderful minesweepers because they can tell the different between a decoy mine and a real mine. And that's often how minefields are laid in the water with lots of decoys and a few real mines. And they can retrieve objects off the deep ocean floor because they're deep divers. Many of the species are very deep divers.

  • 11:23:52

    REHMBut how could they retrieve from these whales?

  • 11:23:58

    HORWITZOh well, they're trainable. I mean, what they saw -- when they went to Marineland in Florida what they saw is that these animals were quite trainable. They were very social. And so they could bond with these animals and train them. And if you go on my website you can see pictures of them with harnesses that would go down and attach to objects and bring them up. Or in the case of Vietnam where they were interdicting as they called them swimmers, enemy frogmen who were trying to penetrate Cam Ranh Bay. They would intercept them and give them over into the hands of the Navy. So...

  • 11:24:37

    REHMJosh, I think it's important to point out, as you referenced earlier, that even before the Navy began using these whales, developing their own sonar systems, that you did have whale strands. You did have certain species of whales who were in the habit of stranding.

  • 11:25:05

    HORWITZAbsolutely. Whales have always stranded, usually dead. I mean, live strandings are not as common. But, I mean, whales when they die they either sink to the bottom of the ocean or they wash ashore. And there are certain species that commonly strand. But there is -- the fisheries department -- National Marine Fisheries Service is empowered to investigate what are called atypical or unexplained stranding events.

  • 11:25:29

    REHMAnd that exactly what happened on March 15, 2000, an atypical stranding. So where do we go from there?

  • 11:25:40

    HORWITZWell, what you have is this character Ken Balcomb who has connections. I mean, again, the marine mammal world, when he went to graduate school at the University of Santa Cruz, it was a very small world because again, the Navy had created this discipline. There were no marine mammal biologists before the Navy got interested in whales.

  • 11:26:02

    HORWITZSo the Navy drew from neurology, veterinarians, zoologists and animal trainers and got them to study these animals. So he was of that generation though he was a half a generation after that. But in any case, he knew the person who ran the marine mammal division at the Office of Naval Research, which is the enormous lab complex of research institutes that the Navy runs. Only some of them devoted to marine mammals. But he knew that person because he'd been a classmate of his at school.

  • 11:26:31

    HORWITZSo he literally called him up halfway through that first catastrophic day where suddenly these animals he had been studying for ten years were washing ashore.

  • 11:26:40

    REHMAnd said...

  • 11:26:42

    HORWITZHe said, something's going on down here. Do you guys, meaning the Navy, does the fleet down here have something going on? And this person whose name is Bob Gissner (sp?) said, I'll look into it. And Ken Balcomb also said, I'm going to need help. You know, I'm going to try to collect specimens. And they agreed that the best thing to do was to cut off heads. Once -- these are whales that couldn't be rescued or showed up dead the next morning on the shores -- take their heads and put them in the freezer and preserve an evidence trail.

  • 11:27:16

    HORWITZSo to his credit, Bob Gissner, you know, was very much onboard with that and was very instrumental in organizing an investigative team to come down there and study it.

  • 11:27:26

    REHMAnd how could a connection then be made between the Navy's use of sonar and the stranding and/or death of these whales?

  • 11:27:41

    HORWITZWell, this is where the kind of moral and the character and integrity issue enters because Ken Balcomb as a former Navy person had very divided loyalties. He was very loyal to the Navy. And he was hoping that what the Navy would do was have a transparent investigation and get to the bottom of it.

  • 11:27:58

    HORWITZI mean, nobody knew initially -- I mean, it became apparent to the Navy pretty quickly, but it wasn't obvious the day of what had happened. There could've been an underground -- underwater explosion. There could've been an underwater earthquake. There are all sorts of events that might be acoustic in nature or a trauma of some pressure wave that could drive these animals ashore. So to do that you had to investigate it.

  • 11:28:22

    HORWITZAnd the irony of the story is that the Navy had all the people who could study this problem. They fund all of the acousticians, the large majority of the marine mammal scientists. So they have very sophisticated tools at their disposal. But they do not typically investigate the fisheries department, you know, a much smaller department of the U.S. government. Inside NOAA, National Marine Fisheries Service is empowered to investigate this sort of event. But in this case, because it was such a big event and needed the resources the Navy had, it became a joint investigation between the Navy and fisheries.

  • 11:29:04

    REHMAnd one that was kept secret for the most part?

  • 11:29:08

    HORWITZWell, again, the Navy immediately launched an internal investigation from starting with -- you know, Richard Danzig was the secretary of the Navy. And within a day of this stranding he was rattling the cage and getting the admiral in charge of the Office of Naval Research and the fleet commanders and everybody who might know something to report back to him. And within a couple of weeks they had a pretty good idea what had happened. But they weren't prepared at that point to go public with it.

  • 11:29:37

    HORWITZAnd so it really took Balcomb stepping out into the limelight and becoming a very reluctant activist, whistleblower to force -- to compel them to investigate it in a way that would eventually become public.

  • 11:29:53

    REHMTell me, if you can, so I can understand it, what the connection is between the Navy's use of sonar and the stranding of whales.

  • 11:30:09

    HORWITZWell, this example in the Bahamas is illustrative. So if you can imagine this deep underwater canyon. It's almost like a bathtub in -- you know, a huge bathtub. And so if you imagine a battle group in training, as they were in this environment to the war game they were involved in had to do with flushing out a decoy submarine. They were going to try to find this submarine hiding quietly in this canyon wall, which is, you know, sort of the threat they worry about, with good reason.

  • 11:30:40

    HORWITZAnd so this exercise, which was a nighttime exercise, they moved through the canyon with three destroyers and two frigates with side sweeping and omni-directional sonar. And so what you have is high intensity sound that becomes trapped in this environment. So instead of dissipating, as sound does in the ocean open -- open ocean, in this case it was boomeranging off of walls. And it just filled with high intensity sound. This is what the Navy's own acoustic modeling showed. So this is in speculation. They did very sophisticated acoustic modeling eventually.

  • 11:31:14

    HORWITZAnd you can see it. It's very vivid that there was very, very intense loud noise throughout this environment. So if this is your habitat, if you're a deep-diving whale who's diving up and down all day for two hours at a time below the surface and suddenly your home is flooded with this acoustic storm, which is what it is, you really don't have many places to go. And so the 17 whales that ended up on the shore in the shallows where they'd never been in their lives, may or may not be. I mean, there's likely many more whales that never made it out of the canyon that died and sank to the bottom. I mean, we will never know because the bottom is four miles down there but...

  • 11:31:57

    REHMDo you know what that sound sounds like?

  • 11:32:02

    HORWITZYes. Again, if you go to you can find under resources some audio clips of what -- actual underwater recordings. And it's a terrifying sound. It's the sort of thing you would run from if you could.

  • 11:32:16

    REHMIs it a high-pitched sound?

  • 11:32:20

    HORWITZWell, there are different kinds of sonar. There is high frequency, mid frequency and low frequency sonar. And this was mid frequency sonar, which is within our hearing range. And if you listen to recordings of it, it is a high-pitched screeching sound. It's been compared to the sound of killer whales when they're hunting their prey. They have this war cry, if you will, that's very high-pitched.

  • 11:32:42

    HORWITZAnd one of the explanations is that the whales mistake this for their predators. I don't know if that's true or not but it's one of the theories about how they -- why they respond to this bandwidth. But this is the kind of sonar that's mounted on almost every single warship in the Navy fleet.

  • 11:32:57

    REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Why had nobody, prior to that time, made that connection between Navy sonar efforts work and its effects on whales?

  • 11:33:18

    HORWITZWell, that's where the attorney Joe Reynolds comes in. And he's such a terrific character because he was a layperson, that is to say not a scientist, who got wind of this story. So he started following the story back in 1995, which is five years before this event in the Bahamas.

  • 11:33:35

    HORWITZAnd he was somewhat new to marine mammals. He hadn't -- he had spent his career defending endangered species on land. And he got involved in an underwater explosives case. In any case, he heard -- he really stumbled on news of the secret super sonar, if you will, this high intensity low frequency sonar system the Navy had been developing during the Cold War, that they were now about to deploy.

  • 11:34:01

    HORWITZAnd it came to his attention that the Navy had never applied for permits to use this. There were laws passed in the early '70s, the Marine Mammal Protection Act, the Endangered Species Act, other national finding...

  • 11:34:13

    REHMWhy would the Navy do this without permits?

  • 11:34:17

    HORWITZWell, you have to think back to the Cold War. This is during the Cold War and everything -- the Navy is a very -- is the most secretive arm of the services. And submariners are known as the silent service for good reason. Everything they do in submarine and antisubmarine warfare is about stealth and remaining hidden. So it's not surprising that they didn't want to publish in the public record environmental impact statements and talk during the Cold War.

  • 11:34:41

    HORWITZSo it was after the Cold War this came out. And Joe Reynolds is important to the story because he was a nonscientist who started to hear rumors but observations by some marine mammal biologists that there seemed to be these atypical strandings happening of beach whales primarily. And that they also seem to be happening in the vicinity of naval exercises. And he was like a Paul Revere. He spent the second half of the '90s going around to science conferences saying, you guys should be looking at this. And their reaction was, well, we would be the first to notice if there was a connection.

  • 11:35:15

    HORWITZBut low and behold, they started to look around and, in fact, there were incidents -- one notably in 1996 in the Mediterranean when there was a mass stranding during exercises that was investigated by a team. But again, the specimens had been on the beach for a day and there was enough wiggle room or doubt that it was not definitive. But there was sort of sort of a building -- not a consensus yet but an awareness on this community and largely due to this attorney.

  • 11:35:40

    REHMBut you're also saying had it not been for Ken Balcomb and the taking of the heads, that they could not have fully and carefully investigated. What did those heads reveal?

  • 11:36:01

    HORWITZWell, he actually -- I mean, what's wonderful about the story is you follow the heads. And so he had to literally transport these heads from a freezer in one sprinting day up to Harvard Medical School where one of these forensic pathologists had a CT scanner, which he put them through. And you could, for the first time, see inside these heads and see what had happened. You could see blood pooled in their heads. You could see hemorrhage and all sorts of evidence that there had been an extreme acoustic trauma. That was pretty evident from the get-go. So this is about a few weeks after the stranding and they had been preserved.

  • 11:36:39

    HORWITZSo it was after that though that Balcomb realized or feared that the Navy was going to shove this under the carpet and was not going to investigate it or assuming it was not going to share their findings with the public. And that's when he decided to step out to right here in Washington, D.C. at the National Press Club. He appeared...

  • 11:37:00

    REHMAnd of course he had the divided loyalties.

  • 11:37:04

    HORWITZIt was a big -- it was not an easy call for him. He tortured over it for some weeks. And then he appeared -- actually that's the first time he and Joe Reynolds met. Joe Reynolds was on the same stage because -- and they going forward were this totally unlikely pair of partners.

  • 11:37:20

    REHMJoshua Horwitz and the book we're talking about is titled "War of the Whales: A True Story." When we come back, we'll read your comments, take your calls. I look forward to speaking with you.

  • 11:40:03

    REHMAnd welcome back. Our first posting on Facebook, "Where are the technological advancements so that the problem of sonar and whales can become obsolete?" Josh.

  • 11:40:20

    HORWITZWell, what's interesting is, most of what we know about whales derives from Navy funded research. I mean, they're the people who have cared about whales before any of us cared about whales. And so they have -- and in the wake of some losing court battles, they were compelled to commit to studying this problem and they were studying it anyway, I mean, it's in their interest to solve it. So they're investigating ways to find different bandwidths and whatnot. I mean, my personal feeling is, it's not gonna be a technological solution.

  • 11:40:57

    HORWITZI think the solution is gonna have to be acknowledging the fact that the Navy wants to train in the same environments where whales are resident and that there needs to be some consistent effort made to not train when the whales are there. Some of these are transient populations that go in and out or migrating through. And if you have a resident population, I mean, the Navy has not been back to the Bahamas, I can tell you, since 2000. So that's the, sort of, simplest solution. If there's a resident population of vulnerable whales, you don't train there. This is all about training, by the way. It's not about combat, nobody's disputing what the Navy should or can do in combat.

  • 11:41:37

    REHMAnd here's an email, "Where can our young sailors receive the training they require if our military is to be affective? Should we simply discontinue such exercises which the Navy claims are essential?"

  • 11:41:57

    HORWITZWell, they are -- training for sonar is essential. I mean, if you're using sonar, you have to train and you have to train -- the Navy says, you have to train in the environment you're going to be fighting in. And, I think, that that's, you know, the Navy has its own mission which is important and we all rely on them to defend our country and to defend the sailors on their ships. So it's critical that they train, however there are simulation programs that the Navy is working with that can simulate environments in the same way they do with, you know, train their pilots and whatnot.

  • 11:42:33

    HORWITZSo there are some ways in which you can simulate. And when you can't, you just have to be selective. It's a big ocean and hopefully there are enough -- it's a big enough ocean that the Navy can operate along side of whales without being on top of them.

  • 11:42:47

    REHMAll right. We're going to open the phones now. First, let's go to Washington, Ind., Neil, you're on the air.

  • 11:42:58

    NEILGood morning, Diane, it's a pleasure to be on your show.

  • 11:43:02

    REHMThank you.

  • 11:43:03

    NEILI've been a big fan for many years. I think it's the greatest thing going.

  • 11:43:07


  • 11:43:08

    NEILI'm an old retired Navy Captain and I was involved heavily in this as my 7th -- 3rd fleet training world, I was responsible for the RIMPAC exercise, 2008. Where we were heavily involved in the sonar litigation, in fact, then President George W. Bush, before that had -- was defending the Navy to use sonar in its training. So I'm intimately familiar with the subject. I think the guest is doing a great job with the background and things. But I do have a couple of nuances I'd like to educate the public on with regard...

  • 11:43:49

    REHMVery briefly.

  • 11:43:49 my -- yes. The case in the Bahamas, no one disputes that. It was a horrible accident. But the problem and the danger is transplanting that scenario onto the West Coast specifically, which is our focus in the future. The topography underwater simply doesn't support it. But the mammals can escape. And he's right, the Navy is poured much more investment into the study of mammals because we are and we want to be good stewards of the oceans. We live on the ocean. We are -- that's our mission, is to protect them and keep them open and everything that's in it.

  • 11:44:28

    NEILHowever, we also have to protect our nation. The reason why sonar is so important is because of the very and most deadly weapon on the plant which is the submarine. And our enemies, our potential -- our potential enemies are building those in droves, very quiet diesels. And the only time you're ever gonna find them is with sonar, to this point, until our technology advances. And unless you use that and train to that, it is almost like an art-form.

  • 11:45:00


  • 11:45:02

    HORWITZNeil, I don’t disagree with most of what you said. The only thing I would take issue with is, and this is, you know, the Navy has always contended that the Bahamas was some anomalous environment that couldn’t be repeated or was so unlikely to be repeated. But, in fact, and I'm not speaking to California here so much but there are -- have been many other incidents of stranding's in deep water environments, most recently in Crete, just two months ago, three months ago, in the beginning of April, during joint Navy exercises between the U.S., the Greek and the Israeli Navies were strand -- were training off the coast of Crete.

  • 11:45:36

    HORWITZAnd at least five beaked whales stranded and died there. And, you know, there have been incidents Hawaii which is a deep water environment where the current RIMPAC exercises are going on. So it's not as if the Bahamas was totally anomalous. And I think that the, you know -- so I -- it's a matter of taking the threats seriously and not dismissing it as a once in a million chance.

  • 11:46:02

    REHMThanks for calling, Neil. And let me ask you Joshua, whether, in fact, the other stranding's in Hawaii and elsewhere have been examined as closely as those in the Bahamas.

  • 11:46:21

    HORWITZWell, no. They -- or when they have, they certainly haven't been publicized. I mean, I should say, that the Bahamas stranding report, I mean, you're a Washingtonian, so you know what this means, the Navy drags its heals for 18 months with that investigation. And they released the report on a Friday afternoon, at 5:30, in the eve of Christmas Holiday.

  • 11:46:41


  • 11:46:41

    HORWITZSo that speaks for itself. So they...

  • 11:46:43


  • 11:46:43

    HORWITZ...were not eager. And they, in fact, called in an interim report that was never a final report. It was enough for Joel Reynolds to take to court and have some very decisive victories, really using that -- the Navy's own report. But no, I mean, the Navy has, you know, not publicized the findings from other strandings.

  • 11:47:01

    REHMTell me about the legal strategy that's been used.

  • 11:47:06

    HORWITZWell, Joel Reynolds is an interesting person. He's a very brilliant lawyer and very committed to whales. But what makes him so unusual is he has a combination of idealism, he really does want to save the whales and preserve their habitats. But he's also a pragmatist. So he doesn't -- he's reluctant to take on cases that he can't win and he is willing to compromise with the Navy. I mean, what typically happened, like in RIMPAC, they sued the Navy over the RIMPAC exercises in Hawaii, in 2004 or '06. And they won an injunction. And then the Navy came back and said, well wait a minute -- or the judge said, come to an accommodation and in fact they did.

  • 11:47:51

    HORWITZSo the only case where the Navy didn't settle was the case that went to the Supreme Court. So he was pragmatic and he's willing to, sort of, occupy a middle ground. But he was very creative in terms of how he brought these cases. He took, essentially, noise pollution, laws that have existed on -- for terrestrial law and applied them to the ocean in a way that had never been done before. So he basically said, this is a -- they're polluting the ocean with noise and it was a -- I mean, that's simplifying it but that’s, you know, he was able to convince a series of judges that this was in fact a violation of federal law, what they were doing.

  • 11:48:28

    REHMSo where are we now?

  • 11:48:32

    HORWITZWell, this is a battle that continues. The Navy is -- has recently gotten a new group of permits from fisheries and both, NRDC as well as Earth Justice, which is another environmental legal defense firm. Are both suing the Navy in California and Hawaii. And historically, the Marine Mammal -- I'm sorry, the California Coastal Commission, back in 2008, got involved in the fight and might still in this case. So there are ongoing legal battles. There is lots of -- I think, more discussion going on and hopefully more accommodation. But again, you know, part of it's going on in the courts and some in the court of public opinion.

  • 11:49:20

    REHMAll right. To Al in Princeton, Ill. Hi, you're on the air.

  • 11:49:27

    ALWell, good morning, thank you for taking my call. Just a couple -- quick observations. One, during the Cold War, we used OSIS, which is the Underwater Surveillance Systems to locate the opposing submarines, i.e. Soviets. And, we know over -- go active when you're listening for the submarines. If you remember the movie, "The Hunt for Red October," you listen for tonal's or frequencies. You don't go active until, from the OSIS stations, when you're monitoring the other submarines. And secondly, I don't know that we have ever used whales for Sapper's, Swimmers, Frog Men, that you talked about in Vietnam.

  • 11:50:16

    ALWe used porpoises but I don't think the whales were ever used. And my last comment is, the Constitution of the United States requires the government, the number one priority is for the defense of the United States. Where do we draw the line to accommodation between defending our nation and the Soviet submarine and the Chinese submarine or Iranian submarines are a big problem? Where do we make the accommodation for training and the defense of the United States? You can simulate only so much, like, landing on an aircraft carrier, you gotta go out and do it, you can't simulate it. Thank you.

  • 11:50:58

    HORWITZWell, let me just -- I'll address your last question. But first I do want to clarify, they absolutely used -- well, dolphins are small whales. I mean, there's no difference between a dolphin and a whale, there are in fact small whales. But the Navy trained and deployed dolphins, Orca's, Beluga whales, as well as other marine mammals, seals, sea lions. So, and they absolutely, I mean, my book, I actually track down the person who trained the dolphins that were deployed in Cam Ranh Bay and he also trained them in deep ops recovery and mind sweeping and he was, you know, I got the story directly from him and got it confirmed by other sources.

  • 11:51:41

    HORWITZSo they were using them, they're still using them in the Persian Gulf today. So that's not a secret. In terms of where you find this balance, I personally, after spending you know, years and years on this topic and talking to lots of Navy people and lots of environmental and humane people, I've come to the conclusion that this is something of a false dichotomy, this national security versus environmental defense. I really think it's not -- it's a straw man, because, of course, the Navy has to train, they have to defend us but the idea that, that to do that, that whales have to die for training, is not supportable.

  • 11:52:23

    HORWITZBecause I just feel, it's a big ocean, it's a huge ocean and we -- it should be big enough. If the Navy were genuinely committed to doing it, I believe, that they could train in other then whale habitats.

  • 11:52:35

    REHMAnd you're saying they could train where the whales are not but also when the whales are not in that particular...

  • 11:52:45

    HORWITZYeah. They're call buzz, geographic and season exclusions.

  • 11:52:48


  • 11:52:48

    HORWITZAnd that's what people are asking for, on other side.

  • 11:52:50

    REHMOkay. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Let's go to John, in Tallahassee, Fla. Hi there, you're on the air.

  • 11:53:04

    JOHNGood morning, Diane. It's an honor, thank you.

  • 11:53:06

    REHMThank you.

  • 11:53:07

    JOHNJoshua, I just -- I'm all on board 100 percent with the comprehensive policy that we need to come up with regarding this. And I just -- I'm a Marine Biologist and I deal with this issue on a routine basis. There's numerous other mass strandings, just as a, for instance, the Melon-Head whale incident caused by multi beam echo sounders and by -- that's related to the oil and natural gas industry. I don't know if this is in your purview but I'd love to hear if you have any experience or additional knowledge that relates to some of these other industry type, anthropogenic noises that we're having to deal with and I will listen for the rest of the program, off the air.

  • 11:53:53

    REHMThanks, sir.

  • 11:53:54

    HORWITZWell, I'm really glad you raised that because it's an important -- it's an important point. Really, my hope for this book is that people will come to be sensitized and understand the threat of noise pollution in the ocean and military sonar is just one acute source of that. In fact, by far, the biggest two sources of noise pollution in the ocean are international shipping, all those cargo container ships going back and forth, across the ocean, and oil and gas exploration and extraction.

  • 11:54:24

    HORWITZAnd these are, you know, going on all over the oceans and they're making an enormous sound. And it's not just a threat to whales and other marine mammals, it's a threat to all living things in the ocean, even coral, they found, is affected negatively by noise. And coral, of course, is a living organism.

  • 11:54:41

    REHMExactly. Here's an email from Jordan in Arbor, N.H. He says, "I was surprised to hear shipping companies have recently, proudly, been touting that they are now using sonar buoy's to warn shipping vessels when there are whales nearby, so they can alter course to prevent impact. But isn't this, quote, 'solution' just another problem by harming the whales with sonar?" Even further.

  • 11:55:20

    HORWITZWell, you have sonar and the sound of the engines is a problem. But, you know, I think -- this points to another solution. I mean, the Navy -- I mean my hope, is that the Navy is gonna turn this brain trust of the Office of Naval Research to really address the larger issue of noise pollution. One of the things the Navy is expert at is quieting submarines, both so that they'll be more efficient in the water and use less gas and oil, or so that they can be harder to detect.

  • 11:55:49

    HORWITZSo if they would share this quieting technology with commercial shipping, imagine the degree to which they could reduce noise in the ocean. It would be really monumental. And I would -- that's my fondest wish, that the Navy would focus on, you know, sharing their technology.

  • 11:56:06

    REHMHas the Navy responded to your book?

  • 11:56:10

    HORWITZI have not had direct responses yet. I had some really great retired Admiral's who were very helpful to me, in really understanding the Navy's point of view and the history behind this. I really was intent on getting all sides of the story and I've certainly heard from some of them. But in terms of the Navy, has not responded directly to this. But I, you know, will see. I hear it's gonna be reviewed in Navy proceedings which is their major magazines. So I look forward to that.

  • 11:56:39

    REHMGood luck to you.

  • 11:56:40

    HORWITZThank you, Diane.

  • 11:56:41

    REHMJoshua Horwitz, his new book is titled, "War of the Whales: A True Story." Thanks for listening all, I'm Diane Rehm.

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