Globe and Mail: Marine scientists to use navy techniques to study whales

When Randy Musseau stood in a conference room in Halifax this week to teach the navy’s basic course in the field of passive acoustics, he had an unusual group of pupils: marine scientists who are among the first-ever civilian students to learn the military’s techniques for listening to the ocean.

The participants will use what they learn to better understand the effects of human activities on whales – information they can, in turn, share with the military to help protect the marine mammals.

“In my unit alone, we’ve been studying passive acoustics for 50 years,” said Mr. Musseau, training officer from the highly secure Trinity naval intelligence unit. “There are noises out there that we can classify immediately.”

The course is a modified version of the military’s basic passive acoustic analysis course, with classified material removed. Hansen Johnson, a marine bioacoustics researcher at Dalhousie University and one of the participants in the class, said the knowledge exchange will be a two-way street.

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What we don’t know, and what it will do to us

Saving money is a noble goal. It’s something all Western governments have been neglecting for decades as we built up huge rolling budget deficits, passing the buck (or lack thereof) onto, well, us. Preventing money from flowing out of government coffers is half of the answer to our financial woes, alongside increasing government revenues. Cutting spending is a logical move towards balancing our books, and doing that unfortunately requires sacrificing jobs, projects, and even entire programs.


Why is science bearing the brunt of these cuts? Is science really the most inefficient, wasteful area in which money is spent? How about the military? For instance, $10-billion in ‘overlooked’ F-35 costs. Or base budgets that need to be used up annually, leading to a massive spending binge every April, burning money just to ensure there’s money available to burn next year. Why, in particular, are the cuts concentrated in areas that are inconvenient to an “emerging energy superpower”? Why is a $79.3-million program like contaminant science being cut and replaced with a fund worth a lousy million and a half dollars? 

Contaminant science is an absolutely indispensable area of environmental science, becoming ever more relevant as our country commits to a future as hewers of wood and drawers of water – or, I should say, diggers of tar sand and diggers of tar sand. Contaminant science is what is going to give us the tools and knowledge to protect what is truly our most valuable resource – clean water, in oceans, rivers, lakes, and wetlands – over the next fifty years.

$80-million dollars is a laughably small price to pay if it means we get to know what is going into our water, and by extension, into us. But maybe that’s the point. 

Was that really necessary?

The hits just keep coming. Let’s do a quick summary:

-First, Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver, vocally supported by Stephen Harper, vilifies environmental groups of all stripes by labelling them anti-Canadian “radicals” and terrorists

-Next, the government guts the Environmental Assessment Act and the Fisheries Act to smooth the way for future projects, as well as capping the length of assessments at 2 years.

-With the legal environmental protections dismantled, the Conservatives turned once again to the political opposition, dismantling the National Round Table on Energy and the Environment, which routinely produced reports that disagreed with the government’s pro-oil leanings, setting aside $3-million to audit green groups, and crippling those groups’ ability to encourage participation in the review process.

Now, the government has gone one step further: in a move that seems totally unnecessary at this point, having crushed the ability of Canadians to resist projects they disagree with, the Conservatives went ahead  this week and gave themselves the power to approve pipelines, regardless of the National Energy Board decision.

So, in summary: in the last three weeks, the Conservatives have consolidated their power to push through any project they wish, while flattening the opposition. Three weeks ago, we lived in a democracy.