Thursday, November 13, 2008

Whales & sonar: public good vs. public good

I think we can consider this an example of implicit valuation of natural resources.

On Wednesday the U.S. Supreme Court lifted restrictions on the use of sonar in Navy training exercises off the coast of California. Here are some links to the story:
CNN
Los Angeles Times
and some background information by the Natural Resources Defense Council.

This is a case of two public goods: national defense and marine species, with the former being a pure public good and the latter a common property resource. By ruling in favor of allowing sonar for training purposes, the Court has essentially said that the potential to save human lives is more important than the potential to save marine mammals.

This is implicitly placing a value on marine mammals, no?

5 comments:

Drew Moxon said...

The last government figure I've heard (from the DoT, I believe), they set the statistical value of human life at about $5.5mil. So now we just need to figure out how much the statistical value of a whale is...

William McKinnon said...

Value can be put on anything including marine mammals. To put a value on marine mammals one needs more definite pieces of information: Does sonar actually harm the whales? If so how much and what are the long term effects? Until these questions are answered it is in the best interest of the American people to continue the war games with the current restrictions.

Whitney Knapp said...

The whales involved with the sonar problem are the beaked whales. They are very, very deep divers with a dive pattern of a long (over an hour) dive followed by a series of shorter (20 min) dives. Because of this, they are found in deeper ocean waters, and dont typically live in large groups. This makes it very hard to study.

Some tests have been done to determine the effects of sonar. The main problem with this is trying to find the whales. Also, the tests are not done at full navy sonar volume because the researchers dont want to kill the whale, just determine its reaction.

From these tests it has been found that sonar at volumes below naval levels disrupts their dive patterns. It has not been determined yet what effect the change in dive pattern has on beaked whales, and if this causes stranding. From stranded whales, it has been determined that there has been severe brain hemorrhaging with bubbles in the blood, almost like the whales surface too fast, same as with divers who suffer compression sickness.

Brad Coffey said...

Drew, was that statistic meaning $5.5mil for the collective U.S.? meaning you and I are both worth $0.02 each? I'm thinking dollar value per whale might end up being higher than that...

Erica Helms said...

It seems as though the government is brushing off the fact that there is little evidence of harm to whales from the sonar activity. Like Whitney said, studying these creatures is difficult but it doesn't seem like they are very motivated to put money towards really finding out the effects on the whales. I understand that the value of human life is probably a lot more than the statistical value of a whale but I am worried that some important information may be being over looked. The negative effects on the marine environment due to a possible decreased whale population should be evaluated to really figure out the costs and benefits of navy sonar.