Sonar Technology and Shifts in Environmental Ethics

Essays in Philosophy 6 (1):29-53 (2005)
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The history of sonar technology provides a fascinating case study for philosophers of science. During the first and second World Wars, sonar technology was primarily associated with activity on the part of the sonar technicians and researchers. Usually this activity is concerned with creation of sound waves under water, as in the classic “ping and echo”. The last fifteen years have seen a shift toward passive, ambient noise “acoustic daylight imaging” sonar. Along with this shift a new relationship has begun between sonar technicians and environmental ethics. I have found a significant shift in the values, and the environmental ethics, of the underwater community by looking closely at the term “noise” as it has been conceptualized and reconceptualized in the history of sonar technology. To illustrate my view, I will include three specific sets of information: 1) a discussion of the 2003 debate regarding underwater active low- frequency sonar and its impact on marine life; 2) a review of the history of sonar technology in diagrams, abstracts, and artifacts; 3) the latest news from February 2004 on how the military and the acoustic daylight imaging passive sonar community has responded to the current debates.
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