MH370: ‘Pings’ Detected came from Marine Animals, The Questionable Australian-led Search

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By Athena Yenko | May 8, 2014 1:00 PM EST

On March 17, Australia accepted the responsibility to lead the search for the missing MH370 in the southern vector as requested by the Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak

"He asked that Australia take responsibility for the search on the southern vector, which the Malaysian authorities now think was one possible flight path for this ill-fated aircraft. I agreed that we would do so. I offered the Malaysian prime minister additional maritime surveillance resources which he gratefully accepted," Australia's Prime Minister Tony Abbott said in confirmation of the task.

On April 7, search co-ordinator Angus Houston said that detected pings by Ocean Shield were from a black box flight recorder.

"We've got a visual indication on a screen and we've also got an audible  signal - and the audible signal sounds to me just like an emergency locator beacon," Mr Houston said.

By April 11 Mr Abbott was 'confident' that the pings, signals, acoustic sounds, detected were coming from MH370's black box.

"[The search area] has been very much narrowed down because we've now had a series of detections, some for quite a long period of time. Nevertheless, we're getting to the stage where we are very confident [the signal] is the black box is starting to fade.We are hoping to get as much information as we can before the signal finally expires," Mr Abbott said.

On Monday, May 5, Australia, China and Malaysia officials met  in Canberra. They agreed and later announced that the search for the missing plane will be scaled back - back to square one - as all debris, pings and signals returned zero.

With these developments, it is about time to put Australia's 'confidence' into question.

Writing for the Malaysian Insider, William Meacham, an archaeologist and writer affiliated with the University of Hong Kong pointed out one significant point why the Australian led search was returning zero results.

In essence, Mr Meacham thinks that the pings on which Australia based its decisions on MH370 were coming from satellite trackers tagged to marine animals found in Australia.

"For several decades, pingers with frequencies of 30 to 50kHz have been commonly used to track large, deep ocean animals. Location and other data is transmitted to receivers in the ocean or to satellites whenever the animal surfaces. Acoustic pingers are also widely used as fishing net protectors, to drive away predators that would steal fish," he wrote.

Various governmental projects in Australia had employed tagging marine animals with satellite trackers.

In November 2013, Dr Ian Bell of WWF and Queensland's Governments tagged four satellite transmitters to the shells of flatback turtles coming from Wunjunga Beach. "Satellite tracking is one way to fill the knowledge gap about the flatbacks whereabouts and what impacts they are facing in the northern ," WWF explained in its Web site.

The Southern Shark Ecology Group (SSEG) is using DNA tags and satellite tracks to track shortfin mako outside South Australia.

Experts also used satellite trackers to protect endangered dugongs with significant number to be found in north Australian waters from Shark Bay, Western Australia, in the west to Moreton Bay, Queensland and the Great Barrier Reef.

"There are several features of the evidence obtained by the TPL that indicates the signals it received came from a tracking device, or pinger attached to a net that is drifting. First and foremost is the signal's frequency of 33.3khz. This is NOT within the manufacturer's specs of 37.5 +/- 1 for the black box pinger," Mr Meacham continued.

He said that an email from oceanographer P.H Nargeolet said that the frequency indicated should have given search officials a hint that the pings were not from the missing plane. Mr Nargeolet was involved in the search for the Air France 447 that crashed in the Atlantic.

Another major issue to the Australian search is the range of detection from where the pings came from, said Mr Meacham. Apparently, scientists of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution employed a pinger similar to MH370's in order to study baleen whales. The scientists found that the maximum range that such pinger can cover is 2.3 km. But black box pings reportedly coming from MH370 covered the distance beyond 9.5, 12.3 and 13.6km.

"Dr  Lee Freitag, one of the scientists in the study that I contacted, expressed scepticism that the pings were coming from the black box, and also confirmed that the frequency of the pinger would not change due to deep sea conditions."

Quoting Dr David Gallo's, senior scientists at Wood's Hole, email to him, Mr Meacham emphasised how problematic it was to base the search on pings alone.

 "I don't know any underwater acoustic people that think the pings have anything to do with the plane," Mr Gallo wrote in the email.

More of Mr Meacham's analysis here.

To contact the editor, e-mail:

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