Move sonar exercises to low-risk waters
A report has concluded that military sonar noise was the probable cause for stranding whales.
NAVY officials remain in denial that sonar noises caused the stranding of more than 150 melon-headed whales
in shallow waters off Kauai two years ago, despite a new study concluding that no other reason was plausible. Grudgingly, the Navy says it will comply with the request by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration that it reduce the sonar noise and, when whales are seen nearby, turn it off.
The sonar exercises instead should be moved to a low-risk area, especially because of the Navy's narrow interpretation of the study's conclusion and its initial claim that sonar was not used in the waters prior to the stranding. The NOAA found that sonar sounds were transmitted within hearing distance of the whales for nine hours on July 2 ending past midnight, less than seven hours before the whales were seen entering Hanalei Bay.
Fortunately, only one calf is known to have died while in the bay. The other whales were herded back into deep waters by members of the Hanalei Canoe Club, other volunteers and government employees.
The sonar was used by six U.S. and Japanese vessels during the month-long, biannual 2004 Rim of the Pacific exercises. The sonar phase is used to detect subs acting as enemies trying to position themselves for attack. This year's exercises are scheduled June 26 to July 28.
The exercises are important, but the Navy's refusal to acknowledge the danger is disturbing. Lt. William Marks, a Navy spokesman, told the Los Angeles Times that the service "fully concurs" with the report's finding that "there is no evidence of sonar causing harm to any marine mammals."
However, the NOAA also found no evidence of any unusual environmental factor that could be associated with the stranding. Using the process of elimination, the agency found sonar to be "a plausible, if not likely," cause. The agency noted that "active military sonar appears the most likely causative factor" in whale strandings in the past decade near Greece, the Bahamas, Madeira and the Canary Islands.
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