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Feds consider safeguards for Guam sonar training


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POSTED: Monday, November 09, 2009

Federal regulators are evaluating rules allowing the Navy to practice using sonar in waters around Guam and nearby Pacific islands as long as sailors take steps to protect whales and other marine mammals.

The National Marine Fisheries Service has already approved similar plans for sonar training in waters off Hawaii, Southern California and the Atlantic Coast. Approval for the Pacific Northwest is pending.

Sailors have been practicing with sonar in these areas for decades, but it recently began seeking permits for the training to comply with federal environmental laws.

The fisheries service said it does not expect the Navy's drills to result in serious injury or death of the marine mammals. But it noted that whale strandings have been associated with sonar exposure in the past.

Sailors training around the Mariana islands would have to adopt similar protective measures as those exercising with sonar in other areas.

These include assigning Navy observers to watch for marine mammals and shutting down sonar if the animals are too close to ships.

“;We have to make sure there's a negligible impact to the affected species and stocks of marine mammals,”; to authorize the training, said Jolie Harrison, a federal fisheries biologist.

The fisheries service says it is seeking comments from the public on its rule proposal through Nov. 19.