Friday, April 27, 2001

Navy sonar jams whale
signals, say opponents

Associated Press

SANTA MONICA, Calif. >> The Navy's low-frequency sonar creates an "acoustic traffic jam" that threatens the way whales and dolphins communicate, environmentalists claimed yesterday.

"If deployed, all species and marine animals could be affected," said Natural Resources Defense Council attorney Joel Reynolds.

Reynolds was joined by other opponents of the sonar system in a press conference before the first of three public hearings on the issue scheduled by the National Marine Fisheries Service.

The fisheries service will decide if the Navy should be exempt from environmental protection laws, which would give the military clearance to deploy the system. The Navy has said its sonar, designed to detect quiet submarines by emitting sound waves at 180 decibels, does not pose a significant threat to marine life.

Environmentalists say more research is needed. "The effects of LFA (low-frequency active sonar system) might not be known for years," said scientist Rod Fujita, who has worked with the NRDC on the issue.

An environmental impact report commissioned by the Navy found that humpback whales stopped singing or extended their mating songs when exposed to the sounds. However, there were no biologically significant responses from the whales, or the effects were temporary, said Lt. Jensin Sommer, a Navy spokeswoman.

Reynolds said the sound waves can disrupt whale communication, causing "an acoustic traffic jam that can lead to the extinction of species."

The second meeting will be held tomorrow in Honolulu.

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