Federal judge blocks
whale sonar testing

Associated Press

SAN FRANCISCO >> A federal judge blocked scientists yesterday from testing newly developed sonar on migrating gray whales.

Three weeks of testing by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and Scientific Solutions Inc. had been set to begin yesterday a mile off the central California coast near San Luis Obispo during the whales' southward migration, but environmentalists objected.

U.S. District Judge Samuel Conti halted the testing and scheduled a Jan. 17 hearing to decide whether to make the order permanent.

"How do we know it's doing any damage to the whales?" Conti asked.

The National Marine Fisheries Service had approved the experiments last year.

Scientists said the whale-finding sonar could be used to keep vessels from ramming whales. Also, oil explorers who detonate undersea explosives could use the sonar to detect if whales are nearby.

"The idea that it would cause them harm is a nonsensical thing," government attorney Maureen Rudolph argued on behalf of the National Marine Fisheries Service.

In court papers the government argued that the research "is intended to benefit whales."

The Channel Islands Animal Protection Association and other environmental groups, however, said the high-frequency sonar could disorient whales and separate calves from their mothers.

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