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European Parliament Votes to Protect Whales From Sonar

STRASBOURG, France,  October 29, 2004 (ENS)

The European Parliament has called for a halt to loud naval sonars until their effect on marine life has been determined.

The lawmakers passed a resolution Thursday calling on the 25 EU member states to adopt a moratorium on the deployment of high-intensity active naval sonars until a global assessment of their cumulative environmental impact on marine mammals, fish and other marine life has been completed.

The measure, tabled by the Committee on Environment, Public Health and Food Safety, was approved by a wide margin with 441 votes in favor, and only 15 against with 14 abstentions.

The resolution asks the European Commission to conduct a study and to provide an assessment of the impact of current practices in European waters.


Striped dolphin stranded on an Irish beach (Photo courtesy Irish Whale and Dolphin Group)
It points out that there is a growing body of research which confirms that the very loud sounds produced by high-intensity active naval sonars pose a significant threat to marine mammals, fish and other ocean wildlife.

Green Party MEP Caroline Lucas said, "There can be little doubt that these sonar devices are responsible for the deaths of thousands of marine mammals, some of them endangered and protected species."

The International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) called the vote "a positive step toward protecting whales and their environment."

Sound is essential to whales, dolphins and porpoises for navigation, communication and finding food, IFAW said.

"Any disturbance that undermines their ability to transmit or recognize sounds may jeopardize their capacity to function and, over the long term, to reproduce and survive," said IFAW, explaining that sonar and other forms of ocean noise may be linked to whale strandings.

Joel Reynolds, director of the Marine Mammal Protection Protect at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said the vote was, "an unequivocal expression of the democratic will of the people of Europe, recognizing that nations can protect their own security and simultaneously safeguard the health of our oceans simply by using common sense steps to prevent injury from high intensity sonar during training and testing."

Scientists have discovered that bursts of intense, loud sound can tear the tissues around cetaceans' brains and ears, causing bleeding and death.


One of the many types of sonar used to locate undersea objects. (Photo courtesy Royal Navy)
But U.S. and European navies favor the use of sonar to detect the new high tech, quiet submarines before they can get close enough to do any damage.

Ocean noise will be on the agenda of two upcoming events, environmentalists expect.

The second meeting of the Parties to a European regional cetacean conservation treaty November 9 to 12 in Palma de Mallorca will vote on a resolution on the harmful effects of military sonar on marine life.

Also, the final stakeholders meeting on the EU Marine Strategy, hosted by the Dutch Presidency in Rotterdam, November 10-12, will debate major threats to the marine environment prior to the publication of an official proposal on this issue by the European Commission.

Although underwater noise is not formally included in the working document of the stakeholders meeting, IFAW urges participants and the European Commission to consider underwater noise as "a serious but yet unregulated form of pollution in our seas."

In August 2003, the U.S. Navy was prevented by a federal judge in California from deploying a new high-intensity sonar system in peacetime because of the dangers it might pose to whales and dolphins.

Copyright © Environment News Service (ENS) 2004. All Rights Reserved.

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