November 24, 2005

CORRECTED: UN says sonar threatens dolphin, whale survival

Please read in first paragraph ... oceans are a new factor
among many threatening ... instead of ... are threatening ...

A corrected story follows:

By Nita Bhalla

NAIROBI (Reuters) - Naval maneuvers and submarine sonars in
oceans are a new factor among many threatening dolphins, whales
and porpoises that depend on sound to survive, the United
Nations and marine experts said on Wednesday.

A U.N. Environment Program (UNEP) report included
underwater sonar and military maneuvers as the smallest factor
on a list of major threats to some 71 types of small marine
mammals, known as cetaceans, at risk.

"While we know about other threats such as over-fishing,
hunting and pollution, a new and emerging threat to cetaceans
is that of increased underwater sonars," said Mark Simmonds of
the Whale and Dolphin Society, who contributed to the report.

"These low frequency sounds travel vast distances, hundreds
if not thousands of kilometers from the source," he told

UNEP said underwater sonar and military maneuvers
threatened more than 4 percent of species, although Simmonds
indicated all were affected.

Some 70 percent of cetaceans were at risk from entanglement
in fishing nets, 66 percent from hunting, 56 percent from
pollution, 24 percent from habitat degradation, 15 percent from
lack of food due to over-fishing, and 13 percent from culling.

In October, a coalition of environmental groups sued the
U.S. Navy over its use of sonar, saying the ear-splitting
sounds violated environmental protection laws.

The navy said it was studying the problem but said sonar
was necessary for national defense.

Animal protection groups have for years lobbied to restrict
the use of sonar, saying the sound blasts disorient the
sound-dependent creatures and cause bleeding from the eyes and

Simmonds said in recent years, western governments have
developed stealthier submarines the detection of which requires
more powerful, low-frequency sonars.

The report by UNEP and the Convention on Migratory Species
(CMS) says species like the Beluga whale, Blanville's beaked
whale and the Goosebeak whale are seriously at risk from noise

Researchers found that a stranding of 12 Goosebeak whales
in the Ionian Sea in the 1990s coincided with NATO tests of an
acoustic submarine detection system.

Other Goosebeaks were stranded off the Bahamas in 2000, and
experts link that to military tests, the report said.

Tests on the bodies of seven whales that died near Gran
Canaria in 2002 found hemorrhages and inner ear damage, which
experts said was caused by high-intensity, low-frequency sonar
used in the area, it added.

"This is a hugely serious concern as these animals need
sound to navigate, to find their food, to communicate and to
mate," said Simmonds.

There are no laws governing noise pollution in the world's
oceans, but western governments, considered largely responsible
with their increased military presence in the seas, say they
need more research before taking action.

Charles Galbraith, a senior wildlife advisor to the British
government, told Reuters the report highlighted a potential
problem. "But the issue is still in a relatively gray area in
terms of scientific proof and we need to do more research
before the government can review its defense systems," he said.

Seismic exploration used in the hunt for undersea oil and
gas and the increased movement of large ships may also cause
problems for cetaceans, the report said.