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Sonar threat to world's whales - Secret naval exercises kill thousands of giant mammals worldwide

Sonar threat to world's whales
Secret naval exercises lead to deaths of thousands of giant mammals 
worldwide. Stricken whale in Thames dies after dramatic attempt to 
return it to the ocean

By Geoffrey Lean, Cole Moreton and Jonathan Owen
Published: 22 January 2006
http://news.independent.co.uk/environment/article340250.ece

Secret sonar from naval ships is killing thousands of whales around the 
world and could have disoriented the two-ton mammal that died last night 
after becoming stranded in the Thames, an investigation by The 
Independent on Sunday has established.

The northern bottlenose whale died despite dramatic attempts at a rescue 
witnessed by thousands of people on the banks of the river, and millions 
on television. The whale was lifted on to a barge and carried down the 
river, in the hope that it could be taken to the open sea. But its 
condition deteriorated, it began to suffer muscle spasms, and it died 
before anything further could be done.

Experts believe that the whale's senses could have been damaged by 
military sonar. Some 30 strandings and deaths of whales around the world 
- from Tasmania to North America - have been linked to its use. The 
United Nations and other international bodies have warned that it is a 
major threat to the animals.

The investigation has also revealed that - in a separate, but deeply 
embarrassing development - the Government faces being hauled before the 
European Court for failing to take enough care of the whales and 
dolphins around Britain's shores.

Professor Hal Whitehead of Dalhousie University in Canada - acknowledged 
to be the world's leading expert on northern bottlenose whales - said 
yesterday that he had never known the deep-ocean species to wander so 
far from its habitat.

"It would be unusual, and cause concern, for one to be found in the 
North Sea or English Channel, let alone a long way up a pretty shallow 
river," he said. "Its nearest habitat would be south-west of Cornwall. 
We know that beaked whales - the group of species to which the northern 
bottlenose whale belongs - are particularly sensitive to underwater 
noise. There has been a lot of seismic activity off northern Scotland 
and in the North Sea, and I understand that the Royal Navy exercises 
frequently."

Many strandings and deaths of whales and dolphins have been linked to 
sonar surveys in recent years (see table). In March 2000, for example, 
whales of four species beached themselves in the Bahamas after a battle 
group from the US navy used sonar nearby. A US government investigation 
established that they had been affected by the sonar. Since then, the 
area's population of Cuvier's beaked whales has virtually disappeared; 
investigators conclude that they have either abandoned the area or died 
at sea.

The Washington-based National Resources Defence Council says that more 
than 30 such incidents have been linked to sonar use around the world.

Last week, a US court discovered that the US government had cut 
references to the effects of naval sonar from a report on the stranding 
of 37 whales in North Carolina a year ago, shortly after military 
manoeuvres.

Strandings in Britain have more than doubled in the past decade, from 
360 in 1994 to 782 in 2004, and vets believe that the number of whales 
that wash up on shore are only one-tenth of those that die, suggesting 
that there are thousands of casualties.

Meanwhile, the European Commission has started legal proceedings against 
Britain for failing adequately to monitor the health of whales and 
dolphins in its seas.

Strandings: Sonar takes a deadly toll

JAPAN 1990: Six whales die after US Navy tests sonar

GREECE MAY 1996: Twelve Cuvier's beaked whales stranded on the west 
coast of Greece as Nato sweep the area with sonar.

CANARY ISLANDS JULY 2004: Fourteen whales beach during Nato exercises 
involving sonar. Strandings in 1985, 1988, 1989, 1991 and 2002 all 
coincide with naval exercises.

AUSTRALIA NOV 2004: Seventeen whales die in Bass Strait; 50 get stranded 
300 miles away; 165 whales and dolphins later found dying. All coincide 
with sonar activities and seismic surveys.

US JAN 2005: Thirty-nine whales die after US Navy uses sonar in waters 
off North Carolina.

US March 2005 : Eighty dolphins beach as US Navy sub trails sonar off 
Florida Keys; 30 die.

TASMANIA OCT 2005: More than 110 pilot whales die; Australian Navy 
admits to using sonar.

NEW ZEALAND DECEMBER 2005: About 120 pilot whales die in the country's 
largest beaching for 12 years.

Secret sonar from naval ships is killing thousands of whales around the 
world and could have disoriented the two-ton mammal that died last night 
after becoming stranded in the Thames, an investigation by The 
Independent on Sunday has established.

The northern bottlenose whale died despite dramatic attempts at a rescue 
witnessed by thousands of people on the banks of the river, and millions 
on television. The whale was lifted on to a barge and carried down the 
river, in the hope that it could be taken to the open sea. But its 
condition deteriorated, it began to suffer muscle spasms, and it died 
before anything further could be done.

Experts believe that the whale's senses could have been damaged by 
military sonar. Some 30 strandings and deaths of whales around the world 
- from Tasmania to North America - have been linked to its use. The 
United Nations and other international bodies have warned that it is a 
major threat to the animals.

The investigation has also revealed that - in a separate, but deeply 
embarrassing development - the Government faces being hauled before the 
European Court for failing to take enough care of the whales and 
dolphins around Britain's shores.

Professor Hal Whitehead of Dalhousie University in Canada - acknowledged 
to be the world's leading expert on northern bottlenose whales - said 
yesterday that he had never known the deep-ocean species to wander so 
far from its habitat.

"It would be unusual, and cause concern, for one to be found in the 
North Sea or English Channel, let alone a long way up a pretty shallow 
river," he said. "Its nearest habitat would be south-west of Cornwall. 
We know that beaked whales - the group of species to which the northern 
bottlenose whale belongs - are particularly sensitive to underwater 
noise. There has been a lot of seismic activity off northern Scotland 
and in the North Sea, and I understand that the Royal Navy exercises 
frequently."

Many strandings and deaths of whales and dolphins have been linked to 
sonar surveys in recent years (see table). In March 2000, for example, 
whales of four species beached themselves in the Bahamas after a battle 
group from the US navy used sonar nearby. A US government investigation 
established that they had been affected by the sonar. Since then, the 
area's population of Cuvier's beaked whales has virtually disappeared; 
investigators conclude that they have either abandoned the area or died 
at sea.

The Washington-based National Resources Defence Council says that more 
than 30 such incidents have been linked to sonar use around the world.

Last week, a US court discovered that the US government had cut 
references to the effects of naval sonar from a report on the stranding 
of 37 whales in North Carolina a year ago, shortly after military 
manoeuvres.

Strandings in Britain have more than doubled in the past decade, from 
360 in 1994 to 782 in 2004, and vets believe that the number of whales 
that wash up on shore are only one-tenth of those that die, suggesting 
that there are thousands of casualties.

Meanwhile, the European Commission has started legal proceedings against 
Britain for failing adequately to monitor the health of whales and 
dolphins in its seas.

Strandings: Sonar takes a deadly toll

JAPAN 1990: Six whales die after US Navy tests sonar

GREECE MAY 1996: Twelve Cuvier's beaked whales stranded on the west 
coast of Greece as Nato sweep the area with sonar.

CANARY ISLANDS JULY 2004: Fourteen whales beach during Nato exercises 
involving sonar. Strandings in 1985, 1988, 1989, 1991 and 2002 all 
coincide with naval exercises.

AUSTRALIA NOV 2004: Seventeen whales die in Bass Strait; 50 get stranded 
300 miles away; 165 whales and dolphins later found dying. All coincide 
with sonar activities and seismic surveys.

US JAN 2005: Thirty-nine whales die after US Navy uses sonar in waters 
off North Carolina.

US March 2005 : Eighty dolphins beach as US Navy sub trails sonar off 
Florida Keys; 30 die.

TASMANIA OCT 2005: More than 110 pilot whales die; Australian Navy 
admits to using sonar.

NEW ZEALAND DECEMBER 2005: About 120 pilot whales die in the country's 
largest beaching for 12 years.

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