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Curbs On Sonar Use Sought In Europe

By Marc Kaufman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 29, 2004; Page A02

The European Parliament called on member nations yesterday to suspend the use of high-intensity sonar during naval maneuvers until research determines whether the very loud sounds are leading to the deaths of whales and other sea creatures.

The nonbinding resolution, overwhelmingly adopted by the 25-nation body, marks the first time that any governmental body has weighed in on the controversial issue. Although the resolution does not require member navies to stop using "active" sonar, it concludes that there is growing research suggesting that the widespread use of loud sonar has caused some whales and other animals to beach themselves.


Whales and other marine life may be harmed by high-intensity sonar. (Dennis Fujimoto -- AP)

The resolution also calls on member nations to push the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and other international alliances to adopt similar moratoriums and to work toward developing alternative technology.

In recent years, mass strandings of whales have been recorded following naval sonar maneuvers in Greece, the Virgin Islands, the Bahamas and the Canary Islands.

The U.S. Navy and many others use loud "active" sonar to detect submarines. While the Navy has acknowledged that its sonar played a central role in the stranding of 17 whales in the Bahamas in 2000, it says that sonar can be used safely and that it has been unfairly linked to other whale strandings.

The recent strandings suspected to have been caused by sonar have all involved the older mid-frequency variety.

The U.S. Navy and others are also developing more powerful low-frequency sonar that can travel hundreds of miles underwater. Some environmentalists believe it will be more hazardous than the mid-frequency sonar now used.

Pentagon officials say the low-frequency sonar -- which has been the subject of protracted litigation -- is needed to meet the future threat of low-technology submarines in crowded coastal waters.

The European Parliament passed the moratorium resolution with 441 votes in favor, 15 opposed and 14 abstentions.

"This is a global problem that must be solved through international cooperation," said Frederick O'Regan, president of the International Fund for Animal Welfare. "The resolution adopted today by the European Parliament is a significant step toward that goal."

In July, the scientific committee of the International Whaling Commission found "compelling evidence" that high-intensity sonar was harming whales and leading to some mass strandings.


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