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Nature News
by Marlene Harris

Summer 2001   —   New Threat To Whales

As recently reported, the British Navy is conducting research into development of a powerful new type of sonar, designed to track across huge distances. This potential invention may prove disastrous for the world’s whales and dolphins, whose own acutely developed sonar systems may be severely affected as a result.

This new sonar system would be more "active" than existing "passive" systems. Active sonar can kill marine wildlife at close range as the sounds emitted are incredibly higher in intensity than considered safe even for human divers. It is thought that the intensity levels may be "billions of times more intense" than the levels presently known to disturb whales. The British Navy expects the new system to be operational by 2006. The USA has also been working on such a sonar system, however huge outcries by conservation and animal rights organizations may prove to be an major obstacle in that country. The US government is itself conducting environmental impact studies on the proposed sonar.

The concept of disturbance to marine life by sonar is not a theory; it is fact. One major whale scientist has attributed the mass stranding and subsequent deaths of many groups of whales and dolphins to sonar testing in various regions including the waters off the Bahamas, Greece, and the Canary Islands, and many say that with the coming of the new active sonar systems, whales and dolphins will literally have "nowhere to hide" as the sonar’s capacity to sweep the oceans will intensify to cover at least 80% of the world’s oceans. As other countries eventually utilize the same systems, it is thought that one day, all the oceans of the world will be covered, with deadly consequences for marine life everywhere.

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