IFAW and NRDC Applaud EP Resolution on Saving Whales from Naval Sonar
STRASBURG, Austria In adopting a Resolution on the environmental effects of high-intensity active naval sonars, the European Parliament has shown its strong support for the need to regulate and reduce one of the most significant threats to whales.
An overwhelming majority of MEPs called on the EU Member States to:
Pursue the adoption of moratoriums and restrictions on the use of high-intensity active sonars in naval operations, including within the framework of NATO;
Develop alternative technologies;
Immediately restrict the use of high-intensity active sonars in waters under their jurisdiction.
The resolution also urges the European Commission to conduct studies on the potential impact of active sonar on the marine environment, to assess the effects of current practices in EU waters and develop legislation for the European Union.
Used to detect and localize underwater targets, military active sonar can significantly harm marine life. Working like a floodlight, it emits sound waves that can sweep across hundreds of kilometers in the ocean. This requires the use of extremely loud sound, which has been likened to that produced by a rocket at takeoff. Such a noise can injure whales' sensitive organs and even kill them. Among the most dramatic impacts associated with high-intensity sonar is mass stranding of whales.
"The increasing use of active sonar by militaries around the world threatens the survival of numerous marine species, including entire populations of whales and porpoises", said Frederick O'Regan, president of the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW). "This is a global problem that must be solved through international cooperation, and the resolution adopted today by the European Parliament is a significant step toward that goal."
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."
As sound is crucial to whales, dolphins and porpoises and other marine species for navigation, communication and finding food, 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.
There are also other sources of harmful noise (e.g. shipping, drilling and construction noise, ship propellers, sea-bed explorations and extraction activities) in the marine environment, and these are currently unregulated in the European Union, although any energy source (noise) is recognized as a form of pollution under UNCLOS (United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea).
"This is a landmark in the international battle to protect marine life from needless harm and death caused by high intensity military sonar," said Joel Reynolds, Director of the Marine Mammal Protection Protect at NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council). "It is 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."
In a series of initiatives, including resolutions from ACCOBAMS (Agreement on the Conservation of Cetaceans of the Black Sea, Mediterranean Sea and Contiguous Atlantic Area) and ASCOBANS (Agreement on the Conservation of Small Cetaceans of the Baltic and North Seas), the EP resolution bears witness to the momentum the problem of noise at sea has gained in political fora.
Ocean noise will thus be high on the agenda of two upcoming events:
The second Meeting of the Parties to ACCOBAMS (9 to 12 November 2004 in Palma de Mallorca) will vote on a resolution on the harmful effects of military sonar on marine life.
The final stakeholders meeting on the EU Marine Strategy (hosted by the Dutch Presidency in Rotterdam, 10-12 November 2004) 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.
EDITORS NOTE: Recent whale deaths and strandings associated with the use of high-intensity sonar:
Greece, Kyparissiakos Gulf (12-13 May 1996)
Stranded: 12 beaked whales
Killed: At least 8
Bahamas, Northeast and Northwest Providence
Channels (15-16 March 2000)
Stranded: 17 of multiple species
Killed: At least 7
There is evidence that the entire population of beaked whales in this area was killed or displaced
Canary Islands, Fuerteventura and Lanzarote (24th September 2002)
Stranded: 14 beaked whales (various species)
Killed: 11 beaked whales.
At least six of eight previous cases of beaked whale strandings in the Canary Islands (since 1985) coincided with military exercises.
The International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW www.ifaw.org) works to improve the welfare of wild and domestic animals throughout the world by reducing commercial exploitation of animals, protecting wildlife habitats, and assisting animals in distress. IFAW seeks to motivate the public to prevent cruelty to animals and to promote animal welfare and conservation policies that advance the well-being of both animals and people.
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