Those Europeans always seem to be – environmentally, at least – one step ahead. They have seafood labels, wind farms, viable Green parties…and now a multi-national body acknowledging the danger of navy sonar testing to whales and dolphins. Last week, by a vote of 441 to 15 (with 14 abstentions), the European Parliament adopted a resolution asking its member states to quit sonar testing until scientists have fully assessed its effect on ocean life.
STRASBOURG, France, Oct 28 (Reuters) – The European Parliament called on Thursday for a ban in European waters of military sonar equipment blamed for killing and injuring dolphins and whales.
The “high intensity active sonar devices”, which are used to track submarines, kills thousands of marine mammals, including some endangered species, Green Party member Caroline Lucas said in a statement.
(Here’s a link to the full story from Reuters.)
The use of Low-Frequency Active Sonar (LFAS) has long been associated with mass whale strandings, but until recently the link was largely anecdotal. In October of 2003 British and Spanish marine pathologists conducted autopsies on a group of beaked whales stranded in the Azores, around the same time that naval maneuvers were being carried out nearby, and found evidence consistent with symptoms of the bends in humans, when divers rise too quickly to the surface. They hypothesized that the deafening underwater bursts of sound emitted by navy ships to locate other objects had a disorienting effect on the whales, suspending their sense of depth and causing them to swim upward with dangerous speed.
This summer another group of beaked whales washed up on the shores of the Azores and Canary Islands, again in the vicinity of ongoing naval maneuvers, igniting a debate in Europe over the use of naval sonar. Oceana jumped into the fray, of course, and released a report documenting the several dozen instances, over the last two decades, when whale strandings have overlapped with sonar testing by NATO and the U.S. Navy. Coincidence? Unlikely. It’s worth keeping in mind, too, that the stranded whales are just those that wash ashore; we have no idea how many marine mammals, disoriented or otherwise damaged by sonar testing, may perish in the water.
The European Commission and member states must still implement laws against sonar testing to put the new ban into effect, but the Parliament’s moratorium is a huge step in the right direction.