Sonar Threat to Whales and Dolphins - 27th August 2004
The British navy may soon be a bigger threat to whales and dolphins than the combined whaling fleets of Japan and Norway, the National Seal Sanctuary has warned.

News of £340 million earmarked by the MOD for a new submarine sonar system has brought condemnation from the entire Sea Life network.

A single "ping" from the new low frequency system can be heard over an area the size of the Pacific Ocean, and there is growing evidence linking it with whale deaths.

"It startles whales and causes them to surface to quickly, leading to decompression sickness like the "bends" that sometimes affects divers" said Curator Dr Glenn Boyle.

NATO sonar testing off Morocco a few weeks ago has been blamed for the deaths of two whales which subsequently washed ashore in the Canaries.

And during a Navy training exercise earlier this summer 200 melon-headed whales stampeded into shallow waters.

The International Whaling Commission reported in July findings that military sonar induced self-destructive behaviour in whales, and others are warning that the sonar could block out the natural noises whales need to pick up in order to find food.

The National Seal Sanctuary and the UK Sea Life centres are currently championing the protection of whales and dolphins as part of its pan-European SOS (Save Our Seas) Campaign.

Simultaneous petitions are being collected at all centres calling for the action to stem the appalling toll of dolphins and porpoises killed in nets set for other quarry, and calling for European waters to be declared a Whale Sanctuary and therefore "off limits" for whalers.

SOS campaign officer and marine biologist Rob Hicks said the threat from the sonar could be even more serious.

"This new technological hazard for whales and dolphins could potentially be the most devastating they have faced," he said.

"Typically, in spite of increasing evidence of the harm they do, some Governments including our own seem intent on forging ahead with these new, incredibly powerful sonar systems before environmentalists have had time to properly assess their likely impact."

His colleagues at the Sanctuary agree.

"It suggests an attitude to our environment and wildlife that is at best reckless," said Glenn

"We are determined not to let this happen without making a noise about it, and we´re hoping our visitors will also want to let the MOD know how unhappy they are about it."