Save the whales

Can the acoustic assault on marine life be lessened?

Surely there's no environmental slogan that's been more parodied than Save the Whales. But the motto endures not only because whales continue to need help, but because there's something about whales that appeals to many ordinary people who don't necessarily think of themselves as environmentalists.

We've followed the issue of whales and sonar for some time (including here, here, and here). But it's worth bringing up again in connection with an opinion article in today's Monitor.

"Smarten up naval sonar to save the whales" is the message from Jean-Michel Cousteau, founder and president of Ocean Futures Society and son of the famed ocean explorer Jacques Cousteau, and Joel R. Reynolds, an attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council, which has been in litigation against the US Navy, which uses sonar that affects marine mammals.

Although the US Supreme Court has ruled that national security couldn't be jeopardized in an effort to protect the environment, the estimated 300-350 remaining right whales off the East Coast are a special concern to environmentalists at the moment.

Protecting the whales from acoustic assault doesn’t necessarily have to be an all-or-nothing proposition, say Cousteau and and Reynolds. They suggest some uncomplicated sonar measures the Navy could take to make a big difference: "Simple steps such as avoiding sensitive areas like marine sanctuaries, critical habitats, and feeding or breeding grounds; adopting adequate monitoring and safety zones around the sonar device; powering down in ocean conditions of particular acoustic risk; and implementing ship based, aerial, and underwater techniques to monitor when marine mammals are present enable a protective response."

Since trying to remedy the problem through the courts hasn't been as effective as they might have wished, they're hoping that the Obama administration and NOAA (the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) will be responsive to their plea.

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