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Whales get protection from U.S. Navy use of sonar

Sonar detects the location of underwater objects, but scientists say it causes confusion among whales and other marine animals
19 Jul 2016 – 05:44 PM EDT

A federal appeals court has ruled that the US. Navy has no authorization to use sonar as it could be harmful to whales, seals, dolphins and walruses, including altering their eating and mating habits.

The latest ruling by a San Francisco court on Friday reversed a 2012 decision that awarded the Navy permission to use a low-frequency sonar in test operations in the Pacific, Atlantic and Indian Oceans, as well as the Mediterranean Sea.

The panel of judges concluded that the fisheries service "did not give adequate protection to areas of the world's oceans flagged by its own experts as biologically important."

Environmental groups, led by the Natural Resources Defense Council, filed a lawsuit in San Francisco in 2012, arguing that the approval violated the Marine Mammal Protection Act. They argued that studies showed a real risk of noise pollution for whales and other sea animals, including strandings of these species possibly related to ocean noise.

Sonar is used to detect submarines the presence and location of submerged objects using acoustic waves. Whales, for example, are particularly sensitive to underwater sounds. When they hear the sound whales remain silent and stop emitting sounds that allow them to swim and communicate, for up to 10 miles from the noise source, and did not return in three days, according to a study published in the journal PlosOne.

While the new standard recognizes that the Navy has tried to limit the damage caused by sonar technology in marine life, it also found that its use in previous years left marine species unprotected and that the current ban seeks to limit the impact on the future.

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