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ENVIRONMENT REPORT - November 22, 2002: Compromise on U.S. Navy Sonar - 2002-11-21

This is the VOA Special English ENVIRONMENT REPORT.

The United States Navy has agreed to temporarily limit testing of a new low-frequency sound wave device it wants to use on ships in the world’s oceans. This sonar device is used to find enemy submarines at great distances. The agreement is a compromise between the Navy and environmental groups. The groups took legal action to halt the testing of the new sonar system. They said the noise from the device would injure or kill whales and other animals that live in the oceans.

Last month, a federal judge blocked the Navy from using the sonar because it possibly violated environmental protection laws. However, the judge also agreed with the Navy’s claim that banning the new sonar system could harm military readiness. She ordered the two sides to work out a plan that would balance environmental and military concerns.

Under the new agreement, the Navy will test the new sonar system for seven months. The agreement limits testing of the sonar to a much smaller area of the northwestern Pacific Ocean than the Navy had planned. The area is not likely to have many large ocean animals.

The new sonar system works by sending sound waves through the water. When the sound waves hit an object, its presence is confirmed. The new sonar can find objects ten times farther away than the sonar used now. The Navy wants to use the new system in about eighty percent of the world’s oceans. The noise from the sonar is about as loud as a large airplane leaving the ground.

Concern about the effects of the Navy’s sonar has increased in recent years. More than fifteen whales and a dolphin were found trapped on land along several coasts two years ago. At least six of the whales and the dolphin died. The Navy had used very loud sonar devices in deep waters around the Bahama Islands.

The National Marine Fisheries Service and the Navy investigated the incident. The investigators said the noise from the sonar led to the deaths of the ocean animals. Investigators found that the whales’ ears had been severely damaged by the loud sounds of the sonar. They found bleeding around their brains and ear bones. However, the Navy said that the type of sonar used in the Bahamas was different from the low-frequency systems it now wants to deploy.

This VOA Special English ENVIRONMENT REPORT was written by Cynthia Kirk.