Secret Navy Sonar Tests
'Killing Off' Rare Whales
By William Lowther - In Washington

With a final despairing gasp, this majestic rare beaked whale floundered in the surf and died. Frightened from its normal deep-sea haven, it is one of eight found dead on beaches in the Bahamas.
Multiple deaths of these elusive creatures are virtually unknown, and now environmentalists are laying the blame on top-secret anti-submarine experiments by the British and Americans.
They say a military exercise to test an anti-submarine warfare system has confused the mammals' delicate navigation, causing them to go into a frenzy. Fleeing from the torture of the sound waves, they are washed ashore, where they die because they cannot get back into the sea.
Yesterday, environmental charity Earthwatch called for an end to the tests before more whales perish. And scientists said the last time this type of whale died in numbers, they were close to sonic experiments.
The tests on the joint US-British system, which began ten days ago north of the Abaco Islands, involved a buoy emitting a sonar signal which was received by another buoy while a submarine passed between them. Computers on surface ships then identified the submarine's exact location.
US Navy Commander Greg Smith said: 'There's no scientific data that the testing was linked to the unfortunate demise of the great mammals.'
But marine biologist Dr Ken Balcomb, of Earthwatch, said it was more than a coincidence that 14 whales were grounded on three beaches close to the Abaco Islands test sight within 48 hours of the sonar experiments starting.
'It cannot be just coincidental. We want the tests stopped,' he said.
Eight of the 14 beached whales died, while the other six have been enticed back into deeper water. Professor Alexandros Frantzis, of the University of Athens, who investigated the deaths of 12 beaked whales in Greece after sonar tests by Nato in 1996, said: 'Mass strandings of this species are very, very rare. Deep-diving whales seem to be especially affected by lowfrequency sounds. But little is known about the whales' reaction.'
The Sea Watch Foundation called for the Navy to end exercises off the Hebrides last July after campaigners claimed whales and dolphins were affected by sonar tests.
The US and Britain maintain a secret worldwide system of under water listening devices and soundemitting buoys to track submarines. They fear an increasing number are passing into the hands of potentially hostile countries such as Iran. More than £200 million has been spent to develop the sonar system.
Some environmentalists said they feared the generated sound disorientated the whales, causing them to 'go crazy' and, in effect, commit suicide by beaching themselves. The mammals use a form of sonar to navigate, hunt and communicate.
Dr John Pike, an expert with the Federation of American Scientists says: 'The United States and Britain are one country doing business at two locations.
'There was nothing novel or extraordinary about a UK presence at the Bahamas testing. The two navies work very, very closely together.' _____
The Mail on Sunday, March 26th, 2000


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