US-Australia War Games May Harm Whales

June 18th, 2007 - by admin

Gulf Times & Selina Mitchell / The Australian – 2007-06-18 22:21:28

War Games May Hurt Whales

CANBERRA (May 31, 2007) — Military exercises planned by Australia and the US next month off the Australian coast could result in large-scale whale deaths or injuries, the International Whaling Commission said.

Powerful warship sonar could also cause widespread whale beachings, the commission’s Scientific Committee said in a report released at this week’s IWC meeting in Alaska.

The report, released as Japan leads a push to overturn a global moratorium on whaling, urged both Australian and US military chiefs to take action to prevent the exercises causing “injurious or lethal effects” among whales.

More than 120 military aircraft, tanks and 30 warships, including nuclear-powered aircraft carriers and submarines will take part in the Talisman Sabre exercise.

Held every two years, the exercise will involve about 7,500 Australian soldiers and 20,000 US marines and sailors in Queensland state.

Both countries should have a “response team” readied in case of mass whale beachings during the amphibious exercise, the committee report said.

Past studies have shown high intensity sonar can severely injure whales, causing internal bleeding and tissue damage.

When exposed to powerful sound pulses, some whales appear to swim to the nearest beach and become stranded, eventually dying unless saved through human intervention.

An Australian military spokesman said marine mammals, currently migrating north from the Antarctic to warmer Australian waters to breed, would need to be clear of the exercise area before ships would be allowed to operate sonar.

“Marine mammal management procedures require ships to check for marine mammals in their vicinity, with safe-to-operate zones set dependent upon the type of equipment being used or activity being undertaken,” he said. “Lookouts and warfare officers are trained to detect and report marine mammals at long visual ranges.”

But environmental activists say the powerful undersea sonar pulses can travel many kilometres in the right conditions.

Defence officials earlier this month confirmed that submarines would enter the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park during the exercise, but promised the environment was in no danger.

“It gives us an opportunity for both the Australian and US military forces to practise what our profession is,” Australian Defence Force Warfare Centre commander Brigadier David McKaskill told local newspapers.

Environmental and peace activists are planning demonstrations during the June 18-24 exercises with a “Peace Convergence” on the training area.

Navies to Watch for Whales during War Games
Selina Mitchell / The Australian

(June 08, 2007) — Whale sightings could shut down key US-Australia war games being held off the Queensland and Northern Territory coasts this month.

Acknowledging concerns about the potential effects of naval mid-frequency sonar devices on whales and dolphins, the two defence forces will shut down transmissions if any of the mammals are sighted.

The International Whaling Commission has warned that the biennial joint military exercise, known as Talisman Sabre, could injure or kill whales and dolphins.

Green groups are calling for the military to stop their use of the submarine-hunting sonar, saying it can result in hearing loss, tissue damage, strandings and death.

This year Talisman Sabre involves more than 20,000 US and 7500 Australian forces working on about 125 aircraft and 30 vessels. Field training will take place from June 19 to July 2.

A spokesman for Environment Minister Malcolm Turnbull said the US and Australian defence forces would avoid areas known to be frequented by whales and dolphins.

They would also maintain whale lookouts and have a gradual increase in the power output of sonar transmissions to avoid sudden disturbances.

The transmissions will be shut down if a whale or dolphin is sighted within 3.5km of the vessels.

“Similar precautions were taken during the 2005 Talisman Sabre exercise,” the spokesman said. “There is no evidence that whales and dolphins were negatively impacted during that exercise.”

Environmentalists say naval sonar can alter diving habits as whales try to escape the noise. For a deep-diving species such as the beaked whale, rapid surfacing can result in a fatal case of the bends, they say.

“This is an area where there are beaked whales, and beaked whales have been sensitive to mid-frequency sonar,” IWC scientific committee chairman Arne Bjorge said at the whaling conference in Anchorage last week.

On its website, Defence says it protects endangered and marine mammals through a comprehensive framework of risk-mitigation procedures developed after careful analysis of Defence maritime activities.

In 2002, 15 beaked whales were stranded in the Canary Islands after a NATO exercise. Scientists found bleeding around the animals’ brains and ears and lesions in their livers and kidneys and suspected sonar was to blame.

In 2000, naval sonar also contributed to 16 whales and two dolphins being beached in the Bahamas, a US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration study found.

Additional reporting: AP

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