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Hearing will explore effects of Navy sonar on marine life

By Katherine Schiffner
Herald Writer

25th September 2003

State lawmakers will have a public hearing Wednesday to discuss how the U.S. Navy's use of sonar is affecting Puget Sound's marine mammals.

"There's no getting around the fact that whales and dolphins in Puget Sound are, at the very least, getting spooked by the sonar," said state Rep. Mike Cooper, D-Edmonds, chairman of the House Fisheries, Ecology and Parks Committee.

The panel will hold the hearing in Edmonds. The Navy's sonar system has been under scrutiny since the Everett-based USS Shoup used its midrange tactical sonar in early May near Vancouver Island. About a dozen porpoises were later reported beached or floating in nearby waters. Researchers are studying carcasses to find out why they died.

A Navy representative will explain to lawmakers why the Navy uses sonar and how sound travels in water, said Lt. j.g. Bill Couch, spokesman for Navy Region Northwest.

"The Navy takes this very seriously, and we're actively participating with state and federal agencies to discuss the issue," he said.

Howard Garrett of the Whidbey-Island based Orca Network said he's glad the state is holding a hearing.

"I applaud that they're raising the profile of the issue," said Garrett, who will speak at a Greenpeace presentation about the effect of sonar on whales at 1 p.m. Saturday at Pier 66 in Seattle.

Representatives from the National Marine Fisheries Service, the state Department of Fish and Wildlife and the state Department of Ecology also will attend.

"Certainly, the Navy has a pivotal mission to fulfil. This issue isn't about assigning blame, or suggesting we get all the boats out of the water as fast as we can," Cooper said. "But just as certainly, we want to understand what sonar means for our marine mammals."

The committee also will discuss cleanup of the former Unocal fuel-storage site in Edmonds. In addition, the panel will visit Everett to learn more about the Port of Everett's proposed pier project.

Reporter Katherine Schiffner: 425-339-3436 or