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Protecting whales, dolphins and porpoises from the harmful effects of man-made ocean noise

US Newswire

12th November 2004

Delegates from 16 countries meeting in Majorca, Spain this week adopted a resolution recognizing man-made ocean noise as a dangerous pollutant which can disturb, injure and even kill whales and other marine species.

The meeting of the parties to ACCOBAMS (the United Nations Environment Program's Agreement on the Conservation of Cetaceans of the Black Sea, Mediterranean Sea and Contiguous Atlantic Area) comes two weeks after the European Parliament adopted a groundbreaking resolution to protect marine mammals from high- intensity active naval sonar. Last week, Spain reacted to a series of mass whale mortalities in the Canaries by announcing a moratorium on the military use of active sonar in waters around the islands.

This commitment by the ACCOBAMS parties and the important precedent set by the Spanish initiative are, "significant steps forward in the fight against ocean noise pollution," said Lesley O'Donnell, Director of IFAW EU.

Andrew Wetzler, a senior lawyer with NRDC added: "Whales and dolphins are being killed and injured by this largely unregulated form of pollution. This ACCOBAMS resolution and the European Parliament decision two weeks ago demonstrate a growing international consensus that something must be done to control underwater noise."

The ACCOBAMS resolution urges Parties to:

Avoid any use of damaging man-made noise in habitat of vulnerable species and in areas where marine mammals or endangered species may be concentrated;

Intensify national and international research on the issue;

Develop alternative technologies and require the use of best available control technologies and other mitigation measures in order to reduce adverse impacts; and

Consult with any professions conducting activities known to produce underwater sound that could harm cetaceans, including military authorities, recommending, "extreme caution be exercised in the ACCOBAMS area.” The scientific committee of the agreement has also been charged with developing a common set of guidelines on these activities by 2007.

Sound is crucial to whales, dolphins and porpoises and some other marine species for navigation, communication and finding food. Any disturbance that undermines their ability to transmit or recognize sounds may jeopardize their capacity to function and, over the long term, to reproduce and survive.

There is increasing scientific evidence showing that noise pollution from various sources (e.g. high intensity military sonar, shipping, drilling and construction noise, sea-bed explorations and extraction activities) can disturb, injure and even kill whales and other ocean life. In Greece in 1996, 12 beaked whales were killed following a military exercise, and in the Canaries there have been at least seven cases of whale strandings and deaths since 1985 that have been associated with military sonar.

These forms of harmful noise are currently unregulated by the European Union, although any energy source (noise) is recognized as a form of pollution under UNCLOS (United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea).


Song of the Whale, the International Fund for Animal Welfare's (IFAW) new whale research vessel has been anchored in Palma de Majorca since 7 November 2004 to support the ACCOBAMS meeting of parties (9-12 Nov 2004). It has been open to the public and has welcomed school groups on board, in order to provide them with information on whales in the Mediterranean. The work of the Song of the Whale can be followed through the team's Web diaries at

The ACCOBAMS agreement is a regional agreement open to states adjacent to the Mediterranean Sea, Black Sea, or contiguous Atlantic area. Its aim is to reduce the threat to cetaceans in these waters and to improve our knowledge of these animals. It is the first Agreement binding the countries in these two sub regions and enabling them to work together on a matter of general interest. The agreement has been open for signature in Monaco since 24 November 1996, and it entered into force on the 1st of June 2001. It has been signed and ratified by sixteen states, including Spain, Portugal, France and Greece.

The International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) is an international, non-profit NGO dedicated to wildlife conservation and animal welfare, with 14 offices and more than 2 million supporters worldwide. IFAW seeks to reduce commercial exploitation of animals, protect wildlife habitats and assist animals in distress, promoting policies that advance the well-being of both animals and people. Over the past two decades, IFAW scientists and funded research projects have made significant contributions to marine conservation and science and IFAW offices have campaigned for measures to protect cetaceans from threats such as bycatch and ocean noise.

The Natural Resources Defense Council is a non-profit organization of scientists, lawyers and environmental specialists dedicated to protecting public health and the environment. Founded in 1970, NRDC has more than 1 million members and e-activists, served from four offices in the United States. NRDC's Marine Mammal Protection Program works to safeguard whales, dolphins and porpoises worldwide, focusing especially on habitat protection and, during the past decade, the problem of ocean noise pollution.

Contact: Bridget Jones, 44-0-7747-567-628 (mobile) or, Ursula Woodburn, 32-498-114859 (mobile) or, both of the International Fund for Animal Welfare, Web: and

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