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Beaked Whale Stranding at End of Month-long Navy Exercises

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As the US Navy approaches the end of the month-long multinational RIMPAC training exercise in waters around Hawaii, a single Cuvier’s beaked whale has turned up on a Maui beach. After several hours of near-shore struggle, it was euthenized and taken to Hawaii Pacific University for a necropsy, to attempt to determine the cause of death. Beaked whales have been the most common species associated with sonar-induced strandings, but previous incidents have usually involved several animals at a time. It is unclear how close sonar exercises were to the stranding site, though the Navy initiated aerial surveys of coastlines within ten miles of the Maui site, and did not see any other stranding victims. Military officials said there was no indication RIMPAC activities were to blame. According to the Navy, crews follow protective measures when using mid-frequency sonar by posting lookouts and reducing or stopping sonar transmissions when marine mammals are nearby (ed note: beaked whales spend very little time at the surface and are therefore very hard to spot even with normal lookout activity). “There’s nothing visual on the animal that would lead to something, a man-made type of problem,” said Chris Yates, the Assistant Regional Administrator for the National Oceanic Atmospheric Association (NOAA) Fisheries Service; some previous sonar-related strandings included clear bleeding from eyes or ears. “Marine mammals strand all the time for various reasons, and it would really be unfortunate and premature to jump to conclusions about the cause of the stranding when we really don’t have any idea,” said Yates. Environmentalists, while not jumping to place blame, urged diligent investigation. “This particular type of whale has consistently been associated with stranding related to the Navy’s sonar all around the world,” said Paul Achitoff, attorney with the Earthjustice office in Hawaii, adding, “So when one happens while the Navy is using its sonar … it’s obviously something that should raise concern among any objective person.” Navy spokesman Mark Matsunaga cautioned that “Any statements implicating sonar or RIMPAC activities are premature and speculative.” Until the Navy is clear about when and where its sonar was operating on Sunday and Monday, questions will continue. Sources: Honolulu Star-Bulletin, 7/30/08 [READ ARTICLE] Honolulu Advertiser, 7/30/008 [READ ARTICLE] KHLN.COM, 7/29/08 [READ ARTICLE] AP/Navy Times, 7/30/08 [READ ARTICLE] 

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