Dead dolphin raises concerns

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A stranded northern right whale dolphin was found dead on San Nicolas Island, Calif., in late January with an ear canal injury has further ignited a dispute between the Navy and environmental groups over high-intensity offshore sonar exercises conducted on the island, according to a report in The Log newspaper.

The Navy won the right to continue these tests after President George W. Bush signed a waiver in early January, according to the article. However the Navy is appealing a ruling made by a federal judge earlier in February that said despite the waiver, the service must comply with a no-sonar zone off the state’s coast, according to The Mercury News.

During a necropsy it was discovered the dolphin had extra fluid in the ears but could not pin down a cause of death. Microscopic examination of the dolphin’s tissues can indicate gas or fat bubbles that would be signs of sonar-related damage, and were found in the ears, brain, and other parts of 10 beaked whales washed ashore on the Canary Islands in 2002 and the Bahamas in 2000 during international naval sonar exercises, according to Mercury News. Since right whale dolphins are deep divers and usually travel in packs of more than a hundred, a single stranding is rare.

The Navy uses the high-powered sonar to detect the presence of enemy submarines and training, and claims their procedures are sufficient to safeguard marine life, according to The Log.

- Elizabeth Ellis