Sea-Floor Science Silenced

Science  01 Nov 2002:
Vol. 298, Issue 5595, pp. 943b
DOI: 10.1126/science.298.5595.943b

A federal magistrate has ordered the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) to cut short a research cruise off Mexico that was using sound to map the sea floor, backing conservationists who claim that the noise killed several whales (Science, 25 October, p. 722). This week's ruling disrupts a $1.6 million international project that was supposed to run through 4 November.

The Center for Biological Diversity (CBD), an Idyllwild, California-based environmental group, asked the court last week to halt the cruise after vacationing whale biologists discovered two dead beaked whales in the Gulf of California on 25 September. Environmentalists believe the deaths are linked to the use of sound-generating devices by the U.S. research vessel Maurice Ewing, which was mapping a nearby area. Human-created noise, including military sonar, has been linked to other beaked whale strandings. NSF said there was no clear link in this case, but it did halt the cruise for nearly a week and take steps to avoid whales. But that wasn't enough for the CBD, which successfully argued that the mappers didn't have the requisite U.S. permits—an interpretation disputed by NSF. Says agency spokesperson Curt Supplee: “This is a nightmare of legal ambiguity that will have to be hammered out by the courts.”

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