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Critics Mobilize in Effort to Block Ocean Noise Tests : Environment: Citing fears that the experiment would harm whales and other sea life, Sens. Boxer and Feinstein urge federal agency to get congressional approval and to find another site.

March 23, 1994|RICHARD C. PADDOCK | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SAN FRANCISCO — Environmentalists and other citizens, outraged by a proposal to blast loud noises beneath the Pacific Ocean to study global warming, began mobilizing Tuesday to block the project because of fears that it could harm whales and other marine life.

News of the planned experiment, which critics say could deafen whales and other marine mammals, prompted an outpouring of opposition from Californians who began pressuring the state's elected leaders to intervene.

By day's end, both of California's senators had expressed concerns about the study and urged the federal agency with authority over the project to move cautiously.

"This is a nightmare," said Susan Jordan, a marketing director in Los Angeles who was among those galvanized into action. "I've been calling everyone I know. I've been calling senators and the governor. It would be criminal to do this."

Scientists at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego have proposed placing loudspeakers on the ocean bottom 25 miles off Big Sur and the Hawaiian island of Kauai to broadcast an extremely loud rumbling noise for 20 minutes every four hours for 10 years. The sounds, which would be audible to people, would be monitored as far as New Zealand and help scientists learn if the ocean's temperature is rising.

The National Marine Fisheries Service, the agency assigned to protect marine mammals, is considering whether to let the experiment proceed even though it could affect as many as 677,000 whales, dolphins and seals in the Pacific Ocean. The experiment is scheduled to start this spring.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), responding to calls from constituents, sent a letter to the agency, noting that the experiment is "the first of its kind" and asking the agency to consider other locations.

"I urge the agency to not only examine the proposal presented, but also to consider whether this experiment can be done at an alternative site that would have less impact on marine mammals," the senator wrote.

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D.-Calif), who also received numerous calls, went even further: "It's our duty to protect marine life," she said. "I call on the National Marine Fisheries Service to hold hearings in California. I also believe that Congress should approve the plan before it moves forward."

And in a separate action, officials at the California Coastal Commission said they are investigating whether the experiment would affect the state's three-mile coastal zone and thereby come under its authority.

"It is quite possible that the Coastal Commission should have jurisdiction over this," said Jack Liebster, a spokesman for the agency.

Until now, the study has received little public attention. The National Marine Fisheries Service, which held a hearing on the issue Tuesday in Maryland, has set a Friday deadline for public comment before it decides whether to let the experiment proceed.

The Natural Resources Defense Counsel, concerned about the lack of public notice, called for an environmental impact study to analyze the effect of the noise on marine mammals and to consider other ways to measure global warming.

And Save the Whales, a Los Angeles-based group, called on the agency to hold hearings on the West Coast before approving the permit. Environmentalists also object to the fact that the loudspeakers would be located within the newly created Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary.

Rep. Sam Farr (D-Monterey), who represents the district closest to the test site, said he is concerned about the noise's possible effects on marine mammals but noted that global warming poses a serious threat to all ocean life.

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