HONOLULU (AP) – The Navy said it will use active sonar during warfare exercises off Hawaii as early as this weekend, after reaching an agreement with environmentalists who claimed it poses a threat to whales and other sea life.

The settlement reached Friday prevents the Navy from using the sonar within 25 miles of the newly established Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Marine National Monument during its Rim of the Pacific 2006 exercises. It also imposes a variety of methods to watch for and report the presence of marine mammals.

Navy officials have said the value of training to detect stealthy submarines would have been severely diminished without the sonar, which bounces sound off objects in the ocean.

“We want to ensure that the U.S. Navy and its partner navies get the benefit of this opportunity to train in anti-submarine warfare,” said Rear Adm. James Symonds, director of environmental readiness.

The Navy hadn’t been allowed to activate the sonar under a temporary restraining order issued Monday by U.S. District Court Judge Florence-Marie Cooper in Los Angeles. She lifted the order after the settlement was reached between the environmentalists, the Navy and several federal agencies.

Environmentalists claim whales have stranded themselves on beaches after being exposed to high-intensity mid-frequency sonar. In some cases, whales bled around the brain and in the ears. The sonar is also claimed to interfere with the ability of marine mammals to navigate, hunt, take care of their offspring and avoid predators.

“Military readiness does not require, and our laws do not allow, our natural resources to be sacrificed in the name of national defense,” said Joel Reynolds, a Natural Resources Defense Council attorney.

The Navy suspended the use of sonar in similar exercises off Hawaii two years ago, after more than 150 whales gathered close to shore in Kauai’s Hanalei Bay and one calf died. The National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration had asked the Navy to adjust how it uses sonar in this year’s drill. Among other things, the Navy agreed to use electronic, airborne monitoring for marine mammals and to post marine mammal lookouts on all surface ships operating the sonar. The sonar will only be used during anti-submarine warfare exercises, except as required for maintenance and equipment checks.

The gathering of more than 40 ships, some 19,000 troops, 160 aircraft and six submarines runs through July 28. Ships from Australia, Canada, Chile, Peru, Japan, South Korea and Britain are joining the United States for the war games.

On the Net:

Rim of the Pacific exercises: http://www.c3f.navy.mil/RIMPAC-2006/index.htm

Natural Resources Defense Council: http://www.nrdc.org

AP-ES-07-08-06 0611EDT

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