Navy Fires Back at Protectors of Whales Suing Over Sonar Testing Plans Off the Coast

Categories: Court, Grrranimals

See the update at the end of this post with the U.S. Navy response.

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ORIGINAL POST, DEC. 23, 7 A.M.: Environmental and conservation activists filed a lawsuit in Hawai'i federal court recently that challenges the National Marine Fisheries Service's approval of a five-year plan by the U.S. Navy for testing and training activities off the Aloha State and Southern California.

It's the latest salvo in the long battle over naval sonar and underwater explosives that have been blamed for deaths and permanent injuries to whales, dolphins and other marine mammals.

No Food to Free Willy: Eco-activist fasts 31 days to protest Navy sonar linked to sea-mammal deaths

Get this: the Navy and Fisheries Service estimate the approved training will cause 9.6 million instances of harm to marine mammals, according to Earthjustice, which filed the suit in partnership with the Conservation Council for Hawai'i, the Animal Welfare Institute, Center for Biological Diversity and Ocean Mammal Institute.

The suit argues that the Navy training harms the hearing of ocean mammals that depend on it for navigation, feeding and reproduction. The plaintiffs point to scientific research that has linked military sonar and live-fire activities to mass whale beaching, exploded eardrums and deaths. During war games in 2004, the Navy's sonar was implicated in a mass stranding of up to 200 melon-headed whales in Hanalei Bay, Kaua'i, claims Earthjustice.

The group notes the National Environmental Policy Act requires that a range of alternatives be considered to sonar and explosives--and the suit complains the Fisheries Service approved the Navy's plan without evaluating any alternatives.

"The lawsuit is not asking to stop the Navy from training," explained Susan Millward, executive director of Animal Welfare Institute, in an Earthjustice release. "Rather, we are asking our government to take the required 'hard look' before inflicting this much harm on vulnerable marine mammals populations and to consider alternatives that would allow the Navy to achieve its goals with less damage."

You can hear Navy sonar and see what it does to marine mammals in this video shot by the Center for Whale Research in Washington State: http://earthjustice.org/features/video-orca-and-navy-sonar.

UPDATE, DEC. 24, 10:22 A.M.: To say that the U.S. Navy disagrees with the position of the groups suing over the National Marine Fisheries Service's approval of a five-year plan for Navy sonar testing and training activities off Hawaii and Southern California would be an (underwater?) understatement.

The following just arrived from Kenneth Hess, a Navy Public Affairs officer in Washington, D.C.

Navy Sonar Plan Riles Protectors of Whales - Inaccuracies

Several of the statements in the article titled, "Navy Sonar Plan Riles Protectors of Whales" are inaccurate and/or require clarification.

1. The estimates of marine mammals that may be affected by Navy training and testing are high, but the numbers are based on mathematical modeling that assume a worst-case scenario. In over 60 years of similar training and testing, there has been no evidence of major impacts to marine mammal populations. We ultimately do not expect any marine mammals to be killed or injured.

2. Sonar has never "exploded the eardrums" of marine mammals, nor has it directly injured or killed any animal at sea.

3. Sonar has been linked to a small number of marine mammal strandings over the past 15 years, affecting fewer than 40 animals total. The Navy takes precautions when using sonar and works with the National Marine Fisheries Service to ensure that our activities comply with the law and do not have major impacts on marine mammal populations.

4. No science has ever shown that live-fire training can lead marine mammals to strand.

5. During the melon-headed whale event in 2004 in Hanalei Bay, only one whale--an emaciated calf--went ashore. It was an aggregation event where the animals milled about in in the Bay. Similar events have occurred elsewhere in the world in areas where no sonar was in use.

6. The video link offered doesn't accurately reflect what sonar sounds like or its effects on marine mammals.

Email: mcoker@ocweekly.com. Twitter: @MatthewTCoker. Follow OC Weekly on Twitter @ocweekly or on Facebook!


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5 comments
kneal2
kneal2

kenneth makes a good point.  I think it's the louder stuff that does the damage. Has anyone seen good science on this issue?

Marc Morin-Lebel
Marc Morin-Lebel

If the U.S. Coast Guard can do its job without SONAR, I'm sure our big brothers & sisters in the U.S. Navy can find alternatives to it.

kenneth.hess
kenneth.hess

Marc, the Coast Guard doesn't hunt typically submarines. They have a different mission than the U.S. Navy.

Kenneth Hess

kneal2
kneal2

@kenneth.hess 

you make a good point.  I think the damage is done by much louder events.  has anyone seen the science on this issue?

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