US Navy Sued over ‘Ear-Splitting’ Sonar on Whales

October 27th, 2005 - by admin

Jill Serjeant / Reuters – 2005-10-27 23:53:53

US Navy Sued over ‘Ear-Splitting’ Sonar on Whales
Jill Serjeant / Reuters

LOS ANGELES (October 20, 2005) — A coalition of environmental groups sued the US Navy Wednesday over the use of sonar, saying that the ear-splitting sounds can cause mass whale and dolphin strandings and internal bleeding.

The Natural Defense Resources Council, or NRDC, leading the coalition, said in a federal lawsuit that sonar used in routine training and testing violated environmental laws. It accused the Navy of failing to take precautions that could spare marine animals injury and death.

Actor Pierce Brosnan, in a videotaped statement, said that without reasonable limits military sonar could contribute to the extinction of some species.

“We owe it to our children to be better stewards of the environment,” Brosnan said. “The alternative? — a world without whales. It’s too terrible to imagine.”

The Navy had no direct comment on the lawsuit but said in a statement that sonar use and training was critical to US national defense.

Animal welfare organizations have been lobbying for years to restrict military sonar, which is used to locate submarines and other underwater objects.

They have documented dozens of cases of mass whale strandings and deaths around the world that they say are associated with sonar blasts, which are thought to disorient marine mammals and can cause bleeding from the eyes and ears.

Two years ago the NRDC and other groups successfully blocked the global deployment of the U.S. Navy’s low-frequency active sonar system and restricted its use to testing and training in a limited area of the north-west Pacific Ocean.

Wednesday’s lawsuit targets mid-frequency sonar which the coalition said can emit noise above 235 decibels and sounds like a rocket blasting off.

The suit said the Navy’s use of mid-frequency sonar violates the Marine Mammal Act and at least two other federal laws. The legal action seeks to compel the Navy to take precautions such as avoiding migration routes and breeding areas or increasing the volume of sonar activity gradually so that mammals have a chance to flee.

“Military sonar needlessly threatens whole populations of whales and other marine animals,” said Joel Reynolds, an NRDC lawyer. “In violation of our environmental laws, the Navy refuses to take basic precautions that could spare these majestic creatures. Now we’re asking the courts to enforce those laws.”

The Navy said it had “developed and implemented a comprehensive strategy for assessing the potential effects of its use of mid-range active sonar on marine mammals.

“We employ scientifically-based protective measures as part of that strategy,” the Navy statement said.

Navy Sued for Sonar Blasting Whales
Associated Press /

SANTA MONICA, California (AP) — Environmentalists sued the Navy on Wednesday, claiming that a widely used form of sonar for detecting enemy submarines disturbs and sometimes kills whales and dolphins.

The sonar “is capable of flooding thousands of square miles of ocean with dangerous levels of noise pollution,” according to the lawsuit filed in federal court in Los Angeles.

The Navy settled a similar lawsuit two years ago by agreeing to limit the peacetime use of experimental low-frequency sonar.

The new lawsuit, by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and other plaintiffs, seeks a court order to curb mid-frequency sonar, the most common method of detecting enemy submarines.

NRDC attorney Joel Reynolds said the group recognizes the Navy’s need to detect enemies, and he noted that the lawsuit seeks limits on sonar during training exercises, not in war.

“Our position is that whales shouldn’t have to die for practice,” he said.

The environmentalists want the Navy to use harmless passive sonar — listening for sounds made by marine mammals themselves — to locate the animals before using mid-frequency sonar.

They also want the Navy to avoid migration and calving areas and to turn on sonar systems gradually so that the animals have time to flee.

Navy spokesman Lt. William Marks said the Navy already is doing many of the things demanded in the suit.

The lawsuit blames the Navy for the January stranding and deaths of at least 37 whales on North Carolina’s Outer Banks after a mid-frequency sonar exercise.

The Navy said the exercise was probably too far away to have harmed the whales.

Copyright 2005 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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