Supreme Court to Whales: War Games Come First

November 12th, 2008 - by admin

Pete Yost / Associated Press & International Marine Mammal Project – 2008-11-12 22:08:38

Court Rules for Navy in Dispute over Sonar, Whales
Pete Yost / Associated Press

WASHINGTON (November 12, 2008) — The Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that military training trumps protecting whales in a dispute over the Navy’s use of sonar in submarine-hunting exercises off the coast of southern California.

Writing for the majority in the court’s first decision of the term, Chief Justice John Roberts said the most serious possible injury to environmental groups would be harm to an unknown number of the marine mammals the groups study.

“In contrast, forcing the Navy to deploy an inadequately trained anti-submarine force jeopardizes the safety of the fleet,” the chief justice wrote. He said the overall public interest tips strongly in favor of the Navy.

The Natural Resources Defense Council and other environmental organizations had sued the Navy, winning restrictions in lower federal courts on sonar use.

Dolphins, whales and sea lions are among the 37 species of marine mammals in the area.

The Bush administration argued that there is little evidence of harm to marine life in more than 40 years of exercises.

Joining Roberts’ opinion were Justices Samuel Alito, Anthony Kennedy, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas.

The court did not deal with the merits of the claims put forward by the environmental groups. It said, rather, that federal courts abused their discretion by ordering the Navy to limit sonar use in some cases and to turn it off altogether in others.

Justice John Paul Stevens did not join the majority opinion, but said the lower courts had failed to adequately explain the basis for siding with the environmental groups. Justice Stephen Breyer would have allowed some restrictions to remain.

Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and David Souter dissented, saying the prospect of harm to the whales was sufficient to justify limits on sonar use.

In complicated sonar exercises, ships, subs and aircraft must train together in order to track modern diesel-electric submarines which can operate almost silently. The Navy says the area off southern California is the only location on the West Coast that is relatively close to land, air and sea bases as well as amphibious landing areas.

NRDC said the ruling is a narrow one. Joel Reynolds, director of NRDC’s marine mammal protection program, said the court “did not accept the Navy’s expansive claims of executive power,” nor did the court “overturn the underlying determination that the Navy likely violated the law by failing to prepare an environmental impact statement.”

The Navy challenged restrictions that included shutting down sonar when a marine mammal is spotted within 2,200 yards of a vessel.

The case is Winter v. NRDC, 07-1239.

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STOP THE NAVY SOUNDBLASTING! US Navy Gets a License to Kill… Whales?
Internatonal Marine Mammal Project,

In the midst of a national security emergency declared against terrorism, the U.S. Navy is spending millions of dollars on a Cold War-relic sonar “bomb” that kills whales.

Experimental “Low Frequency Active” (LFA) Sonar uses an array of giant speakers to blast a basso burst of noise — as loud as standing next to a Saturn 5 rocket launch — into ocean waters. The deafening sound energy is strong enough to destroy sensitive hearing tissue and cause ears to bleed.

Dreamed up to detect Soviet subs lurking in the ocean, LFA Sonar is still classed as experimental because it has obvious military disadvantages: it pinpoints the presence of the surface ship towing the array and “paints” friendly subs to a listening enemy, exposing both to attack, and is fatal to Navy SEALS and other personnel working underwater. It’s a dumb bomb in the age of cruise missiles. The Navy is ignoring sophisticated computer-enhanced listening devices that could be used as a substitute.

Despite LFA Sonar’s questionable utility and strategic obsolescence, U.S. Navy bureaucrats have received a license to deploy LFA Sonar worldwide and to keep killing whales and other marine life in our oceans.

The largest known active Sonar massacre so far identified: 14 beaked whales and 2 minke whales beached and believed dead in the Bahamas in 2000. The entire local population of beaked whales, estimated at 50 individuals, has disappeared from the area. This massacre was from a mid-range frequency Sonar system; LFA Sonar is louder and its sound energy travels longer distances. Whales and other marine mammals rely on sound to find food, attract mates, raise their young, and navigate.

Deafened by LFA sonar and in severe pain, they are condemned to a horrible death on the beaches where they seek sanctuary. Other marine life, including fish, mollusks, dolphins, sea turtles, and other sensitive species will likely be impacted, but nobody knows for sure. Basic research on sound impacts on marine life is lacking.

The Navy has spent years denying that LFA Sonar has any “biological effects.” Yet now it has received permission from the federal government for an exemption from whale-killing bans. Earth Island Institute believes the process and the permission violate environmental laws.

LFA Sonar does nothing to counter terrorism. It never proved useful against Soviet subs, which no longer cruise world’s oceans anyway. So why is the Navy wasting a classified number of precious tax dollars (at least $375 million at last count) on a whale-killing boondoggle during a national security emergency? And why is the Navy ignoring alternative “passive” Sonars that provide more underwater information without revealing the location of our ships and submarines?

Stop the Navy’s Noise Bombardment Of Our Oceans!

Get the Word Out: Set up a house party and invite your friends and neighbors to learn about LFA Sonar; write a letter to the editor of your local newspaper; get businesses in your area to agree to post signs opposing LFA Sonar; sign petitions and send letters.

Join the Effort: Support the work of environmental and animal welfare groups that are working against LFA Sonar; volunteer to help locally; throw a fundraising party for the cause; bring this issue to the attention of your local environmental, civic, business, and religious groups.

Who To Write To:
Your Members of Congress:
Representative______; House Office Building, Washington, DC 20515._Senator___________; Senate Office Building, Washington, DC 20510.

(Phone for Capitol Switchboard (202) 224-3121. Senators for California are the Hon. Dianne Feinstein (Room 331 Hart) and the Hon. Barbara Boxer (Room 112 Hart). If you do not know whom your local Representative is, contact your local City Hall or Registrar of Voters.)