Victory! US Navy to Limit Sonar Training to Reduce Harm to Whales, Dolphins
September 15, 2015 The Associated Press & Pierce Brosnan / NRDC
In a historic move, the US Navy has agreed to limit its use of sonar and other training that inadvertently harms whales, dolphins and other marine mammals off Hawaii and California. The settlement was reached with a number of environmental groups. A centerpiece of the agreement signed by a federal judge in Honolulu includes limits or bans on the use of mid-frequency active sonar and explosives in specified areas around the Hawaiian Islands and Southern California.
US Navy to Limit Sonar Training to
Reduce Harm to Whales, Dolphins Agreement limits or bans mid-frequency active sonar and explosives in areas near Hawaii and California The Associated Press
(September 14, 2015) -- The US Navy has agreed to limit its use of sonar and other training that inadvertently harms whales, dolphins and other marine mammals off Hawaii and California in a settlement with environmental groups approved Monday.
A centerpiece of the agreement signed by a federal judge in Honolulu includes limits or bans on mid-frequency active sonar and explosives in specified areas around the Hawaiian Islands and Southern California, Earthjustice attorney David Henkin said. But some of the training will continue.
Sonar at a great distance can disrupt feeding and communication of marine mammals, and it can cause deafness and even death at a closer distance, Henkin said. Four dolphins died in 2011 in San Diego when they got too close to an explosives training exercise, he said.
The Navy's plans estimate it could inadvertently kill 155 whales and dolphins off Hawaii and Southern California, mostly from explosives. It estimated it could cause more than 11,000 serious injuries off the East Coast and 2,000 off Hawaii and Southern California.
Lt. Cmdr. Matt Knight, a US Pacific Fleet spokesman, said the settlement preserves key testing and training. "Recognizing our environmental responsibilities, the Navy has been, and will continue to be, good environmental stewards as we prepare for and conduct missions in support of our national security," Knight said.
Under the agreement, the Navy cannot use sonar in Southern California habitat for beaked whales between Santa Catalina Island and San Nicolas Island. Sonar also is not allowed in blue whale feeding areas near San Diego, according to the environmental groups.
In Hawaii, the deal prohibits sonar and explosives training on the eastern side of the Big Island and north of Molokai and Maui. The groups said that will protect Hawaiian monk seals and small populations of toothed whales, including the endangered false killer whale.
The Navy also won't be able to exceed a set number of major training exercises in the channel between Maui and the Big Island and on the western side of the Big Island.
"The goal of the settlement is to try to reduce as much as we can through an agreement with the Navy," Henkin said. "By establishing some safe havens . . . the hope is to bring down those estimated numbers of injury and death."
The agreement also says that if there are injuries or deaths, there will be a swift review by the National Marine Fisheries Service, which approved the Navy's plans, Henkin said.
The settlement comes after Earthjustice and other environmental groups sued in 2013, challenging the fisheries service's decision to allow the training. Additional environmental groups later filed a similar lawsuit in San Francisco. The two cases were consolidated in Hawaii, and the deal resolves both.
US District Court Judge Susan Oki Mollway ruled in March that the fisheries service violated environmental laws when it approved the Navy's plans. The military branch, she said, also failed to take a hard look at alternatives such as training in different areas or at different times to avoid potentially harming dolphins, whales and other species.
After the ruling, the Navy "faced the real possibility that the court would stop critically important training and testing," said Knight, of the US Pacific Fleet.
The ruling set the stage for settlement talks, Henkin said. But it didn't stop the Navy from continuing with training allowed by the service's five-year permit approved in 2013.
(February 13, 2014) -- NRDC has just filed suit in federal court to stop a reckless Navy plan for training with sonar and explosives that could maim or kill thousands of marine mammals over the next five years.
While NRDC fights in court, I'm committed to helping them increase public pressure on the United States Navy to end this senseless assault on whales.
Please watch the video then join me in telling Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel to put safeguards in place that will protect marine mammals during routine Navy training.
The scope of the Navy's plans is simply staggering. It threatens entire populations of marine wildlife off the East Coast, Southern California, Hawaii and the Gulf Coast.
The Navy's mid-frequency sonar will bombard whales with noise so intense -- up to 236 decibels -- it can actually cause their internal organs to hemorrhage.
Navy ships will also conduct torpedo tests, bombing exercises and underwater explosions -- some 1.1 million of these events overall. That's an average of one detonation every two minutes for the next five years . . . many of them in and around sensitive whale habitat where the animals mate and feed.
As a direct result, nearly 1,000 marine mammals could die. There will be more than 13,000 serious injuries -- including permanent hearing loss and lung damage. And that's according to the Navy's own numbers!
All in all, the Navy expects its ships to harass or harm these intelligent creatures tens of millions of times. Such numbers are simply unconscionable.
So it's all the more distressing that the Navy refuses to put commonsense measures in place that could protect whales -- like avoiding key habitats where whales are known to migrate and raise their young.
Make no mistake: taking such precautions during routine training would not compromise our national security or military readiness.
There's just no excuse for more whales to suffer and die during routine training. But it's up to us to make our voices heard loud and clear at the Pentagon.
Please watch my video and call on Secretary Hagel to save our planet's marine mammals from the tragic impacts of training with sonar and explosives.
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