Environmental Group Sues Feds for Downplaying Harm to Marine Life With Sonar

by on January 28, 2014 · 3 comments

in California, Environment, Health, History, Military, San Diego

sonar harm whalesSuit alleges National Marine Fisheries Service ignored ‘best available science’ in ruling against ocean wildlife during during sonar military exercises.

See Petition below to stop Navy from harming ocean wildlife

By Louis Sahagun / LA Times /  January 27, 2014

The National Marine Fisheries Service violated federal law when it authorized the Navy’s use of sonar in training exercises off Hawaii and California through 2018, an environmental group said in a lawsuit filed Monday.

The agency’s own analysis had determined the war games would result in 155 marine mammal deaths, more than 2,000 permanent injuries and about 9.6 million instances of temporary hearing loss and disruptions of vital behaviors — an 1,100% increase over the previous five-year period, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Beaked whales, a little understood deep-diving species, and endangered blue whales would be particularly harmed by the amphibious and anti-submarine warfare exercises that are scheduled to include nearly 60,000 hours of sonar broadcasts and detonation of more than 250,000 explosives, the lawsuit said.

The fisheries service authorized up to 10 beaked whale and 13 blue whale deaths as a result of vessel strikes during the exercises.

 “This is an unprecedented level of harm,” Zak Smith, an attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council, said. “In order to authorize these impacts on marine mammals, the service had to turn its back on the best available science.”

 The lawsuit accuses the service of violating the Marine Mammal Protection Act when it determined that the exercises would have a “negligible impact” on marine mammals. It also challenged the Navy’s determination that the exercises were consistent with California’s Coastal Management Program, despite a unanimous rejection of that conclusion by the California Coastal Commission.

In response to criticism, the Navy and fisheries service said they have established “practical and reasonably effective” safety measures to protect marine mammals — including posting lookouts on the bridges of ships and reducing the power of sonar or shutting it down when whales are spotted nearby.

The Navy began operating under the rules of the fisheries service’s new authorization Dec. 26.

The Natural Resources Defense Council filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court in San Francisco on behalf of five environmental organizations. A similar suit was filed last week in Hawaii by Earthjustice on a behalf of five other groups.

The lawsuits are the latest attempts to limit Navy exercises. In 2008, the Supreme Court ruled the nation’s security outweighed the need to protect marine mammals from high-powered sonar and lifted limits on exercises being conducted at the time off the Southern California coast.

 “The Supreme Court case involved 170,000 harms to marine mammals over the course of two years,” Smith said. “What’s changed is the far greater scale of harms during upcoming exercises, and new studies proving the link between exposure to sonar and injury to marine mammals.”

 Abundant in Southern California coastal waters, marine mammals are sensitive to acoustic disturbances because they rely on hearing to communicate, find food and avoid predators.

Exposure to sonar can cause blue whales — Earth’s largest creature, averaging 80 feet in length and about 200,000 pounds — and beaked whales to flee foraging grounds, negatively affecting fitness and population health, according to a recent study published in the online Proceedings of the Royal Society.

The lawsuit asks that the fisheries service authorization be voided and reconsidered, that the Navy be made to comply with state and federal environmental laws, and that training be restricted in specific areas and at specific times of biological importance to marine mammals.


Petition:  Stop U.S. Navy plans to kill, permanently injure, or otherwise seriously harm, whales and dolphins, more than 31 million times over the next 5 years.

 To be delivered to National Marine Fisheries Service/NOAA

We request that you rescind your decision to authorize and enable the U.S. Navy to cause such obvious and unnecessary harm to our ocean’s wildlife by not granting the permit that they seek.

There are currently 150,026 signatures. NEW goal – We need 175,000 signatures!

Petition Background

The U.S. Navy is seeking permission to kill, permanently injure, or otherwise seriously harm whales and dolphins more than 31 million times over the next five years throughout Southern California, Hawaii, the Gulf of Mexico, and along the Atlantic Coast, using sonar and other equipment. This staggering and unprecedented amount of harm is the Navy’s own estimate of impacts from its training and testing activities to more than 40 marine mammal species, which can include loss of hearing, maiming or bleeding to death. The Navy is seeking permission to increase the use of this devastating sound and to use it intensively throughout an area the size of the country of Mexico. This is our last opportunity to comment on this proposal. The Navy should not be allowed to inflict harm to marine wildlife!

 The Navy will use underwater explosions, sinking of ships and active sonar so loud and intense it can seriously harm or kill marine mammals. This sonar alone has been implicated in mass stranding of marine mammals all over the world. Now they are asking to radically increase what they have done in the past, knowing that its activities will kill, maim, and harass millions of marine mammals including 9 species listed under the Endangered Species Act.

 Maybe you have watched a whale, dolphin, otter, seal or other marine mammal, in the wild, or seen “Flipper” or other cetaceans on TV. Possibly you have dreamed of swimming with them one day. If this is so, you know in your heart we must do everything we can to protect them. We know how special they are and why we are in such awe of them. We cannot allow this travesty to occur in our oceans when we have the ability to stop or minimize this damage.

 Fortunately, there is the possibility to minimize the damage by taking action right now. The National Marine Fisheries Service’s job is to protect marine mammals and endangered species. With your signature, we will let them know we are watching, we are expecting them to do their job, and we are not going to tolerate this mass destruction in our oceans.

By law the Fisheries Service has to let the public comment on its preliminary decision. We have until March 11, 2013. It has never been more important than it is right now for all of us to act. Please sign!

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Joey Racano January 28, 2014 at 9:13 am

The US Navy has a different mission than killing the whales we want to see protected for the future generations. This time, when the issue goes again before the supreme court, they must realign with the mass conscience. People everywhere are crying for justice for whales, who are long abused cousins in the sea.

Joey Racano


pete January 28, 2014 at 10:08 am

I would rather them dead if I am safer


Frank Gormlie January 28, 2014 at 10:18 am

What enemies are we training for? Commies in inner tubes? Russians? Chinese in Silk Suits? The French? Underwater terrorists? North Koreans? Those huge alien submarine machines in “Battleship”? Or like in that other battle movie against aliens in Los Angeles, they at first came through the Pacific.

Who or whatever OUR Navy is training against, it’s not worth the death and injury rates of the ocean’s wildlife.


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