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U.S. court blocks sonar testing to protect whales

U.S. court blocks sonar testing to protect whales

U.S. court blocks sonar testing to protect whales
August 7, 2007

A U.S. federal court blocked the Navy from using a type of sonar that environmentalists say pose a threat to whales off the coast of California. The judge noted that the Navy’s own analyses concluded that the Southern California exercises “will cause widespread harm to nearly thirty species of marine mammals, including five species of endangered whales, and may cause permanent injury and death” and characterized the Navy’s proposed mitigation measures as “woefully inadequate and ineffectual.”

The injunction by the U.S. District Court in Los Angeles was hailed as a victory for Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), an environmental group that filed a lawsuit in March claiming that the Navy did not sufficiently test the impact of its mid-frequency active sonar on marine mammals. NRDC maintains that the sonar is so loud that it can disorient whales, causing them to strand on beaches and die.

The government has argued that testing is vital to national security.

“The U.S. Navy’s use of sonar, and the ability to test and train with it, is critical to the national security of the United States,” the government argued, according to Reuters.

Humpback whale. Photo by Rhett A. Butler

The Navy had already conducted three tests off the California coast and planned 11 more through 2009. It plans to appeal the decision.

NRDC has filed a similar suit to block testing in Hawaii.

“The court’s order confirms that, during sonar testing and training, the Navy can and must protect whales and other marine life in the extraordinarily rich waters off our Southern California coast,” said Joel Reynolds, senior attorney and director of the Marine Mammal Protection Project at NRDC. “The Navy’s rejection of common sense protective measures — even measures requested by the California Coastal Commission — is illegal, unacceptable, and completely unnecessary.”

Once again, a federal court has told the Navy that it cannot ignore basic environmental laws merely for convenience,” said Greg Fayer, a litigator at the Los Angeles law firm of Irell & Manella, co-counsel with NRDC in the lawsuit. “With simple precautions, the Navy can train effectively without endangering the majestic creatures that share our oceans.”

This article is based on a report from Reuters and a news release from NRDC

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