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Navy Sonar Harms Marine Mammals

In November, whales and other marine mammals along the Pacific Coast from Northern California to the Canadian border got a little help from a federal court. Magistrate Judge Nandor Vadas set a deadline of August 1, 2014 for the National Marine Fisheries Service to develop a plan that will ensure Navy sonar and live-fire training doesn’t violate the Endangered Species Act.

The deadline came after a September 2013 court decision that found the Fisheries Service approved Navy training based on incomplete and outdated science.

“These training exercises harm Southern Resident killer whales, blue whales, humpback whales, dolphins, and porpoises—through the use of high-intensity mid-frequency sonar,” said Steve Mashuda, an Earthjustice attorney who represented Northern California tribes and environmental groups. “The Fisheries Service must now employ the best science and require the Navy to protect whales and dolphins in its ongoing training exercises.”

This week, Northern California Congressional Representatives Jared Huffman and Mike Thompson joined the call for better oversight of military activities that might harm marine mammals. In a letter to Dr. Kathryn Sullivan, Acting Administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Congressmen said:

Your agency’s role here is not to simply rubber-stamp the plans of the Navy, but to engage in a careful re-analysis of the impact of noise pollution on sensitive marine mammals … During your review, we urge you to consider establishing protections for areas where whales and dolphins feed, migrate, breed, and raise their young.

New studies confirm that whales and other marine mammals are far more sensitive to sonar and other noise than previously thought. Sadly, the Fisheries Service ignored this new information when it approved the Navy’s training plan. In January 2012, conservation and tribal groups sued the agency for stronger protections and won.

Earthjustice represents the InterTribal Sinkyone Wilderness Council, Center for Biological Diversity, Friends of the Earth, and Friends of the San Juans and partnered with the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) in this action.