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Protecting Marine Mammals from Navy Sonar in the Pacific Northwest

A U.S. Navy vessel, with a research ship and pod of orcas in the foreground.

A U.S. Navy vessel encounters a research ship and pod of orcas. The shrill, repetitive whistle produced by sonar harms marine mammals.

Photo provided by Center for Whale Research

What’s at Stake

Earthjustice challenged a permit issued to the Navy for training activities that harm marine mammals. The challenge was successful. The Navy is now working out ways to conduct the training without harming wildlife.


The Navy uses a vast area of the West Coast for training activities including anti-submarine warfare exercises involving tracking aircraft and sonar; surface-to-air gunnery and missile exercises; air-to-surface bombing exercises; sink exercises; and extensive testing for several new weapons systems.

In late 2010, the National Marine Fisheries Service gave the Navy a permit for five years of expanded naval activity that will harm or “take” marine mammals and other sealife. The permit allows the Navy to conduct increased training exercises that can harm marine mammals and disrupt their migration, nursing, breeding, or feeding, primarily as a result of harassment through exposure to the use of sonar.

Earthjustice sued the National Marine Fisheries Service to challenge the permit and the district court blocked its implementation. NMFS appealed but then dropped the appeal and agreed to issue a new biological opinion.

Case ID



Case Updates

November 24, 2014 | Article

Protecting Marine Eardrums

Navy training is essential to national security, but there's a way to minimize the harm that it inflicts on marine mammals.

December 12, 2013 | Article

Navy Sonar Harms Marine Mammals

Magistrate Judge Nandor Vadas has 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.

November 26, 2013 | Legal Document

U.S. District Court Ruling on Navy Sonar

The National Marine Fisheries Service has eight months to issue a new plan to protect thousands of whales, dolphins, porpoises, seals, and sea lions from U.S. Navy warfare training exercises ranging from Northern California to Canada.