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Environmental groups file suit in Hawaii to stem expanded Navy sonar testing

By Julie Watson

Associated Press

LAST UPDATED: 12:38 p.m. HST, Dec 16, 2013

SAN DIEGO » Environmental organizations filed a lawsuit today in federal court in Honolulu against the National Marine Fisheries Service to demand it force the Navy to consider alternatives to its five-year plan that will intensify its sonar use off Southern California and Hawaii.

Earthjustice, representing several groups, filed the lawsuit only hours after the federal agency announced it had decided to grant the Navy permits to move ahead with its plans for training and testing in the Pacific.

Navy officials estimate its activities would have a negligible impact on marine mammal populations.

Environmentalists dispute that and favor creating zones that would be off-limits to biologically sensitive areas. They also want the Navy to avoid training in certain spots seasonally when they are rich in marine life.

"The science is clear: sonar and live-fire training in the ocean harms marine mammals," said Marsha Green of Ocean Mammal Institute, which is among the groups suing. "There are safer ways to conduct Navy exercises that include time and place restrictions to avoid areas known to be vital for marine mammals' feeding, breeding and resting."

The Navy estimates that its activities could inadvertently kill 186 whales and dolphins off the East Coast and 155 off Hawaii and Southern California, mostly from explosives.

It calculates more than 11,000 serious injuries off the East Coast and 2,000 off Hawaii and Southern California, along with nearly 2 million minor injuries, such as temporary hearing loss, off each coast. It also predicts marine mammals might change their behavior — such as swimming in a different direction — in 27 million instances.

NMFS granted the permits for the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico last month. The Pacific permit was the final one.

Environmentalists won a small victory in September when a federal judge ruled the marine fisheries agency did not consider the latest science when it granted permits last year.

In today's ruling, the agency said it will review the latest scientific data yearly with the Navy to determine if enough is being done to mitigate the risks.

Reported mass strandings of beaked whales have increased around the world since the military started using sonar more than half a century ago. The sounds can scare animals into shallow waters where they can become disoriented and wash ashore.

Aside from beachings, biologists are concerned about prolonged stress from changes in diving, feeding and communication habits. Only in the past decade have scientists had the technology to closely monitor the behavior of whales and dolphins.

Two recent studies off the Southern California coast found certain endangered blue whales and beaked whales stopped feeding and fled from recordings of noise similar to military sonar.

Beaked whales are highly sensitive to sound and account for the majority of strandings near military exercises.

Navy officials say it's vital to national security that sailors receive realistic sonar training, and they use simulators where possible.

Environmentalists want more protections and favored the creation of safety zones that would guarantee no high-intensity sonar activity near marine sanctuaries and areas where blue, fin and gray whales gather seasonally.

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HanabataDays wrote:
"The military estimates the training and testing program will have a negligible impact .The Navy estimates that its activities could inadvertently kill 186 whales and dolphins off the East Coast and 155 off Hawaii and Southern California, mostly from explosives. It calculates more than 11,000 serious injuries off the East Coast and 2,000 off Hawaii and Southern California." Yeah, a negligible impact. Imagine if these Navy exercises killed 341 flag officers and seriously injured 13,000 swabbies. Just picture the outcry. And yet dolphins don't go to war -- indicating they may very well be more intelligent than humans.
on December 16,2013 | 07:58AM
pandadaddy wrote:
Collateral damage. A small price to pay for our nation's freedom.
on December 16,2013 | 09:36PM
naukilo wrote:
I agree HanabataDays. Why is the NAVY picking on whales and dolphins??? Why doesn't the NAVY test sonar on themselves and see how negligible an impact on Humans there is?? This is shear studpidity, not needed, and totally unecessary.
on December 16,2013 | 10:21AM
Dolphin743 wrote:
Operating in the ocean without using active sonar at appropriate times is like driving at night without headlights. The Navy needs to operate and train on its equipment or the ships will be destroyed in combat. It's that simple. Even the best shore-basd simulators cannot truly mimic the immensely variable conditions in the actual ocean. The simulators can be used to teach the mechanics of operating sonar systems, but fall far short of being able to accurately portray all the details associated with operating warships and submarines during a mission against adversary submarines, mines, and torpedoes in the actual ocean. The Navy already takes precautions to avoid areas where significant disruptions to marine mammals would be expected to occur. Additionally, you would be surprised at just how much noise is put in the water by the boats that catch your fish and ships that transport your fuel and goods from everywhere in the world to here. Active sonar is a relatively small and infrequent contributor to the overall noise underwater.
on December 16,2013 | 12:08PM
localguy wrote:
naukilo - As you failed to post references to your post we can only assume you can't support your post. Typical for a rookie poster. No due diligence at all. Sad.
on December 16,2013 | 09:20PM
localguy wrote:
Acutely dysfunctional Earth Justice and David haven't got a clue what is going on around the world with sonar testing. Do they think countries like China, Russia, North Korea adhere to the highest environmental protection standards? Sonar testing is critical to protect our Navy and the Sailors on our ships.
on December 16,2013 | 09:19PM
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