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Lawsuit filed over Naval sonar training

[Press Release.]

 Navy Training Blasts Marine Mammals With Harmful Sonar

Wildlife Protection Agency Challenged for Not Doing Its Job

SAN FRANCISCO— A coalition of conservation and American Indian groups today sued the National Marine Fisheries Service for failing to protect thousands of whales, dolphins, porpoises, seals and sea lions from U.S. Navy warfare training exercises along the coasts of California, Oregon and Washington.

Earthjustice, representing InterTribal Sinkyone Wilderness Council, Center for Biological Diversity, Friends of the Earth, Friends of the San Juans, Natural Resources Defense Council and People For Puget Sound, today filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court for the District of Northern California challenging the Fisheries Service’s approval of the Navy’s training activities in its Northwest Training Range Complex. The lawsuit calls on the agency to mitigate anticipated harm to marine mammals and biologically critical areas within the training range that stretches from Northern California to the Canadian border.

“These training exercises will harm dozens of protected species of marine mammals — 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 representing the groups. “The Fisheries Service fell down on the job and failed to require the Navy to take reasonable and effective actions to protect them.”

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.

“Since the beginning of time, the Sinkyone Council’s member tribes have gathered, harvested and fished for traditional cultural marine resources in this area, and they continue to carry out these subsistence ways of life, and their ceremonial activities along this Tribal ancestral coastline. Our traditional cultural lifeways, and our relatives such as the whales and many other species, will be negatively and permanently impacted by the Navy’s activities,” said Priscilla Hunter, chairwoman and cofounder of the InterTribal Sinkyone Wilderness Council. “Both NMFS and the Navy have failed in their obligations to conduct government-to-government consultation with the Sinkyone Council and its member Tribes regarding project impacts.”

In late 2010, the 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.

“The Navy’s Northwest Training Range is the size of the state of California, yet not one square inch is off-limits to the most harmful aspects of naval testing and training activities,” said Zak Smith, staff attorney for NRDC. “We are asking for common-sense measures to protect the critical wildlife that lives within the training range from exposure to life-threatening effects of sonar. Biologically rich areas like the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary should be protected.”

The Navy’s mid-frequency sonar has been implicated in mass strandings of marine mammals in, among other places, the Bahamas, Greece, the Canary Islands and Spain. In 2004, during war games near Hawaii, the Navy’s sonar was implicated in a mass beaching of up to 200 melon-headed whales in Hanalei Bay. In 2003, the USS Shoup,operating in Washington’s Haro Strait, exposed a group of endangered southern resident killer whales to mid-frequency sonar, causing the animals to stop feeding and attempt to flee the sound.

“In 2003, NMFS learned firsthand the harmful impacts of Navy sonar in Washington waters when active sonar blasts distressed members of J pod, one of our resident pods of endangered orcas,” said Kyle Loring, staff attorney for Friends of the San Juans. “Given this history, it is particularly distressing that NMFS approved the Navy’s use of deafening noises in areas where whales and dolphins use their acute hearing to feed, navigate, and raise their young, even in designated sanctuaries and marine reserves.”

“Whales and other marine mammals don’t stand a chance against the Navy,” Blasting sonar nearly as loud as explosives into the marine environment can disturb and injure whales.” said Miyoko Sakashita, oceans director at the Center for Biological Diversity.

The Navy’s mitigation plan for sonar use relies primarily on visual detection of whales or other marine mammals by so-called “ watch-standers”  with binoculars on the decks of ships. If mammals are seen in the vicinity of an exercise, the Navy is to cease sonar use.

“Visual detection can miss anywhere from 25 percent to 95 percent of the marine mammals in an area,” said Heather Trim, director of policy for People for Puget Sound. “It’s particularly unreliable in rough seas or in bad weather. We learn more every day about where whales and other mammals are most likely to be found — we want NMFS to put that knowledge to use to ensure that the Navy’s training avoids those areas when marine mammals are most likely there.”

The litigation is not intended to halt the Navy’s exercises, but asks the Court to require the Fisheries Service to reassess the permits using the latest science and to order the Navy to stay out of biologically critical areas at least at certain times of the year.

Marcie Keever of Friends of the Earth said: “It has become increasingly clear from recent research that the endangered Southern Resident killer whale community uses coastal waters within the Navy’s training range to find salmon during the fall and winter months. NMFS has failed in its duty to assure that the Navy is not pushing the whales closer to extinction.”

Earthjustice is a nonprofit public interest law firm dedicated to protecting the magnificent places, natural resources, and wildlife of this earth, and to defending the right of all people to a healthy environment.

The InterTribal Sinkyone Wilderness Council is comprised of ten federally recognized Northern California Indian Tribes with ancient and enduring subsistence and cultural ties to the Sinkyone Coast, an area that will be affected by the Navy’s expanded training activities.

NRDC is an international nonprofit environmental organization with more than 1.3 million members and online activists. Since 1970, NRDC has worked to protect the world’s natural resources, public health, and the environment.

People for Puget Sound is a regional nonprofit with a 20-year history of using science and engaging citizens to safeguard and improve the health of Puget Sound and the Northwest Straits.

Founded in 1979, Friends of the San Juans pursues its mission to protect the land, water, sea, and livability of the San Juan Islands through science, education, stewardship, and advocacy.

Friends of the Earth fights to defend the environment and create a more healthy and just world. Our campaigns focus on promoting clean energy and solutions to climate change, keeping toxic and risky technologies out of the food we eat and products we use, and protecting marine ecosystems and the people who live and work near them.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit organization with more than 320,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

[Image source.]

  1. Dan
    January 26, 2012 at 10:35 am

    I wonder, did MLPA weigh-in?
    Heck, it is the Marine Life Protection Act.

    Or is it?

  2. Anonymous
    January 26, 2012 at 10:45 am

    Those marine mammals are in our way. How can their continued comfort be considered in light of the threats perceived by the American people? There will always be sea creatures, they don’t need to be the smart ones.

  3. Anonymous
    January 26, 2012 at 11:47 am

    Another example of why our betters don’t want a middle class.

    When average people get educated AND have resources ((gambling revenues) they begin acting in their own interests.

  4. Anonymous
    January 26, 2012 at 1:24 pm

    Some projects like sonar training or wind farms on Bear River Ridge look good at first glance. Then you start to see the hidden costs like dead marine mammals (sonar) and huge disruption to unstable lands and roads (wind farm). It’s like so many dams that were built with no consideration of the huge fish runs that were lost. Those fish runs were ‘protein pumps’ that brought huge amounts of nutrients from the sea to the land. Now the land is being slowly impoverished, the species that depended on the fish now at greatly reduced numbers. It is unlikely that we’ll suddenly start to look BEFORE we leap but one can always hope.

  5. High Finance
    January 26, 2012 at 3:53 pm

    Yeah, because who needs the Navy to train ?

  6. Anonymous
    January 26, 2012 at 4:38 pm

    Some projects like sonar training and the town of Ferndale look good at a glance. Then you start to see the hidden costs like destruction of a flood plain and habitat. Those wet lands were nutrient pumps before the pollution and habitat destruction brought on by people and cows.

  7. Eric Kirk
    January 26, 2012 at 4:46 pm

    Those marine mammals are in our way. How can their continued comfort be considered in light of the threats perceived by the American people? There will always be sea creatures, they don’t need to be the smart ones.

    Reminds me of Michael Moore talking about the Eagles killed by the Exxon Valdiz spill:

    Exxon executive (refusing Moore’s charitable donation): We are very sorry for the loss of the eagles.

    Moore: You know what I say to that? I say, what were those eagles doing in the water? They should have been up flying in the air!

  8. High Finance
    January 26, 2012 at 5:30 pm

    What are the “hidden costs” to having our armed forces untrained and unprepared ?

  9. jr
    January 26, 2012 at 6:37 pm

    More information on this issue can be found at http://www.noyonews.net

  10. Anonymous
    January 26, 2012 at 10:18 pm

    Anonymous is Dan, rant rant, you make environmentalists look like wacko’s. Do us a favor, keep your rant on the Manila listserves so we can block you.

  11. any
    January 26, 2012 at 10:37 pm

    yeah hiFi, the commies are out there in submarines.
    Greed and paranoia cost us. hidden and blatant.

  12. Decline To State
    January 27, 2012 at 6:50 am

    If all is expendable for the sake of training for our military, Hi-Fi, I would suggest that for preparedness’s sake we should take it to the next obvious level and they should be training on actual people! By your logic no sacrifice should be too great for a “prepared and well-trained” military (let’s avoid those “hidden costs” by all means).

    To help facilitate this “Hi-Fi Plan” I have created a list of names of a few people I’d like to suggest as targets for that training….

  13. Dan
    January 27, 2012 at 6:57 am

    “Anonymous is Dan” 10:18

    Ah, tree-kill-coward, I do not
    use anonymous as a pen-name.
    Also, if I call-out someone’s name,
    I’ll certainly use my name. Did you have something of substance?
    OR just another troll?
    If you are from Manila, too out of shape to walk the dunes and
    see the incredible damage, too dumb to understand where
    this leads, what have you? What is your purpose, beyond
    tree-killing? Coward, is it money?

  14. all right here and now
    January 27, 2012 at 7:23 am

    High Finance says:
    January 26, 2012 at 5:30 pm

    “What are the “hidden costs” to having our armed forces untrained and unprepared ?”

    Um…Let me see…We might be less likey to engage in warefare?
    We could balance our budget and have money for things like education, health care and clean energy development?

  15. Anonymous
    January 27, 2012 at 7:31 am

    Silly, silly. All you folks should get off your employers computers and go back to work.None of you has done anything constructive in your whole lives and just whine like little girls.

  16. Anonymous
    January 27, 2012 at 9:08 am

    I hope the navy loses and then some.

  17. walt
    January 27, 2012 at 1:41 pm

    If we don’t sic the Navy on the whales, there will be chaos, there will be genocide, and they will follow us home.

  18. peoplejustmakestuffup
    January 27, 2012 at 3:25 pm

    if you read about the lawsuit closely you will see that it does not seek to end all navy training, it seeks to limit the time and place so that the training does not hurt the whales. really not that much to ask. ok, now return to saying that this lawsuit is about ending the training capabilities of the u.s. navy.

  19. jr
    January 27, 2012 at 4:22 pm

    Walt: Who will follow up home? The Navy or the whales?

  20. A-nony-mouse
    January 27, 2012 at 4:42 pm

    Maybe a sailor with his whale?

  21. jr
    January 27, 2012 at 5:00 pm

    Call me Ishmael.

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