Skip to comments.Navy's use of sonar halted, to spare whales
Posted on 11/01/2002 4:37:34 AM PST by Pern
A federal judge yesterday prohibited the U.S. Navy from combing the world's oceans with a powerful new sonar, ruling the booming sounds meant to detect enemy submarines could cause irreparable harm to whales.
The temporary injunction bans a type of low-frequency sonar that has not been conclusively linked to marine-mammal deaths.
Although the ruling could allow the Navy to resume using the sonar in some places, U.S. Magistrate Judge Elizabeth LaPorte imposed a worldwide ban until Navy brass and environmental experts can agree on a list of spots where sailors can deploy the sonar without harming marine life.
In her 58-page opinion, the judge, who is based in San Francisco, said the Navy may use the sonar to detect enemy submarines during wartime and must be allowed to train with it beforehand.
She gave the Navy and environmental groups that filed the lawsuit until Nov. 7 to report back to her with an interim solution.
The Navy and federal marine-fisheries officials declined comment.
But environmental groups were elated. They had sued to overturn the Bush administration's decision in July that gave the Navy permission to "harass" or injure whales in training missions using the sonar designed to search for super-quiet diesel submarines.
"There was no justification for giving the Navy a blank check to operate this sonar in 75 percent of the world's oceans," said Joel Reynolds, an attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council.
Yesterday's ruling is the most recent legal victory for environmental groups trying to rein in powerful sonar and other loud sounds that science is increasingly linking to deaths and injuries of marine mammals.
The Bush administration is pushing to exempt military activities from a variety of environmental constraints. In September, a federal judge rejected arguments that sonar use in the deep ocean was exempt from the National Environmental Policy Act.
In early 2000, 16 beaked whales beached themselves in the Bahamas in a mass-stranding that the Navy and other authorities have linked to bursts of midfrequency sonar. A similar die-off of whales occurred in September in the Canary Islands after naval operations by warships from the United States and about 12 NATO allies.
"From a scientific point of view, there is very little question that, given the right set of circumstances, active sonar can kill marine life," said Naomi Rose, a marine-mammal scientist with the U.S. Humane Society.
Yet military officials point out that naval operations in the Bahamas and Canary Islands were not using the new Surveillance Towed Array Sonar System banned yesterday. That system broadcasts low-frequency sonic waves through 18 speakers dangled behind a ship on cables hundreds of feet long.
Such active sonar emits 215-decibel bursts of low-frequency waves that can "light up" enemy submarines with acoustics, much the way a floodlight can light up an intruder in a darkened back yard. These intense waves travel 300 miles through the ocean before dissipating. As such, they are much more effective at detecting submarines than passive listening devices.
Environmentalists say that frequency of the sonic waves matters less than intensity and that the new low-frequency system spreads intensely loud sound farther than any other sonar.
The National Marine Fisheries Service decided in July that the sonar would have "negligible impact" on any marine species so long as it operated at least 12 miles from shore and was shut down if sailors detected any whales.
Environmentalists sued, saying the federal government violated federal laws designed to protect whales and endangered species.
Yesterday, LaPorte wrote that environmentalists were likely to win their lawsuit: "It is undisputed that marine mammals ... will at a minimum be harassed by the extremely loud and far traveling (low-frequency) sonar."
The judge said she intends to modify her injunction to balance the public interest in "the survival and flourishing of marine mammals and endangered species" with "ensuring military preparedness and safety of those serving in the military from attacks by hostile submarines."
To achieve that balance, she ordered the Navy to meet with environmentalists and work out specific places acceptable to both sides.
The lawsuit focuses only on peacetime training and testing of the sonar, the judge noted.
Yes there is, to save sailors lives. Sailors that risk their lives every day so whiney liberals like this are free to persue their latest crusade.
In other words, specific places that can become safe havens for whatever submarines a potential enemy might like to deploy against us.
Wonderful. (sarcasm off)
Suddenly Hillary popped into my head. Wonder where that came from?
A whale in a black pantsuit pathetically beached on the sand...so sad.
Except for the fact that the enemy does not respect stupid judge's decisions - and will choose those areas to operate much like the North Korean mIGs dashed across the Yalu river which UN pilots were forbidden to cross.
If ever one, just one of my shipmates is injured or worse due to this action, I vote this moron judge and attorney be taken to the nearest warship and keelhauled.
If it is upheld, then it is time to go back to Congress and slap the Democrats silly with this.
This ruling is akin to banning transvestites and flaming homosexuals from appearing in public and parades in San Francisco because of the grotesque and sense-shocking way they disfigure the environment.
So our enemies are supposed to allow us to schedule training beforehand?
What science is being used to prove a potential danger to marine mammals?
What jurisdiction does a US judge have over international waters?
And last, obviously her kid isn't risking his butt in the Navy.
Its only a matter of time before the entire military training system is dismantled over fairie shrimp and fuzzy mammals.
...will choose those areas to operate much like the North Korean MiGs dashed across the Yalu river which UN pilots were forbidden to cross.
That was the official policy of the USAF during the Korean War. Once it became know that these were Russian and Chinese pilots, US pilots operating on their own initiative would regularly zip across the Yalu to orbit the offending air fields. If a MiG attempted to take off, it died. This was very economical since a single F86 could negate an entire soviet fighter regiment. Veteran American pilots have been admitting to this in recent years...
I have never fully understood how a judge in a small section of the country can, by the swift act of a pen, control every other section of the country. This ruling also controls the "world's oceans."
No doubt this ruling will clearly be overturned or ignored.
In peacetime, that shouldn't be a problem although it ruins the game.