The Navy has agreed to significantly limit its use of mid-frequency sonar and explosives during training exercises, protecting species such as Hawaiian monk seals, blue, fin, gray and beaked whales, and dolphins, in a settlement of two cases approved by a federal judge in Hawaii yesterday (Conservation Council for Hawaii v. National Marine Fisheries Service, 13-684-SOM-RLP, D. Haw.; NRDC v. NMFS, 14-153-SOM-RLP, D. Haw.).
"For the first time, the Navy has agreed to put important habitat for numerous populations off-limits to dangerous mid-frequency sonar training and testing and the use of powerful explosives," Earthjustice said in a press release:
The settlement aims to manage the siting and timing of Navy activities, taking into account areas of vital importance to marine mammals, such as reproductive areas, feeding areas, migratory corridors, and areas in which small, resident populations are concentrated.
Many of the conservation organizations who brought the lawsuits have been sparring legally with the Navy and the National Marine Fisheries Service—the agency charged with protecting marine mammals—for more than a decade, demanding that the Navy and Fisheries Service comply with key environmental laws by acknowledging that the Navy’s activities seriously harm marine mammals and taking affirmative steps to lessen that harm.
Plaintiffs included the Conservation Council of Hawaii, Natural Resources Defense Council, Center for Biological Diversity, Ocean Mammal Institute, Animal Welfare Institute, Cetacean Society International, and Animal Legal Defense Fund.
Link: Google News search (Navy sonar)
More from the press release:
Key terms of the settlement applicable to Southern California include:
- The Navy is prohibited from using mid-frequency active sonar for training and testing activities in important habitat for beaked whales between Santa Catalina Island and San Nicolas Island.
- The Navy is prohibited from using mid-frequency active sonar for training and testing activities in important habitat for blue whales feeding near San Diego.
- Navy surface vessels must use “extreme caution” and travel at a safe speed to minimize the risk of ship strikes in blue whale feeding habitat and migratory corridors for blue, fin and gray whales.
Key terms of the settlement applicable to Hawaiʻi include:
- The Navy is prohibited from using mid-frequency active sonar and explosives for training and testing activities on the eastern side of the Island of Hawaiʻi and north of Molokaʻi and Maui, protecting Hawaiian monk seals and numerous small resident populations of toothed whales including the endangered insular population of false killer whales and Cuvier’s beaked whales.
- The Navy is prohibited from exceeding a set number of major training exercises in the channel between Maui and Hawaiʻi Island and on the western side of Hawaiʻi Island, limiting the number of times local populations will be subjected to the massive use of sonar and explosives associated with major training exercises.
- Navy surface vessels must use “extreme caution” and travel at a safe speed to minimize the risk of ship strikes in humpback whale habitat.
“This is a huge victory for critically endangered species like Hawaiʻi’s insular false killer whale, which is down to only about 150 animals,” said Miyoko Sakashita, oceans director at the Center for Biological Diversity.
- Today's court document settling the two cases.
- Maps of where certain Navy activities will be limited under the settlement.
- Court Rules Navy War Games Violate Law Protecting Whales and Dolphins, March 31, 2015.
- Court Rules Navy Training in Pacific Violates Laws Meant to Protect Whales, Sea Turtles, April 1, 2015.
- Video with footage from the Center for Whale Research, demonstrating effects of navy sonar training on marine mammals (B-roll available for media use):