Conservationists and American Indian groups filed a lawsuit Thursday against the National Marine Fisheries Services (NMFS) alleging the group has failed to protect thousands of whales, dolphins, seals, porpoises and sea lions fromU.S. Navywarfare training exercises.
The Navy routinely does sonar testing along the coasts of Washington, Oregon and California. The noise various testing exercises emit is believed to cause disruptive behavior among whales, dolphins and other species as the sounds distract marine mammals’ ability to navigate and communicate.
A large swath of the West Coast is used by the Navy for training activities that include anti-submarine warfare exercises involving tracking aircraft and sonar, surface-to-air gunnery and missile exercises, air-to-surface bombing exercises, sink exercises and new weapons systems testing.
“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,” said Marcie Keever of Friends of the Earth. “NMFS has failed in its duty to assure that the Navy is not pushing the whales closer to extinction.”
In a video that was filmed in May 2003 by the Center for Whale Research, one can hear the Navy conducting sonic testing and the resulting flight of orcas and dolphins near the San Juan Islands.
Earthjustice is working on behalf of the conservationists and American Indian groups to get NMFS to enforce protections and work with the Navy to conduct its testing in areas that will not be harmful to marine mammals.
“These training exercises will harm dozens of protected species of marine mammals through the use of high-intensity mid-frequency sonar,” Steve Mashuda, an Earthjustice attorney, said in a statement.
The frequency range used by the Navy is believed to have caused mass strandings or beachings of marine mammals in Hawaii, the Bahamas, Greece, Canary Islands and Spain.
“The Fisheries Service fell down on the job and failed to require the Navy to take reasonable and effective actions to protect them,” Mashuda added.
The litigation is not intended to put a stop to the Navy’s training exercises, but seeks to have the court require NMFS to re-examine the permits issued to the Navy and provide the Navy with information on how to avoid biologically critical areas.
“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,” said Heather Trim, director of Policy for People for Puget Sound."
Lawsuit filed for failing to protect whales, dolphins, seals, more