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NRDC Sues to Protect Whales from New Sonar Deployment
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Photo of humpback whales in a rare double breach
Feature Story
NRDC Sues to Protect Whales from New Sonar Deployment

The Obama Administration has given the Navy the green light to deploy high-intensity mid-frequency active (MFA) sonar -- linked to numerous whale deaths and mass strandings -- across hundreds of miles of biologically rich ocean habitat off the Pacific Northwest coast, an area that encompasses the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary. The move puts thousands of whales and other marine mammals, including critical populations of dozens of protected species, in imminent jeopardy. NRDC is joining Earthjustice and other conservation allies to challenge the administration's decision in federal court and stop the Navy from proceeding with this unnecessary threat to marine life.

The intense sound emitted by MFA sonar can be as loud as 2,000 jet engines, capable of causing potentially fatal disruptions in feeding, migration and other marine mammal behavior. Even so, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), charged with safeguarding the country's ocean wildlife, has rubber-stamped the Navy's request to conduct training missions using the sonar for five years, with virtually no restrictions, in waters that are home to such imperiled species as Southern Resident killer whales, blue whales and humpback whales."The Navy's training range in the Pacific Northwest is the size of California, yet NMFS hasn't even required that one square inch be put off-limits to the most harmful aspects of the sonar blasts," says Zak Smith, an attorney with NRDC's Marine Mammal Protection Project.

On a related front, the Obama Administration has authorized the Navy to deploy MFA sonar in the Gulf of Alaska, a decision that NRDC has signaled it may challenge in court. Over the past decade, we have forced the Navy to abandon or restrict its use of sonar in a variety of ecologically sensitive areas. "The Navy has a history of overreaching when it comes to these requests," says Smith. "But we also have a history of forcing them back to the drawing board."

The Navy's training range in the Pacific Northwest is the size of California, yet NMFS hasn't even required that one square inch be put off-limits to the most harmful aspects of the sonar blasts.


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