NRDC Challenges Navy's Plan to Utilize Dangerous Sonar in More Than 70% of World's Oceans

Blue Whale (Photo by NOAA)

Today, NRDC sued the U.S. Navy and the government agency charged with protecting marine mammals from the Navy’s harmful use of sonar.  Both the Navy and the National Marine Fisheries Service (“NMFS”) have a responsibility to manage, conserve, and protect living marine resources, like whales and dolphins, particularly those protected by the Endangered Species Act.  Unfortunately, the Navy and NMFS failed to meet their obligation to protect whales and other marine life from the harmful impacts of low-frequency active sonar (“LFA”), when they authorized the deployment of LFA in 70-75 % of the World’s Oceans without instituting adequate protective measures.

Sperm Whale (Photo by NOAA)

As we noted when filing our case, the deployment of LFA will harm thousands of marine mammals, including significant numbers of endangered species such as blue whales, humpback whales, sperm whales (all shown in photos here), and other species whose numbers are depleted.  Impacts from LFA will occur hundreds of miles from the source of the technology.  Indeed, during one test of the LFA system, the Navy calculated LFA sound waves at a level known to disturb gray whales more than 300 miles from the source (the distance between Boston, MA and Philadelphia, PA).  And, while the use of this technology for the past ten years has been limited to discrete portions of the northern Pacific Ocean, the Navy is now authorized to introduce use of the LFA system to all of the world’s oceans other than Antarctica’s Southern Ocean and the Arctic Ocean.

Humpback Whale (Photo by NOAA)

Because a single LFA source is capable of flooding thousands of square miles of ocean with intense levels of sound, the Navy and NMFS should have restricted the activity in areas around the globe of biological importance to whales and dolphins.  Instead, they adopted measures that are grossly disproportionate to the scope of the plan – setting aside a mere twenty-two “Offshore Biologically Important Areas” that are literally a drop in the bucket when compared to the more than 98 million square miles of ocean (yes, that’s 50% of the surface of the planet) open to LFA deployment.  The apparent belief that there are fewer than two dozen small areas throughout the world’s oceans that warrant protection from this technology is not based in reality.

Make no mistake, high-intensity sounds can kill, injure, and disturb marine mammals.  The Navy and NMFS accept this fact.  It has definitively caused or been associated with multiple mass stranding events of whales and other marine mammals around the world.

Our suit, which we bring with other concerned organizations, asks the Court to send the Navy and NMFS back to the drawing board, with instructions to get it right – do your duty under the law, do more to protect marine mammals.

I look forward to keeping you updated on our challenge in the months ahead.

About the Authors

Zak Smith

Senior Attorney, Marine Mammal Protection Project, Land & Wildlife Program

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