U.S. Navy agrees to cut whales a break
The Navy has agreed to limit its use of sonar and other training. The training can inadvertently harm marine mammals. Those include whales and dolphins. The agreement involves animals that live off Hawaii and California.
The Navy's agreement is with environmental groups. It includes limits or bans on mid-frequency active sonar and explosives in specified areas. Those are around the Hawaiian Islands and Southern California. The details are according to Earthjustice attorney David Henkin. But some training will continue.
Sonar at a great distance can disrupt feeding and communication of marine mammals. It can also cause deafness or death at a closer distance, Henkin said. Several dolphins died in 2011 in San Diego. They got too close to an explosives training exercise, he said.
The Navy's plans estimated it could inadvertently harm whales and dolphins. These are animals living off Hawaii and Southern California. The injuries mostly could occur from explosives. The Navy also estimated it could cause serious injuries off the East Coast. And more injuries could occur off Hawaii and Southern California.
Lt. Cmdr. Matt Knight is a spokesman for the Navy's Pacific Fleet. He said the settlement preserves key testing and training.
"The Navy has been, and will continue to be, good environmental stewards," Knight said.
Under the agreement, the Navy cannot use sonar in Southern California habitat for beaked whales. The area is between Santa Catalina Island and San Nicolas Island. Sonar also is not allowed in blue whale feeding areas. Those are near San Diego. These details of the deal are according to environmental groups.
In Hawaii, the deal prohibits sonar and explosives training on the eastern side of the Big Island. And in addition, north of Molokai and Maui. The groups said this will protect Hawaiian monk seals and small populations of toothed whales. Those include the endangered false killer whale.
The Navy also won't be able to exceed a set number of major training exercises in specific Hawaiian areas. Those include the channel between Maui and the Big Island. And it includes the western side of the Big Island.
"By establishing some safe havens," Henkin said, "... the hope is to bring down those estimated numbers of injury and death."
The agreement also says that if there are injuries or deaths, there will be a swift review. It will be carried out by the National Marine Fisheries Service. The service is approved the Navy's plans, Henkin said.
The settlement comes after Earthjustice and other environmental groups filed suit. That was in 2013. The groups challenged the fisheries service's decision to allow the training. Additional environmental groups later filed a similar lawsuit in San Francisco. The two cases were consolidated in Hawaii. This deal resolves both.
U.S. District Court Judge Susan Oki Mollway ruled in March that the fisheries service violated environmental laws. That was when it approved the Navy's plans. The Navy, she said, also failed to take a hard look at alternatives. Those include training in different areas. Or training at different times. That would avoid potentially harming dolphins, whales and other species.
After the March ruling, the Navy "faced the real possibility that the court would stop critically important training and testing," said the Pacific Fleet's Knight.
The ruling set the stage for settlement talks, Henkin said. But it didn't stop the Navy from continuing with training. It is allowed by the service's five-year permit. The permit was approved in 2013.
CRITICAL THINKING QUESTION
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