The National Marine Fisheries Service has eight months to issue a new plan to protect thousands of whales, dolphins, porpoises, seals and sea lions from ocean noise and other threats generated by U.S. Navy warfare training exercises in waters ranging from Northern California to Canada.
The ruling by Magistrate Judge Nandor Vadas of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California today set a deadline of August 1, 2014, for the agency to ensure that the Navy’s training activities comply with the Endangered Species Act. Today’s decision stems from a September 2013 court ruling finding the Fisheries Service at fault for green-lighting Navy training based on incomplete and outdated science.
“This ruling will require the National Marine Fisheries Service to issue a responsible new plan based on the most up-to-date, sound science for ocean noise,” said Rep. Mike Thompson, D-CA. “It is the right decision. The Navy should train in a way that respects local communities, natural resources and our environment.”
“These training exercises harm Southern Resident killer whales, blue whales, humpback whales, dolphins, and porpoises — through the use of high-intensity mid-frequency sonar,” said Steve Mashuda, an Earthjustice attorney representing a coalition of Northern California tribes and environmental groups. “The Fisheries Service must now employ the best science and require the Navy to protect whales and dolphins in its ongoing training exercises.”
The Navy uses a vast area of the West Coast, stretching from Northern California to the Canadian border, for training. Not one square inch of this area — the size of Montana — has been set aside for marine mammals or is off limits to high-intensity sonar. Activities occurring there include anti-submarine warfare exercises involving tracking aircraft and sonar; surface-to-air gunnery and missile exercises; air-to-surface bombing exercises; and extensive testing for several new weapons systems.
Hawk Rosales — executive director of the InterTribal Sinkyone Wilderness Council — said, “Marine mammals will now stand a better chance of being protected from the Navy’s war testing and training off our coastline.”
“It is outrageous that the agency tasked with protecting marine mammals allowed the Navy to harm them,” said Zak Smith, staff attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council. “The Fisheries Service shouldn’t rubber-stamp the Navy’s permits to test and train in biologically significant habitat. More must be asked of the Navy to take commonsense steps to prevent harm and injury to these animals.” More....