Groups Sue to Stop Navy From Using Sonar
HONOLULU Environmental groups sued the federal government Wednesday to prevent the Navy from using active sonar during drills off Hawaii next month, saying the sound could harm whales and other marine mammals.
The Natural Resources Defense Council asked a federal court in Los Angeles to issue a temporary restraining order unless the Navy takes "effective measures" to protect marine life when it uses high-intensity, mid-frequency active sonar to hunt submarines in the drills.
"The military can train but it has to do so consistent with the law and the law requires protection of the marine environment," said Joel Reynolds, senior attorney for the council.
Navy lawyers haven't seen the lawsuit and couldn't comment. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration declined to comment, but said the agency was confident the Navy would protect dolphins and whales.
NOAA on Tuesday granted the Navy a permit to use sonar during war games involving more than 40 ships in Hawaii waters. The exercises are scheduled to start next week and last through late July.
The permit comes after NOAA said in April that Navy use of sonar during maritime exercises off Hawaii in 2004 may have contributed to the mass stranding of more than 150 whales. The report, however, did not say definitively that the sonar caused the whales to gather in the bay.
The Navy agreed to several measures to limit the impact its sonar might have on whales and dolphins, including not using active sonar in coastal waters -- except in channels between some of the islands -- and lowering the sonar's power when marine mammals are nearby.
The environmental groups say these steps don't go far enough. Reynolds said the Navy should put greater distance between its sonar-emitting ships and marine mammals, and use more observers to watch out for whales and dolphins.
The Pacific Fleet has made anti-submarine warfare a top priority as more countries, including North Korea, Iran, and China, have been acquiring quiet diesel-electric submarines that are increasingly difficult to track.
The International Fund for Animal Welfare, Cetacean Society International and Ocean Futures Society also joined in the lawsuit.
Source: Associated Press