U.S. Supreme Court Ponders How to Save Mammals and Protect Americans

mammals are hurt by sonars used by the NavyBy Mary Montserrat-Howlett

WASHINGTON,DC(RUSHPRNEWS)10/10/2008-With noises as loud as rocket blasts, the use of US Navy high-intensity sonar is resulting in the increasing number of whale deaths and impairments around ocean spaces all over the world.  The U.S. Supreme Court rendered an ambiguous verdict in a case brought by the Natural Resources Defense Council, (NRDC) against the Navy this past Wednesday, October 8th.

One of the nations’ most powerful environmental groups, the NRDC, has been following this case for over eight years and has so far won six injunctions in the Supreme Court, waiting till June to hear a final verdict on federal environmental laws governing the Navy’s use of high-intensity sonar.

So far, the NRDC has been successful in pushing for stricter control of two major types of military sonar, the widely used mid-frequency sonar and long-range low-frequency sonar, but the true victims are still whales (watch a video about NRDC (http://www.nrdc.org/wildlife/marine/sonar.asp)

Efforts to try and come to agreements with the Navy in the past have been made with serious resistance from the Bush administration. NRDC contact Jessica Lass told RushPRnews during a phone interview, “The navy tends to act as if they shouldn’t be held accountable for any of this. The fact is they are.”

In 2005, an NRDC-led coalition sued the Navy in U.S. federal court after years of attempts at constructive dialogue. They couldn’t even convince the Navy to take common-sense precautions during peacetime training with mid-frequency sonar. These active sonar systems, that are extremely detrimental to whales, produce intense waves of sound that can cause bleeding around the brain, ears and other tissues.

Evidence of sonar’s dangers surfaced in 2000. Four different species of whales had stranded themselves on beaches in the Bahamas after a U.S. Navy battle group used mid-frequency sonar in the area. Although the Navy initially denied responsibility, the governments’ investigation established that sonar was what caused the strandings. After the incident, the area’s population of Cuvier’s Beaked Whales nearly disappeared, leading researchers to conclude that they either abandoned their habitat or died at sea.

In recent court hearings, the Navy has in fact acknowledged that sonar can be deadly to marine mammals, and that the exercises at issue would “take” an estimated 170,000 marine mammals, including causing permanent injury to more than 500 whales and temporary deafness to at least 8,000 whales (see court documents http://docs.nrdc.org/water/wat_08100801A.pdf)

Though the consequences of Navy testing are grave, director of the International Fund for Animal Welfare, Jeffrey Flocken says, “This case is about achieving environmental protection while maintaining our important national security standards. It does not need to be an either/or scenario when it comes to ensuring our waters are protected and our marine wildlife is healthy.”  A position that merits the U.S. Supreme Court’s support.

The U.S. Navy did not return repeated RushPRnews’ requests for an interview.

photos:top -National Geographic Society. Bottom – NRDC.

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