Mutual ‘love for the sea’ can’t bridge rift over
Navy’s use of sonar around marine mammals
By PATRICIA KIME, Seapower Correspondent
In Rear Adm. Lawrence Rice’s ideal world, there would
be no sides in the debate between mid-frequency
sonar use and protecting marine mammals.
“One of the greatest things about being a carrier
[commanding officer] is seeing all the marine life out
there. To think we’re out there trying to kill everything
in our second home just isn’t true,” said Rice, the
director of the Navy’s environmental readiness division
and former commander of the carrier USS Enterprise.
The environmental groups suing the Navy over sonar
training off the California coast express similar sentiments.
“The people in the environmental community have
a deep respect for what the Navy does, and I know people in the Navy have a profound love for the sea,” said
Michael Jasny, a senior policy analyst for the National
Resources Defense Council.
But while both parties seem to agree on a need to
balance naval readiness with marine mammal protection, polemic discussions over what constitutes the
right levels of care and preparedness, as well as debate
about the scientific evidence — or lack thereof — of
the technology’s effects on whales, dolphins and other
sea creatures, are not likely to be resolved soon.
Currently, four lawsuits are wending through the U.S.
courts regarding sonar use, including one by the
National Resources Defense Council
and others over sonar use in the
populated whale migration routes
off Southern California.
At issue is an injunction placed
by a district court judge earlier this
year requiring the Navy to observe
certain training practices beyond
current mitigation measures.
U.S. District Court Judge
Florence-Marie Cooper ruled Jan.
3 that the Navy must shut down
sonar in its Southern California
exercise area if whales or dolphins
are spotted within 2,000 meters of
its source, unless the exercise is at a critical point. The
injunction also barred the use of sonar within 12 nautical miles of shore and expressly prohibited it in the
Catalina basin, an area between Santa Catalina Island
and San Clemente Island that provides rich foraging
for animals such as blue and grey whales and is considered a prime anti-submarine warfare training ground
by the Navy for its unique undersea terrain.
Facing a series of exercises it considered critical for
predeployment of the USS Abraham Lincoln Strike
Group, the Navy asked the Bush administration to
intervene, and, on Jan. 15, the president signed a waiver exempting the service from parts of the Coastal
Zone Management Act, allowing it to conduct exercises under its regular training conditions.
But in February, Cooper rejected the waiver,
expressing concerns about the constitutionality of
such an exemption. And the 9th Circuit Court of
Appeals upheld Cooper’s ruling, and the injunction as
well, prompting the Navy to file an appeal with the
U.S. Supreme Court.
As the high court decides whether to hear the case,
environmental groups call the injunction a fair compromise and say the circuit court’s decision was a win
for all who care about the sea.
The U.S. Navy and the environmentalists suing it over the use of
mid-frequency sonar and its effect on marine life agree that they
must balance naval readiness with marine mammal protection.
■ Division is over what constitutes the right levels of care and
preparedness, as well scientific evidence.
■ The Navy has spent $17 million to $20 million in each of the
last five years annually to research sonar’s effects.