The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in San Francisco just ruled unanimously that the Navy misbehaved with its sonar, and at levels that could hurt and interrupt the feeding and mating of whales, seals, dolphins and walruses. Oops.
This ruling reverses a 2012 lower court decision that let the Navy use low-frequency sonar for training and testing in the Pacific, Atlantic and Indian Oceans and the Mediterranean Sea, reports maritime news industry website gCaptain.
Here’s how The Verge explains the problem as it affects marine animals:
The Navy uses LFA to detect quiet foreign submarines. The sonar involves the use of 18 speakers lowered hundreds of feet below the surface. It produces low-frequency sound pulses of about 215 decibels (dB), in sequences that last about 60 seconds. That can interfere over hundreds of miles with some marine mammals like whales, dolphins, and walruses that rely on underwater sound for navigating, catching prey, and communicating.
LFA sonar can harm the animals by interrupting mating, stopping communication, causing them to separate from calves, and inflicting stress. Sounds above 180 dB can disrupt the animals’ hearing and cause physical injury. In 2005, 34 whales became stranded and died off in North Carolina because of nearby offshore Navy sonar training, according to Scientific American.
Previously, the National Marine Fisheries Services required the Navy to tone down the sonar levels in places that we knew marine mammals liked to hang out or if one was close to the ship. It didn’t say anything about restricting sonar usage in places where mammal presence was uncertain, however.
So the Natural Resources Defense Council called them out in a 2012 lawsuit in San Francisco, saying that the NMFS failed to “meet a section of the Marine Mammal Protection Act requiring peacetime oceanic programs to have “the least practicable adverse impact on marine mammals.” Basically, don’t fuck with them.
The federal court agreed, and concluded that the NMFS was basically acting like a filthy hypocrite that “did not give adequate protection to areas of the world’s oceans flagged by its own experts as biologically important.”
I’m happy to see that somebody is sticking up for the whales.