Navy, NRCA settle conflict over sonar use
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, July/August 2006:
LOS ANGELES–The U.S. Navy and the Natural Resources Defense
Council on July 11, 2006 announced an out-of-court settlement of
cross-filed lawsuits over the use of high intensity mid-frequency
sonar during the “Rim of the Pacific 2006” war games.
“The settlement prevents the Navy from using the sonar within
25 miles of the Hawaiian Islands Marine National Monument and
imposes a variety of monitoring methods to watch out for and report
the presence of marine mammals,” said Associated Press writer Eric
Involving 35 ships from eight nations, RIMPAC 2006 during
the latter half of July tested the ability of U.S. anti-submarine
defenses to detect ultra-quiet diesel/electric submarines belonging
to Australia, Japan, and South Korea, whose technology is believed
to be similar to that of China, Iran, and North Korea.
Similar exercises were followed by mass whale strandings in
the Bahamas in 2000 and a near mass stranding in Hanalei Bay in 2004,
that was averted with the loss of only one whale.
The legal maneuvers over the sonar use may have been as
frantic and intricate as the war games, beginning on June 27, when
the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration for the first time
explicitly authorized the use of high intensity sonar. The Natural
Resources Defense Council, International Fund for Animal Welfare,
Cetacean Society International, and Ocean Futures applied the next
day for a restraining order, issued by U.S. District Judge
Florence-Marie Cooper on July 3.
In the interim, the Defense Department invoked authority
recently given to it by an Act of Congress to issue the Navy an
exemption from having to obey provisions of the Marine Mammal
Protection Act which might have interfered with the war games.
While the RIMPAC 2006 permitting process played out, Public
Employees for Environmental Responsibility charged that underwater
demolition exercises conducted in Puget Sound are significantly
damaging fish stocks.
In May 2006 the National Marine Fisheries Service warned
about the possible consequences of establishing a proposed
660-square-mile Navy sonar practice range off North Carolina.
“If they are doing acoustic exercises on a routine basis, I
think it’s possible that fish will avoid that area,” Town Creek
Marina marine biologist and operations manager Steve Tulevech told
Raleigh News & Observer staff writer Wade Rawlins. “It could wipe
out the recreational and commercial fishing,” Tulevech said.
“North Carolina’s commercial fishing harvest of 79 million
pounds in 2005 was the lowest on record,” Rawlins added.
North Carolinia Department of Environment and Natural
Resources secretary William G. Ross Jr. told Rawlins that the Navy
should take a much “broader, harder look” at the environmental
consequences of the sonar range, noting that the Navy’s environmental
study lacked “analysis of impacts on marine life, seabirds and other