Washington – After facing different lawsuits, the US Navy finally agreed to limit its use of sonar training devices that harm whales, dolphins and many other marine creatures. The areas were creatures are at most risk are off the coast of Hawaii and Southern California.

The new regulation establishes that long-sought protections for sea animals will finally be accomplished. With the agreement, mid-frequency active sonar devices and explosives in the areas mentioned before will be completely banned.

For instance, the waters along San Diego are relevant feeding areas for blue whales. The rare beaked whales, on the other hand, travel through the waters between San Nicolas and Santa Catalina Islands.

Sonar Technician during watch. Credit: Navy visual news service/United States Navy (Wikipedia)

The decision has been celebrated by numerous conservationist groups and advocates, who have opposed to the actions of the Navy and the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), the federal agency responsible for protecting marine creatures, since a long time.

“This settlement proves what we’ve been saying all along. The Navy can meet its training and testing needs and, at the same time, provide significant protections to whales and dolphins by limiting the use of sonar and explosives in vital habitat,” Marsha Green, president of Ocean Mammal Institute, said in a statement.

This sonar technology discharges explosions that deafen whales and dolphins at close range and disturbs feeding and breeding patterns at longer distances. It also upsets communication among marine animals.

Haro Strait porpoise with blood in its ears in 2003. Credit: Sandra Dubpernell/The Washington Post

“If a whale or dolphin can’t hear, it can’t survive. We challenged the Navy’s plan because it would have unnecessarily harmed whales, dolphins, and endangered marine mammals, with the Navy itself estimating that more than 2,000 animals would be killed or permanently injured. By agreeing to this settlement, the Navy acknowledges that it doesn’t need to train in every square inch of the ocean and that it can take reasonable steps to reduce the deadly toll of its activities,” David Henkin, attorney for the national legal organization Earthjustice, said in a press release.

The deal represents real and great progress, as there is a solid commitment by the Navy to the most meaningful protective measures that NRDC and others, supported by the marine science community, have been looking for. It is an important breakthrough in the Navy’s relationship to the oceans.

Previous Attempts

Since 1994, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), has issued a series of federal lawsuits to call the Navy to adopt, and the NMFS to require, safeguards for the protection of marine life from avoidable damage. “In none of these cases has a choice been required between training or not, between military readiness or not; in every case the choice presented has been training recklessly – in violation of federal law – or training in an environmentally responsible way,” according to the Huffington Post.

Source: US Navy