For years the US Navy denied that sonar had any part in the increase of whale and dolphin stranding worldwide, even as evidence mounted to pinpoint the use of mid and low frequency sonar as the culprit. To any marine mammal that uses eco-location to find prey—sonar is the loudest, most destructive, disorienting unnatural sound in the sea.
In past years the Navy has ignored court orders to consider the safety of marine life while undergoing their training sessions throughout the Northwest coastal waters, which forced lawsuits from environmental and marine conservation groups.
In September, Earthjustice was successful in getting a protective ruling from Magistrate Judge Nandor Vadas from the District of Northern California. The ruling found that National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) had approved Naval training activities without using best available science to assess the danger to whales, dolphins and other marine mammals in compliance with the Endangered Species Act.
“This is a victory for dozens of protected species of marine mammals, including critically endangered Southern Resident orcas, blue whales, humpback whales, dolphins and porpoises,” said Steve Mashuda, an Earthjustice attorney representing a coalition of conservation and Northern California Indian Tribes. “NMFS must now employ the best science and require the Navy to take reasonable and effective actions to avoid and minimize harm from its training activities.”
According to the Earthjustice statement:
“The court also rejected the agency’s decision to limit its review to only a five-year period when the Navy has been clear that its training activities will continue indefinitely. The court held that NMFS’s limited review ‘ignores the realities of the Navy’s acknowledged long-term, ongoing activities in the [Northwest Training Range],’ because ‘a series of short-term analyses can mask the long-term impact of an agency action [and the] segmented analysis is inadequate to address long-term effects of the Navy’s acknowledged continuing activities in the area.’”
A recent report in The Guardian reveals that Beaked whales, one of the largest animals on Earth, have been the most common casualty of sonar-caused stranding. It is believed to be the reason why their population has declined by 95 percent since 1950, which causes them to flee from the excruciating impact of sonar and abandon their feeding grounds.
"For whales and dolphins, listening is as important as seeing is for humans – they communicate, locate food and navigate using sound," said Sarah Dolman, at charity Whale and Dolphin Conservation. "Noise pollution threatens vulnerable populations, driving them away from areas important to their survival and at worst injuring or even causing the deaths of some whales and dolphins."
Thanks to legal efforts by conservationists, the US Navy will have to conduct their training in waters away from areas occupied with defenseless marine creatures that would be subjected to the assault of sonar. Planned activities included underwater detonations and gunnery exercises that could have caused hearing loss, brain hemorrhages, tissue damage, lung injuries, decompression sickness and possible death of marine mammals.
Environmentalists understand the ocean is the natural home of aquatic and marine life. Humans are only visitors and they should be restrained from harmful activities on a wholly international level. The work to protect all species of whales and dolphins, which are intelligent and social beings, on a global scale is never-ending.
Carl Sagan said it best in this observation:
The lesson is not about whales and dolphins, but about ourselves. There is at least moderately convincing evidence that there is another class of intelligent beings on Earth beside ourselves. They have behaved benignly and in many cases affectionately toward us. We have systematically slaughtered them. Little reverence for life is evident in the whaling industry - underscoring a deep human failing...In warfare, man against man, it is common for each side to dehumanize the other so that there will be none of the natural misgivings that a human being has at slaughtering another...