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Navy Rethinks Training that Endangers Whales, Dolphins

The U.S. Navy is rethinking its exercises that could harm marine mammals. Credit: Daniel Du Toit/ Wikimedia Commons
The U.S. Navy is rethinking its exercises that could harm marine mammals. Credit: Daniel Du Toit/ Wikimedia Commons
November 16, 2015

SAN DIEGO, Calif. - The U.S. Navy is analyzing the harm its sonar exercises do to whales, dolphins and sea turtles and may modify its training exercises accordingly.

Late last week, the Navy announced it's ordering a new environmental impact statement for training from late 2018 to 2023. The public comment period on this runs through Jan. 12, 2016.

Attorney David Henkin, staff attorney with the mid-Pacific office of environmental law firm Earthjustice, says the move comes after the Navy settled a lawsuit in September challenging the current exercises, which run for the next three years.

"The hallmark of that settlement being the Navy's concession that it can protect biologically important areas that marine mammals need for feeding and nursing, and resting, and communicating with their young," says Henkin.

The naval exercises in question take place off the coast of Southern California and near Hawaii. The Navy has now agreed to stop using mid-level sonar and powerful explosives in certain highly sensitive areas of the ocean.

However, in late October, two dolphins washed ashore near San Diego after Navy ships were using sonar in the area. The National Marine Fisheries Service is investigating.

Henkin says historically, the Navy hasn't wanted to modify its activities to protect marine mammals. So, he welcomes this change of heart.

"The optimist in me hopes that they'll get it right this time," says Henkin. "And the realist in me knows that that's only going to happen if the public applies pressure, and makes it clear that we're going to hold the Navy to account that we're going to be scrutinizing what they do and we expect them, this time, to get it right."

A public meeting on the issue is scheduled for Dec. 1 in San Diego.

Suzanne Potter, Public News Service - CA