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A "Silent" Victory for Whales

PHOTO: A Northern California federal judge has ruled the National Marine Fisheries Service failed to protect marine mammals when it approved the Navy's use of sonar along the California coast. Photo credit: NMFS
PHOTO: A Northern California federal judge has ruled the National Marine Fisheries Service failed to protect marine mammals when it approved the Navy's use of sonar along the California coast. Photo credit: NMFS
September 27, 2013

Thousands of whales, dolphins and other sea mammals are getting a "silent" victory. A federal judge has ruled that the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) failed to protect the marine mammals from the Navy's use of sonar during training exercises along the California coast.

Hawk Rosales is the executive director of the InterTribal Sinkyone Wilderness Council, which represents 10 tribes in the Mendocino area. He said the current permits allow the Navy to conduct training exercises that can harm marine mammals and disrupt their migration, breeding or feeding.

"Science tells us that they are being impacted," Rosales said, "and studies show that there have been many casualties for our marine mammals because of the sonar."

The judge found that the agency failed to use the best available science to assess the effects of sonar on whales and other marine mammals. The federal agency must now reassess its permits to ensure the Navy's training activities comply with the Endangered Species Act.

Protecting sea mammals protects tribal culture, Rosales said.

"Tribal culture recognizes those kinds of creatures as being extremely important historically and spiritually and in many, many ways to tribal peoples," Rosales explained.

Steve Mashuda is an Earthjustice attorney representing the coalition of conservation and Northern California Indian Tribes.

"What we've been advocating for the agency to do is to take this new information it has, about the extent of the harm and where these whales are at certain times of the year, and to put in place some time-and-place restrictions on training exercises within certain areas," Mashuda said.

The coalition did not ask the court to halt the Navy's exercises in this training range, but to require the agency to reassess the permits using the latest science, and to order the Navy to stay out of biologically critical areas - at least at certain times of the year.


Lori Abbott, Public News Service - CA