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Lawsuit Filed to Protect Marine Mammals from Harmful Sonar

January 27, 2012

A coalition of conservation and American Indian groups are challenging permits issued to the U.S. Navy to expand use of sonar in training exercises off the coasts of California, Oregon and Washington.

The sounds are so high-pitched, says Hawk Rosales, executive director of the InterTribal Sinkyone Wilderness Council, that they can harm and even kill whales and other marine life.

"We know that they're being harmed. There are substantial studies that clearly indicate for a number of years these species have suffered a whole wide range of detrimental health impacts due to sonar."

The tribes, Rosales says, depend on the marine life as a food source in their traditional lifestyle.

The National Marine Fisheries Service gave the Navy a five-year permit in 2010 to expand training in the Northwest Training Range Complex, which stretches from Mendocino County to the Canadian border.

Steve Mashuda, an Earthjustice attorney representing the groups, says the training exercises will harm dozens of protected species and marine mammals, including Southern Resident killer whales, humpback whales and dolphins.

"This is home to many, many endangered species, and there are just too many places within this vast range where these whales congregate that are really necessary for their survival."

The lawsuit claims it was wrong for the National Marine Fisheries Service to issue the permits, but isn't suggesting the Navy not train off the Northwest coast. The groups want the Fisheries Service to reassess the permits using the latest science and prohibit the Navy from training in biologically critical areas - at least at certain times of the year.

More information is online at earthjustice.org.

Lori Abbott, Public News Service - CA