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Navy Shifts Training to Protect 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 19, 2015

RICHMOND, Va. - 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. Attorney David Henkin, with the environmental law firm Earthjustice, says the move comes after the Navy settled a lawsuit in September challenging the current set of 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 in the Pacific. The Navy has 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 they'll get it right this time," says Henkin. "And the realist in me knows 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 comment period on the change runs through Jan. 12.

Dan Heyman, Public News Service - VA