US Navy limiting sonar and other activities to protect marine mammals

In an announcement made this week, the US Navy has said that it will be limiting the use of sonar and all other activities that can harm cetaceans and other aquatic mammal species unintentionally.

On September 14, settlements of two cases filed by environmental groups challenging the US Navy’s testing and training activities off the Hawaiian and southern Californian coasts got approval from a federal court. These settlements have followed a decision made by the court earlier in 2015 which suggested that activities of the Navy in these regions were harming populations of dolphins, seals, sea lions, and whales illegally.

The decision has been celebrated by cetacean experts and conservationists, who have been opposing the actions of the Navy and the NMFS (National Marine Fisheries Service), the federal agency responsible for protecting marine creatures, since a long time.

Honolulu Office of Earth Justice’s attorney David Henkin said that by agreeing to the recent settlement, the US Navy has acknowledged that there’s no need of training in every single part of the ocean and that it possesses the ability of taking important steps for reducing use of sonar. Here, it must be mentioned that Honolulu Office of Earth Justice is one of the most prominent names in the list of environmental organizations that challenged the recent round of sonar testing and training carried out by the Navy.

Under the new agreement, the US Navy will stop carrying out sonar training exercises or tests, and setting off explosives in some specified regions around southern California and the Hawaiian Islands. The areas tagged to be forbidden are known for being extremely vital to the marine mammals for migrating, feeding and reproducing. Some of these marked areas also harbor diminutive resident populations of different marine animals.

For example, the waters flowing along San Diego are important feeding areas for the blue whales. The rare beaked whales, on the other hand, hound the waters between San Nicolas and Santa Catalina islands.

Attorney Zak Smith, who represents the office of the Natural Resources Defense Council (another environmental body involved in this case) or NRDC in Santa Monica, California, noted that this settlement doesn’t mean that from now on the Navy will have to reduce the amount of training they need to carry out. What the settlement means is that they will not be able to carry out the training and tests in a few biologically significant parts of the ocean.