On Friday, a federal appeals court sitting in San Francisco rejected the U.S. Navy’s claim that its use of low-frequency sonar under previously approved conditions, was not harmful to marine mammals.
In so ruling, the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a lower court 2012 decision that allowed the Navy’s sonar use “for training, testing and routine operations,” according to The Associated Press.
The prior five-year approval covered U.S. Naval operations in the Mediterranean Sea, as well as the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans.
The AP reported:
Sonar, used to detect submarines, can injure whales, seals, dolphins and walruses and disrupt their feeding and mating.
The 2012 rules adopted by the National Marine Fisheries Service permitted Navy sonar use to affect about 30 whales and two dozen pinnipeds, marine mammals with front and rear flippers such as seals and sea lions, each year.
The Navy was required to shut down or delay sonar use if a marine mammal was detected near the ship. Loud sonar pulses also were banned near coastlines and in certain protected waters.
After the Navy had received its initial go-ahead, environmental groups claimed the approval standards were in violation of the Marine Mammal Protection Act and filed its lawsuit in a San Francisco federal district court.
In its unanimous decision, the appeals court agreed with the environmentalists, led by the Natural Resources Defense Council, that the Navy’s approval failed to meet peacetime standards to have “the least practicable adverse impact on marine mammals,” which is required of the act.
The court ruled that the fisheries service that granted the Navy’s limited sonar use “did not give adequate protection to areas of the world’s oceans flagged by its own experts as biologically important,” the decision’s summary said.
“The result is that a meaningful proportion of the world’s marine mammal habitat is under-protected,” the decision stated.
It also said this about the Navy.
“We have every reason to believe that the Navy has been deliberate and thoughtful in its plans to follow NMFS [National Marine Fisheries Service] guidelines and limit unnecessary harassment and harm to marine mammals,” the appellate ruling said.
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