The Navy recently announced that they plan to ignore the common sense recommendations of the California Coastal Commission, choosing instead to push ahead with their plan to train with deafening sonar and explosives off the coast of Southern California. Below is a statement from Michael Jansy, director of the National Resource Defense Council’s Marine Mammal Project:
“The Navy’s plan to dramatically increase its sonar training and underwater detonations off the Southern California coast shouldn’t come at the expense of the state’s marine life. Its proposal blatantly disregards new science showing that current training levels could already be devastating California’s beaked whale populations and preventing endangered blue whales from recovering from near-extinction. The Coastal Commission has offered reasonable measures that take into account the Navy’s need for flexibility while affording greater protection to vulnerable species. The Navy’s refusal to adopt any of these measures puts California’s marine life in jeopardy.”
What is at issue here are the charismatic marine mega-fauna protected in the waters off California by both state and federal law. The Coastal Commission, the state agency responsible for administering the state’s laws, stated they did not feel the Navy’s plan was consistent with state laws, and offered flexible solutions that would meet the Navy’s training needs, while protecting marine mammals. However, the Navy wouldn’t hear it, and now their sonar and explosives may be the last thing thousands of marine mammals hear.
The Coastal Commission is not the only ones objecting to the Navy’s plan. Conservationists, scientists, and concerned citizens all have expressed concern over the plan, which by the Navy’s own estimation could kill 130 marine mammals, deafen 1,600, and/or disturb vital behaviors 8.8 million times over the 5 year proposed time-frame. This represents a 1,300 percent increase over previous exercises in the region.
While it might be true that sonar is needed for national defense, a balance must be struck between the needs of marine mammals and the needs of the military. However, the Navy’s intent to disregard state law and sound science demonstrates their lack of interest in establishing such a balance. Indeed the only compromise they seem interested in with the state of California, is not a compromise at all, nor does it do anything to protect the state’s marine mammals.
This issue is one that has captivated me for years. It was the driving force behind my decision to attend law school and become an advocate for marine mammals. It was the inspiration of the capstone paper I am currently writing for law school. For me the most disappointing aspect of this news is that only a few weeks ago a study funded in part by the U.S. Navy demonstrated that blue whales abandon critical feeding grounds in response to naval sonar. The Navy’s willingness to help study the problem had sparked hope in me that they might be willing to reconsider their harmful training practices. Unfortunately, after this news that spark is now a feeble and flickering remnant of what it was mere weeks ago.
After the Navy’s recent announcement regarding sonar perhaps it now falls to conservation organizations like WDC to speak up for the whales, whose voices are currently at risk of being lost in the din of the Navy’s actions.