In the battle between the U.S. Navy and marine mammals, the marine mammals won.
In September, a federal judge approved a legal settlement between environmental groups and the Navy that limits the use of sonar and other underwater explosives because they are inadvertently harmful to marine mammals. The blasts and high-pitched noises can deafen or even kill marine mammals, in particular whales and dolphins.
The settlement ends the use of sonar in the feeding grounds for whales off the coast of Southern California near Santa Catalina, San Clemente, and San Nicolas islands, in addition to those in Hawaiian waters, including around Maui, Molokai, and the Big Island.
Oceans director for one of the groups involved in the settlement, the Center for Biological Diversity, Miyoko Sakashita says:
“The settlement protects some of the most important areas for marine mammals that are sensitive to sonar. It’s a great benefit to the whales and lets the Navy fulfill its training needs.”
A report in 2013 by the Navy estimated that from 2014-2019, sonar testing, underwater explosives, missile launches, anti-submarine warfare and ship strikes could kill up to 155 whales, dolphins, seals, and sea lions and permanently injure over 2,000 animals.
But this is the first time that the Navy has recognized that it is possible to protect marine animal habitats without impeding upon or interfering with its training regimen. It sets a precedent for the future where Navy activities can occur as long as care and consideration is given to marine animals.