Smarten up naval sonar to save the whales
Obama can silence harmful echoes from the Bush administration.
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Nor, as the Navy has argued, is sonar's impact a necessary consequence of securing our national defense. Most of the harm to marine mammals authorized by the Bush administration could be avoided by the use of common sense safeguards, many of which the Navy has used in past training exercises without apparent problem.Skip to next paragraph
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Simple steps such as avoiding sensitive areas like marine sanctuaries, critical habitats, and feeding or breeding grounds; adopting adequate monitoring and safety zones around the sonar device; powering down in ocean conditions of particular acoustic risk; and implementing ship based, aerial, and underwater techniques to monitor when marine mammals are present enable a protective response.
But for all of the recent proposed sonar training, the Navy has refused to implement any of this mitigation, instead proposing half-measures dismissed by the federal courts as "woefully inadequate and ineffectual."
During the past decade, the courts have been the only effective line of defense against the Navy's needlessly dangerous sonar training, but litigation is piecemeal.
A more effective, more comprehensive political response may now be possible. And given the geographic reach of the proposed sonar training and the Navy's own predictions of harm, such a response may be the only way to counter what amounts to an astonishing acoustic assault on marine life along all our coasts.
New leadership is already in place at NOAA. New leadership, we hope, will soon be coming to the US Navy. Instead of the Bush administration's last-minute attack on whales and other marine life, the new administration should require a uniform protocol of effective safeguards for all Navy sonar training that would prevent the needless infliction of harm.
We urge NOAA to move quickly and forcefully to exercise its authority – and fulfill its responsibility – to protect our oceans.
Jean-Michel Cousteau is founder and president of Ocean Futures Society in Santa Barbara, Calif. Joel R. Reynolds is a senior attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council in Los Angeles. (NRDC has been involved with litigation against the Navy for a number of years.)