PEARL HARBOR –
Navy officials said they are optimistic that a three-judge panel of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Nov. 13 ordered a lower court to rewrite restrictions on the Navy's use of sonar in certain Southern California exercises.
That ruling was part of a lawsuit challenging the Navy's ability to train Sailors before they deploy to potential hotspots.
The Navy had asked the appeals court to overturn a preliminary injunction that was granted by a U.S. district judge on Aug. 6, 2007, that bars the Navy from using active sonar in certain multi-ship exercises off Southern California through January 2009. That injunction was granted in a lawsuit filed by the Natural Resources Defense Council and other environmental and animal protection groups.
In over 40 years of sonar training in the Southern California operating area, no stranding or injury of a marine mammal has been associated with the Navy's use of sonar.
"We are encouraged that the appeals court found the original injunction was too broad and ordered the district court to tailor mitigation conditions under which the Navy may conduct its training," said Capt. Scott Gureck.
Whenever sonar is used in large exercises, the Navy employs 29 separate marine mammal protective measures, which were coordinated with and approved by the nation's marine mammal and endangered species environmental regulator, the National Marine Fisheries Service.
"There's no scientific proof that sonar by itself has ever directly killed or injured whales or other marine mammals," Gureck said. "We are considering our options in light of today's ruling. These integrated sonar training exercises are absolutely vital for our strike groups to conduct before they deploy."
Adm. Robert Willard, commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, said "The use of sonar is a fundamental principle in anti-submarine warfare. It is very, very important that our Sailors are proficient in applications of active sonar and in their ability to hunt submarines. It's a perishable skill. If we don't practice it a lot we are not going to be good at it. With the proliferation of very quiet diesel submarines throughout the world, and particularly here in the Pacific, it's very important to me that our ships, submarines and our Sailors have this skill."