US Navy- NMFS settlement protecting whales and dolphins

This week started off with a bang and it continues with a lot of whooshing sounds. On Monday the Federal Court entered a ruling in our favor against the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) for approving the US Navy’s request to maim or kill a stunningly robust number of whales and dolphins through their use of mid-frequency sonar and explosives in biologically productive areas in the “Hawaii-SoCal Testing and Training Range” (HSTT). This is a historic ruling because it is really the first time that the Court has trimmed the Navy’s flippers on exercises deemed “necessary for national security.”

SOCAL range areasWe were among the plaintiffs, along with Cetacean Society International, Animal Legal Defense Fund, Ocean Mammal Institute, Center for Biological Diversity, and Pacific Environment. The heavy lifting was done by NRDC Attorneys Zak Smith and Jennifer Sorensen who definitely kept us all in the loop while working out the settlement. In balance the Navy had a lot to give away – starting back in 2012 when they issued their Environmental Impact Statement on the proposed actions in the HSTT Range we commented on the “candor” with which they offered up the estimated marine mammal casualties their proposed operations would wreck. It was when the NMFS went along with the program that we knew it was serious.

Earth Justice initially picked up the cause. When NRDC also took it up they consolidated it and moved it to Hawaii where Hon. Judge Susan Oki Mollway heard the case. The Navy was really helpful in the settlement phase and in the end – due to the assiduous work by Smith and Sorenson, along with Navy personnel they came up with a reasonable plan that significantly reduces the estimated takes while allowing the Navy enough operational latitude to hone their skills on the sea.

In addition to the stipulated agreement, the Navy will also commit $3 million in research on beaked whales in the HSTT Range.

And that was before noon on Monday! More to come this week…