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New Case Before the Supreme Court Could Decide Whales Fate From Sonar and Has Larger Implications for Military Accountability

written by: Niki Fears•edited by: Niki Fears•updated: 6/27/2011

A new case brought before the US Supreme Court could decide the fate of whales and dolphins impacted by sonar as well as determine whether the military is accountable to the rulings of the court.

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    Whales and dolphins are extremely sensitive to sound and noise pollution. Relying on their ability to use sound and echolocation for many of the important aspects of their lives including navigating the ocean, communicating, hunting for food, and bonding with others these marine mammals become extremely susceptible to loud noises around their habitats and under water as recent tragic incidents have displayed. When the Bush administration recently challenged a ruling by a federal judge that banned the use of sonar within one and a quarter miles of marine mammals during training exercises performed by the Navy just off of the southern coast of California many environmentalist and animal welfare groups grew concerned.

    After a recent incident involving the USS Shoup's encounter with orcas and minke whales in which they had very negative reactions to the navy vessel's sonar many environmentalists are bringing the incident in front of the US Supreme Court in hopes of gaining protection for the endangered marine mammals. To despite the claims by the navy that they are only harassing marine mammals, the Natural Resources Defense Council and others involved in the case cite the January deaths of 37 whales for which the navy's sonar practice was to blame.

    The decision is a critical one in the protection of marine mammals off of US coasts and around the world. Overwhelming evidence has shown how marine mammals such as dolphins and whales are affected by sonar use; however, many from the military and Bush administration are using fear tactics and slanted opinions to try and influence the court into giving the navy absolute freedom to continue however they wish, wherever they wish, regardless of the impact on the already endangered marine mammal populations.

    The original case that appeared in federal court was initiated after navy officials violated regulations that require an environmental impact assessment be performed before undergoing major actions such as the sonar exercises and testing. The navy's claim was that the harassment of marine mammals was not a priority issue enough to them to justify the required study. Further, the navy has continued to use the sonar in the training exercises to despite the ruling of the Federal Court Judge which placed an injunction against its use.

    For these reasons, many see this case as not only an important environmental decision, but one that could have much greater implications. Many are concerned that if the Supreme Court rules in favor of the Bush Administration it will justify the navy's actions and send a message that the military is above the law and free to act however it wishes with little or no regards to our own laws and courts or the harm that their actions cause. The case, Winter v. Natural Resources Defense Council, is expected to be decided by next spring.

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    More Information

    To learn more about how sonar and other noise pollution effects marine mammals be sure to check out the following:

    Detrimental Effects from Anthropogenic Noise on Marine Life