The Whale

Jan 17, 2008 11:51am

Which is more important, national security or the health of 35 species of whales and other sea creatures who happen to get in the way?  It’s not that simple. You’ll recall that President Bush issued a memorandum yesterday, giving the U.S. Navy an exemption from the Coastal Zone Management Act of 1972 so that it can conduct two anti-submarine exercises off the California coast, using sonar that is believed in some cases to have forced whales to beach themselves and die. The exercises had not actually been stopped by a court order, but the Navy had been required to obey major restrictions against using sonar if a whale was in the area. Some extra notes that came along as we slammed together last night’s piece for World News: Marine biologists say it’s clear that mid-range sonar harms whales, and the Navy concedes this too.  But both the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Navy say they are not sure of the mechanism.  Perhaps, suggested the NRDC, the whales are so undone by the blasts of undersea noise that they race to the surface and give themselves a version of the bends. Perhaps, if a pod leader is sickened, others in the group will follow it–even onto a shoreline. The Navy says the science is uncertain, and it concedes only one case, in the Bahamas, where sonar combined with other factors to cause whales’ deaths. More on their point of view is HERE. Court orders (the most recent was Jan. 3) "created a significant and unreasonable risk that the Navy will not be able to conduct effective sonar training necessary to certify strike groups for deployment in support of world-wide operational and combat activities," says the Navy "It’s important that the Navy be Able to send trained sailors to sea to protect us and our interests around the glob," said retired Admiral Stephen Pietropaoli, now Executive Director of the Navy League of the United States.  "They cannot do that if there are excessive, unnecessary restrictions on their ability to do realistic training at sea." "It’s mystifying what they’re thinking," said Joel Reynolds of the NRDC. He argues that, unquestonably, the Navy needs to be able to run practice exercises; it just needs to pay more attention to the environment than it has.  "Our position is that whales and other marine life should not have to die for practice." (Take a look at a past summary by the NRDC HERE.) The White House does not have the power to override a court order, and the President’s declaration did not try. But it gave Navy lawyers some powerful ammunition to use in court. Which is where the issue has now returned.  Thoughts welcome as always.

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