Home » News & Analysis » Judge’s Ruling will Likely Cause Feds to Reassess Sonar Training Permits

Judge’s Ruling will Likely Cause Feds to Reassess Sonar Training Permits

NWTT_Study_Area_smA federal judge ruled Thursday the National Marine Fisheries Service had “abused its discretion” when it gave approval for Navy ships to train with sonars some say harms marine mammals in a training range off of the West Coast.

Judge Nandor J. Vadas , of the District of Northern California, said the fisheries service gave the Navy approval for five years to use the Northwest Training Range Complex without evaluating the latest relevant research on how sonar can affect marine mammals.

The Navy’s active sonars use a high-powered burst of sound to detect other vessels in the water. As the sound wave travels it hits other craft and the waves reflect back to the source of the burst, or ping.

The sound waves, however, have the potential to deafen sea mammals like dolphins and whales, according to several environmental groups.

Vadas said the fisheries service underestimated the harm the sonar would do to the mammals near the sonar tests and ignored studies from 2010 and 2011 that say bottlenose dolphins are adversely affected by active sonar.

The ruling could lead to a reevaluation of the permits that allow the Navy to operate sonar on the training ranges.

“At this point we are still studying the ruling and cannot provide further comment,”
the Navy said in Friday a statement provided to USNI News.
“The Navy is committed to complying with environmental laws and protecting the environment.”

In a March 2012 environmental impact statement, the Navy said sonar training was essential to the Navy due to the proliferation of quiet diesel-electric submarines.

“Lack of realistic training could jeopardize the lives of sailors in real-life combat situations,” read the report. “This training cannot be duplicated with simulators or other artificial means.”

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Categories: News & Analysis, Submarine Forces, Surface Forces, U.S. Navy
Sam LaGrone

About Sam LaGrone

Sam LaGrone is the editor of USNI News. He was formerly the U.S. Maritime Correspondent for the Washington D.C. bureau of Jane’s Defence Weekly and Jane’s Navy International. He has covered legislation, acquisition and operations for the Sea Services and spent time underway with the U.S. Navy, U.S. Marine Corps and the Canadian Navy.

  • Marcd30319

    Well, when Iran, North Korea, or whom ever starts sinking our ships because of lack of sonar training, we can thank Judge Nandor J. Vadas and the enviro-idiots for this.

  • vincedc

    Come on, NASA had a simulator for the space shuttle 30 years ago. You can’t tell me that
    the navy can’t develop a sonar simulator in six weeks as a Iphone app? That doesn’t say much for the contractors who write software for the Navy. This is some two star protecting his turf.

  • wildbillcox

    In maritime and naval situations involving submarines most detecting and Identifying of potential threats, including specifying type and class, is done by passive systems. Active SoNARs of the sort discussed here (i.e.: “pingers”) are illuminators for weapons targeting, not to be used unless enemy threats are suspected in the area of operations. The Navy is right to require its SoNARmen to train heavily in both arts: discerning by passively gained or actively gained target data. Unfortunately, the risk to marine mammals posed by modern active SoNARs is real and cannot be disregarded. We can all agree that Maritime Warfare kills marine life; imagine the effects of WW2 Depthcharging on the marine biome; but that life is a major renewable food resource in world terms for which apex predator populations are a prime indicator of health. I posit a reverse “Dog Whistle” emitting a signal irrritating, but not inherently harmful, to Marine Mammals, warning them that you are about to test systems that are suspected-or proven-to be harmful. In our urban environment men are already trained to leave a construction or testing site when a warning horn blasts. It shouldn’t take too long for us to teach marine mammals the same response, I bet. A slow series of increasingly powerful Active Pulses following a “Dog Whistle” warning, repeated over a short period, might well be of benefit to all concerned.