US Navy weighing appeal of sonar case

Other News Materials 6 February 2008 03:01 (UTC +04:00)

( dpa ) - The US Navy is reviewing whether to appeal a decision by a federal judge that restricts sonar exercises off the California coast over concerns it endangers whales.

"We are aware of the court's decision and we are studying it," Lieutenant Commander Cindy Moore, a Navy spokeswoman, said Tuesday.

A federal court in Los Angeles on Monday rejected a January 15 waiver by President George W Bush that exempted the Navy from environmental regulations limiting the use of sonar during training missions.

District Judge Florence-Marie Cooper's decision means the Navy must follow rules that restrict the use of the powerful radar designed to find and track submarines and enforce a buffer zone within 20 kilometres of the California shore.

The sonar must also be shut down if marine mammals are spotted within 2,000 metres of the ships.

The Navy and environmental groups have been sparring for years over the health effects of the sonar on sea life. Bush granted the waiver after concluding the Navy needs to use the mid-frequency sonar to effectively train for anti-submarine warfare "in support of worldwide operational and combat activities, which are essential to national security."

But Cooper rejected the assertion the training was vital to the immediate national security needs. Her decision was celebrated by environmental groups.

"The Navy doesn't need to harm whales to train effectively with sonar," said Joel Reynolds, director of the marine protection project at the Natural Resources Defence Council.

The Navy maintains that it already takes adequate steps to minimize the risk to marine life. The Navy has enacted 29 protective measures, including lookout stations, passive acoustic monitoring for marine mammals and setting up safety zones to reduce the sonar power or shut it down if marine life is spotted.

The Navy also plans to conduct more research and collect more data to adjust the procedures of sonar exercises whenever backed by the evidence.

"We are already taking extensive measures to protect marine mammals, and we have had positive results from those measures," Navy Secretary Donald Winter said in January.