The National Marine Fisheries Service is granting the Navy permits for its plans to intensify its sonar use in the Pacific, specifically off Southern California and Hawaii, over the next five years.
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The military estimates the training and testing program could inadvertently kill 155 whales or dolphins off Hawaii and Southern California, mostly from explosives.
According to Earthjustice, a non-profit environmental law firm, the Navy and Fisheries Service estimate this training will cause 9.6 million instances of harm to whales, dolphins and other marine mammals.
Environmentalists believe the harm is greater. The California Coastal Commission in March rejected the plan but lacks the power to block the Navy.
In its ruling, NMFS said it will review the latest scientific data yearly with the Navy to determine if enough is being done to mitigate the risks.
Following the permit approval announcement Monday, Earthjustice filed a lawsuit in Hawai'i federal court challening the National Marine Fisheries Service's decision.
"Some of the marine mammals threatened by Navy activities are already on the brink of extinction, such as the Hawaiian monk seal, our state mammal and one of the world's most endangered species," said Marjorie Ziegler of the Conservation Council for Hawaii. "Under the plan it just approved, however, each one of these seals will be harmed by sonar an average of 10 times a year. If we can save even a few seals through better planning, we must."
Earthjustice says that the lawsuit is not designed to ask the Navy to suspend training, rather it is asking for more consideration to be given to the impact of increasing sonar usage before such a significant increase is permitted.