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Coalition sues over U.S. navy sonar tests

Jan 27 2012

A coalition of U.S. environmental and aboriginal groups is suing the National Marine Fisheries Service for failing to protect marine mammals - including endangered southern resident killer whales - from naval sonar.

Earthjustice filed the lawsuit in California Thursday, saying the decision to allow the U.S. navy to test underwater sonar along the west coast could kill or harm marine mammals.

"These training exercises will harm dozens of species of marine mammals - southern resident killer whales, humpback whales, dolphins and porpoises - through the use of high-intensity mid-frequency sonar," Earthjustice lawyer Steve Mashuda said in a statement.

A five-year permit, approved by the Fisheries Service in 2010, gives the go-ahead for the navy to use sonar in the area stretching from Juan de Fuca Strait to northern California.

The plan admits that sonar is likely to harass thousands of marine mammals. Studies have found whales and dolphins can be harmed by low-frequency sonar.

"In 2003, NMFS learned firsthand the harmful impacts of navy sonar in Washington waters when active sonar blasted distressed members of J Pod, one of our resident pods of endangered orcas," said Kyle Loring, lawyer for Friends of the San Juans, one of the groups in the coalition. The lawsuit wants testing scaled back, especially in waters important for feeding or giving birth.

The navy is required to shut down sonar if marine mammals are seen in the area, but environmentalists say that is unreliable in bad weather or rough water. jlavoie@timescolonist.com

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