Joel Reynolds

Whales Win Yet Again on Sonar: Why Does the Navy Refuse to Get It Right?

On social issues, the military has often seemed the last to know. Ending racial discrimination took decades. Outlawing discrimination based on sexual preference took just as long. This year, the role of women in combat is finally being recognized. In every case, the military’s rationale for resisting change has been that military readiness would inevitably be compromised.

But significant progress has been made in recent years on all of these issues without adverse impact on our preparedness. By contrast, progress has been frustratingly elusive in persuading the U.S. Navy to care about the health of our oceans. After over two decades of adverse federal court orders - and over five decades since the “Save the Whales” movement focused widespread public attention on the plight of these magnificent animals - the Navy continues to resist the common sense proposition that needless infliction of harm to whales and other marine life in training with extraordinarily loud, high intensity sonar and heavy explosives is neither reasonable nor legal. 

But as two recent court decisions make clear - issued in different cases by different courts — the Navy’s intransigence is based on more than its concern for national security. In fact, much of the blame lies with the government regulatory agency whose mandate it is to protect our oceans. It lies with the failure of the National Marine Fisheries Service to do its job.

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