Coastal Commission Nixes Navy Whale Blasting

Gray Whale and Sea Lions by Richard Ellis 

By Julie Watson

SAN DIEGO (AP) — The California Coastal Commission on Friday rejected a Navy explosives and sonar training program off the Southern California coast that critics said could harm endangered blue whales and other sea life.

Commissioners meeting in San Diego ruled unanimously that the Navy lacked enough information to back up its argument that the threat to marine mammals would be negligible.

The Navy is expected to ramp up its training in the waters over the next five years with the war in Afghanistan winding down and the military shifting its focus to the Pacific as part of the Obama administration’s national security strategy.

Commissioners said they are concerned the increased activity — especially near marine protected areas — could be detrimental for endangered mammals such as the blue, fin and beaked whales.

“The Navy needs to understand the significance of the California coast in relationship to the entire world because we’re doing research that will assist future generations,” Commissioner Martha McClure told Navy officials before her vote: “I also would like to reiterate that I believe your documentation was absolutely short.”

Alex Stone, who directs the Navy’s environmental team on the project, told commissioners that additional marine safeguards being sought by the panel would limit the training program’s scope and make it less realistic.

He said the Navy’s measures effectively protect sea life — an argument disputed by environmentalists who packed the hearing.

The panel and the Navy could now seek mediation to iron out their differences — or the Navy could simply choose to proceed with the training scheduled to begin in January, as it did after the commission requested additional protections in 2007 and 2009.

If talks fail, the commission could sue to try to force the Navy to adopt the measures, as it has done in the past but unsuccessfully.

The commissioners said they decided to reject the plan outright Friday rather than approve it conditionally because the Navy has shown it is unwilling to cooperate.

“We’ve got this stumbling block of the Navy being completely unwilling to accept any of the mitigations that our staff has proposed and there has been no explanation that is evidence-based to give us a rationale to accept your position,” Commissioner Jana Zimmer told Navy officials at the hearing.

The Navy has estimated 130 marine mammals could die and another 1,600 could suffer hearing loss from the training program, which plans annually for more than 50,000 underwater explosions and more than 10,000 hours of high-intensity sonar use.

Michael Jasny with the Natural Resources Defense Council said the Navy severely underestimates the harm in waters traversed by more than 30 endangered species. The testing area encompasses 120,000 nautical square miles of the Pacific off the Southern California coast and includes a corridor between the state and Hawaii, among other areas.

“There are no other areas in the country or possibly the world where Navy activity will be as concentrated as here in Southern California,” Jasny said. “It will be a real train wreck because this space is also shared by so many endangered species.”

The commission wants the Navy to create safety zones that would guarantee no high-intensity sonar activity near marine sanctuaries and protected areas and in spots that experience a high concentration of blue, fin and gray whales seasonally.

It also believes a kilometer from shore should also be off-limits to protect bottlenose dolphins.

After the vote, Stone said the Navy wants to reach an agreement with the state agency but stood by its arguments the commission’s measures would unnecessarily interfere with training.

“I can’t really identify any areas where I see that we would change, you know, based on the condition,” he said. “We’ve already kind of coming into this process spent a long time developing mitigation measures that we think are highly effective.”

The commission set out similar conditions to the Navy in 2007 and 2009, but the Navy refused to accept them both times.

The commission sued the Navy over the matter, leading to a preliminary injunction in 2008, though then-President George W. Bush gave an exemption for the training. The U.S. Supreme Court later overturned the lower court’s decision.

Jasny’s organization and three dozen others say they want the Navy to avoid important habitat for vulnerable species, including blue and fin whales, beaked whales, and migrating gray whales. They also want the Navy to not use sonar training and underwater detonations at night, when marine mammals are difficult to detect.

And they want the Navy to be required to use its own acoustic monitoring network to help detect marine mammals.

They also say that from May through October ships should slow to 10 knots in areas with baleen whales, to avoid hitting them.

Scientists say there is still much to be learned about how much sonar activity affects marine animals.

More on Gray Whales:  LINK

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One Response to Coastal Commission Nixes Navy Whale Blasting

  1. Joey Racano says:

    The Navy- ‘We Assail Whales’

    The next time somebody tells you ‘everything changed on 9-11′, you may want to finally just haul back and deliver that knuckle sandwich they so richly deserve. Friends of the sea, I am here to tell you in no uncertain terms that the only thing that ever really changed after the events of September 11th, 2001, is that a few dozen overgrown spoiled white children who grew up in love with symbols of hate, and in hate with symbols of love, were allowed by a stacked right wing Supreme Court to run rampant across our backs, Bill of Rights, Beaked Whales and our precious environment.

    Case in point:

    ‘Navy, thy Name is Arrogance’

    Why should he listen when your answer does not please him?
    Why should he show compassion when you bow down to appease him?
    He’s not here to protect you, he’s here to be your king
    A God may resurrect you, but that’s not the Navy’s thing

    The election in 2000, some don’t understand it fully
    There’s no restraint or mercy, just carte-blanche to be a bully

    Another half-a-trillion, not for medicine or schools
    but for a never-ending ‘war-on-terror’ being waged for us by fools

    Who like to shoot their bang-bang guns and light cool things on fire
    make explosions, stupid rules, to kill is their desire

    He used to have a BB gun, a sling shot and a trap
    Now he’s got the seventh fleet, depth charges and a map

    In San Diego yesterday (March 8th, 2013), The California Coastal Commission, comprised mainly of very brave ladies with uncommon integrity and poise, held court to hear a proposal by the US Navy called ‘HSTT’, Hawaii-Southern California Training and Testing’.

    The Coastal Commission staff was clearly intimidated by the amazing bully tactics the Navy –in the person of Commander Doney (pictured) came in with. The staff was recommending that the project, which includes blowing up the Southeast Pacific and wholesale massacre of our whales and dolphins, be approved, with certain conditions designed to minimize ‘take’, also known as killing.

    (Some will argue that ‘take’ is harass, not kill, but that harass is to deafen, and a deaf whale is a dead whale, so it is killing).

    The Commissioners, their staff, and even the large crowd and hundreds and hundreds of thousands of letters (collected by elite activists like Lyndia Storey), all aimed at compromise, respect and consideration. But the Navy would not have it. They came in like a bull in a china shop, burnt bridges, and scoffed at our rules, self-determination, and our wildlife. They saw out ocean as “Our theater”, while the brave Commissioners said they “saw it differently,” as a place “Filled with creatures we need to protect.” There was giant room packed with people who got an earful of why Californians adore the California Coastal Commission!

    The Navy would not listen, but the Coastal Commission stood fast for the whales, making it clear for the record that the entire world is watching our new network of Marine Protected Areas. The Navy even went so slimy far as to accost one lady-commissioner as she walked by (I was standing right there), telling her he wanted her to tell the media present that the Navy would host a media-only dog and pony show afterwards, downstairs in the ‘La Jolla Room.’

    The Commissioners, in the end, turned them down politely, and stood by the law, the whales, wildlife, Marine Protected Areas, and the people of California. They registered their official objection to the Navy obliteration.

    “I understand you see this 120,000-square mile range as your theater, but the bottom line is we don’t see it that way. That theater is occupied by creatures of the sea,” Commissioner Jana Zimmer said during a meeting in San Diego.
    “Because the people of California have worked so hard and so long to create these marine protected areas, you need to start looking at this theater as a theater where some of the seats are reserved.”
    All the Navy could say was they were worried about North Korea having new silent, electric diesel submarines. These people were so full of themselves- if they were worried about N Korea, why did they refuse to speak with former basketball star-turned-statesman Dennis Rodman, who just returned from there with the Harlem Globe Trotters ‘Basketball Diplomacy’ tour?

    Bottom line- the Navy are jerks and they acted like it. Next step: We try the Navy in our Court of Public Opinion. Step one: Please keep growing our petition:

    http://signon.org/sign/tell-the-navy-call-off?source=c.url&r_by=5402050

    More tomorrow!

    With love and respect,

    Joey Racano

    Photo: Racano of Commander Doney, USN

    More in the Press:

    http://www.ocregister.com/news/navy-498905-training-commission.html

    http://www.utsandiego.com/news/2013/mar/08/coastal-commission-navy-sonar/