Supreme decision: High court weighs whales vs. U.S. Navy exercises

Pipe down: What's causing all this noise we're hearing down here under the water?
Pipe down: What's causing all this noise we're hearing down here under the water?Courtesy Whit Welles
“Hey, quiet down up there. We can’t hear a thing down here.”

No, it’s not the lament of some landlord who’s rented out the upper level apartment to a rock-and-roll loving tenant. It’s a case being heard by the U.S. Supreme Court right now pitting whales off the coast of California against the U.S. Navy.

Justices heard oral arguments yesterday on the case. Environmentalists are challenging the Navy’s claim to perform training exercises along the California coast which use extensive and strong sonar transmissions. The sound waves of those sonar blasts can harm whales and other marine mammals, petitioners contend, with sounds that can be up to 2,000 times louder than a jet engine. Some scientists feel that sounds that loud can cause whales to lose hearing loss, bleed on the brain and possibly lead to mass strandings on beaches.

Decision spot: The U.S. Supreme Court is the site of a pending decision pitting U.S. Navy sonar training exercises against the health of marine mammals like whales.
Decision spot: The U.S. Supreme Court is the site of a pending decision pitting U.S. Navy sonar training exercises against the health of marine mammals like whales.Courtesy Thor Carlson
The Navy says that strong sonar level is critical to be able to detect submarines that can elude weaker modes of sonar.

Based on justices’ questions and reactions, however, it appears that court is leaning toward siding with the Navy and national security concerns.

Here’s a full report on yesterday’s court session. Justices were pretty upfront in stating their lack of expertise in mammal biology and national defense matters.

So if you had to decide on this conflict, where would you come down on this question? Does the health and a comfort of whales trump national security? Is loud sonar just an unfortunate byproduct of keeping our national interests safe? Share your thoughts here with other Buzz readers.

Your Comments, Thoughts, Questions, Ideas

bryan kennedy's picture

Maybe we should make this out next poll question. It is a hard question because I am not sure if there is enough evidence to say absolutely that the whales are suffering. Do any buzz readers out there have any good evidence to point out?

On the other hand I think it is essential that the Navy gets honest with us as well. Have they really evaluated all the options or are they just resistant to change. Obviously the ability to detect sub attacks is essential to our national security. But we should be aware of the costs.

posted on Thu, 10/09/2008 - 4:19pm
Thor's picture
Thor says:

On a similar note, here' s a video update report on the status of humpback whales in the Pacific. It's getting close to time for them to make their southerly migration to the coasts of Mexico to give birth to a new generation of whales.

posted on Fri, 10/10/2008 - 10:48am
Michele's picture
Michele says:

There have been large beachings of multiple species of whales and dolphins--the Canary Islands, Bahamas in 2000 (Navy did acknowledge sonar testing was the cause of this beaching--have not admitted any other) and as recently in 2005 in North Carolina. All these mass beachings have sonar testing in common and the wahles/dolphins have damaged ears and/or something resembling the bends (something made these creatures surface too quickly--loud noise?).

The environmentalist are not arguing the Navy's need to test, only that they need to do so responsibly. The District Court agreed with the environmentalist and did not see that responsible testing would impede the Navy...maybe taking them 2 wks. of testing as opposed to 1.

Internationally, these protections are in effect. The Canary Islands was a NATO sonar testing/preparation. Keep in mind that the U.S. Navy would be obeying this law that they are fighting with any NATO simulations.

Further, the Supreme Court is actually deciding Executive powers to override and authorize the Navy as a National Security issue to bypass the law. In other words--is it truly vital and imminent to go forth with these sonar testings...that we can ignore the environmental impacts. The extra time required to act responsibly is not in our national (security) interest...?

My question--Is our Navy/President not telling us something...do we have enemy subs poised to strike on our coast? That is the only conclusion I can come up with that makes this testing so 'vital' to shirk a responsibility that simply requires some extra time.

posted on Wed, 10/15/2008 - 10:11am
Kiran_R's picture
Kiran_R says:

It's so not cool what the NAVY is doing.
I disapprove...save the whales.

posted on Tue, 11/11/2008 - 1:32pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

If whales could be placed on let's say an operating table to change the way their brains function to block out the sounds that can harm them and other aquatic life, then I would side with the Navy. We all know this can never happen! But another fix is to rewire the technology used by the Navy to make it environmentally friendly. With the military intelligence of this country, this could and should be a no brainer.

posted on Wed, 11/12/2008 - 2:37pm
Rican21's picture
Rican21 says:

This reminds me of how the US Army used the Island of Vieques to use as target practice while the natives still lived on the island. This is not right!!!!!

posted on Thu, 12/11/2008 - 2:56pm
carol's picture
carol says:


posted on Mon, 03/16/2009 - 10:05am

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