Judge Puts Whales Above the Safety of Naval Officers

On August 26 a federal judge barred the U.S. Navy from deploying high-intensity sonar (otherwise known as LFA) to detect quiet diesel submarines used by North Korea, China and Iran. In her 73-page opinion, Judge Elizabeth Laporte, rather disturbingly, ruled that the Navy, together with the “conservation groups” (read: environmental extremists) who sued the Navy, must negotiate as to where and when the sonar can be used.

The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) happily celebrated the decision, describing it as (via a banner headline on its website) a “Big Win for Whales!” “Today’s ruling is a reprieve not just for whales, porpoises, and fish, but ultimately for all of us who depend for our survival on healthy oceans,” said Joel Reynolds, senior attorney at NRDC, which acted as lead plaintiff and counsel in the case.

FACT: NRDC apparently cares more about whales than Navy officers and enlisted personnel on submarines. Notwithstanding the fact that LFA has not inflicted any harm on marine mammals–Dr. Darlene Ketten, senior scientist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, and a leading expert in sensory adaptation of marine mammals, said in her April 2003 testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee: “To date, there is no evidence of physical harm [to marine mammals] from LFA”–the decision undermines the safety and security of U.S. sailors. An exchange between Sen. Inhofe and Adm. William Fallon during a March 13 Senate Armed Services Committee hearing illustrates what’s at stake:

SEN. INHOFE: But there are some circumstances under which this sonar is the only way of detecting [quite diesel submarines].

ADM. FALLON: Yes. We — the likelihood of detecting submarines without this in many circumstances we think is pretty low.

SEN. INHOFE: In an actual situation, not training, then if you had to shut down, what’s the exposure?

ADM. FALLON: Well, we’re not going to be able to get it online and we’ll be forced to use what we have, which we don’t think is adequate to meet this emerging threat.

SEN. INHOFE: So this is a life and death situation, it could be for your sailors?

ADM. FALLON: Well, if we end up in a position where we are asked to execute a mission with that kind of a threat and we can’t detect that threat, then our forces are at risk.