The HSUS, along with several other animal and environmental protection organizations, has won yet another legal victory for animals – this time a challenge to the U.S. Navy’s use of high-intensity, low-frequency sonar, a practice designed for submarine detection that has devastating impacts on whales and other marine mammals. This lawsuit focused on the fact that the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) illegally approved the Navy’s harmful activities, ignoring safeguards suggested by the government’s own scientists to reduce or prevent harm to marine creatures sensitive to persistent and punishing sounds.
As the federal appeals court discussed in its favorable opinion, marine mammals such as whales, dolphins, seals, and walruses rely on their perceptions of underwater sound for vital functions like catching prey, navigating, communicating, and mating. High-intensity, low-frequency sonar can cause these vulnerable animals to stop communicating with one another and cease foraging for food. It can delay reproduction, reduce growth, separate them from their young, and potentially leave them stranded on beaches. Science informs so many aspects of our relationship with animals, and ongoing research is teaching us a great deal about animal intelligence and behavior. Once we learn about the effect of human activities on their very survival, we have a duty to respond and to remediate our actions.
The court—in a decision that will have wide-ranging impacts for marine mammals of all kinds beyond those affected by sonar—held that NMFS shirked its legal duty to properly mitigate these harmful impacts. The ruling emphasized the law’s requirement that the government err on the side of overprotection of marine mammals, and do everything practicable to protect these animals from dangerous activities undertaken by people.
While security is and must be a national priority, the federal government cannot look at planning and research from a single angle, and must find ways to advance our national priorities without causing so much collateral harm to animals. We as a nation are making progress in doing away with wounding animals as a means of learning about battlefield treatment of our troops. The HSUS and the federal courts are also asking the Department of Defense to figure out a better way to honor our national security concerns without causing distress and death to whales, dolphins, and so many other sentient creatures.
We are proud of our armed services, and the heroism that our military leaders and troops exhibit. We’ll continue to honor them, but also to ask that they uphold our values in pursuit of their noble ends – and that includes protecting the lives of creatures that have never done us any harm.