"This is a huge victory," Smith said. "At a very fundamental level, the court is saying that the approach the government is using to assess these activities is inherently flawed."
The U.S. Navy uses active sonar systems in the ocean to detect submarines as well as to teach and train. If a whale makes the fatal mistake of floating up next to a naval boat emitting sonar, his lungs and organs will immediately begin to liquefy, and he can be killed in moments. Further away from the source, a whale can experience permanent or temporary deafness as well as a host of behavioral changes, including the abandonment of mating or feeding behaviors.
The Navy itself estimated that its underwater detonations and sonar exercises would harm whales, dolphins and other marine mammals a whopping 9.6 million times in just five years, and include 150 deaths - a count that the National Marine Fisheries Service authorized and called "negligible." But the new court ruling says that the Service should not have approved the Navy's plans.
The decision is the result of a case brought by the Natural Resources Defense Council, Cetacean Society International, Animal Legal Defense Fund, Pacific Environment and Resources Center and acoustician Michael Stocker.