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Justices to settle fight over sonar and whales

June 23, 2008 | 10:58 am

A_lookout_watches_for_marine_mammalAfter years of being tied up by litigation over using sonar that can harm whales, the U.S. Navy finally got what it wanted: a chance for the U.S. Supreme Court to cut the legal legs off these federal environmental cases.

The highest court in the land agreed today to take the case that argues the Navy should step up its safeguards when using sub-hunting sonar in waters fat with whales. Arguments will come in the fall and a decision is likely to follow next year.

The case focuses on training of aircraft carrier battle groups in waters off Southern California. Federal judges in California have sided repeatedly with the Natural Resources Defense Council and other conservation groups that want the Navy to take more precautions when using sonar, which can panic whales, dolphins and other marine mammals.

Although this long-running court fight has gained considerable attention, what's less known is that this legal action only covers a fraction of the Navy's use of sonar in Southern California waters. The fight focuses on the official testing and evaluation needed to certify that an aircraft carrier and its accompanying ships are combat ready. Other warships routinely ping the waters in training missions off Southern California without fanfare.

-- Kenneth R. Weiss

Photo: Rick Loomis/Los Angeles Times

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