Federal judge halts Navy sonar exercises off California coast

A federal judge has ordered the U.S. Navy to stop using mid-frequency active sonar in exercises off the Southern California coast through 2009. Noting that the Navy’s own evaluation says the sonar exercises could disrupt marine mammal behavior in as many as 170,000 instances, Judge Florence-Marie Cooper found in favor of the Natural Resources Defense Council and four other groups. Cooper, who ruled against the Navy in a similar case last year on exercises off Hawaii, is not a hit with the boys (and girls) in blue, who will appeal. “This court decision prevents us from using active sonar,” said Vice Admiral Samuel Locklear. “It potentially puts American lives and our national security at risk.” But NRDC attorney Joel Reynolds says that line of defense is doltish: “Just as the Army has a responsibility not to train soldiers to shoot in the middle of a crowded city street, the Navy has a duty, when it’s learning how to hunt with sonar, not to choose a practice range next to a marine sanctuary.”