Court Rules Whales Can't Sue Navy
Lawsuit Seeks To Halt Navy From Using Sonar
POSTED: 8:32 am PDT October 21, 2004
UPDATED: 8:47 am PDT October 21, 2004
SAN DIEGO -- A federal appeals court decided Wednesday that marine mammals have no standing to sue to stop the U.S. Navy from using sonar.
In upholding a lower court decision, a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco said the world's cetaceans -- whales, porpoises and dolphins -- have no standing under the Endangered Species Act, the Marine Mammal Protection Act or the National Environmental Policy Act.
If lawmakers "intended to take the extraordinary step of authorizing animals as well as people and legal entities to sue, they could, and should, have said so plainly," said Judge William A. Fletcher, writing for the panel.
The Navy uses a type of sonar that helps detect quiet submarines at long range. Low frequency transmitters emit sonar pulses or "pings" that can travel hundreds of miles through the water.
"The negative effects of underwater noise on marine life are well recognized," the court said. Even the Navy acknowledged any "human-made noise that is strong enough to be heard has the potential to reduce (mask) the ability of marine mammals to hear natural sounds," according to the court.
In arguing for the cetaceans, Hilo, Hawaii-based lawyer Lanny Sinkin asked for an injunction banning long-range sonar until President Bush and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld consult with the National Marine Fisheries Services and prepare an environmental impact statement.
"Obviously, I'm very disappointed, particularly on behalf of the cetaceans," Sinkin said. "This decision is a missed opportunity for truly protecting endangered species and an opportunity for extending human stewardship on the planet."
Sinkin said he hadn't yet decided whether to pursue an appeal.