Judge stands by ban on sonar

Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

A federal judge in Los Angeles declined Monday to set aside her order forbidding the Navy from using powerful sonar in training missions in Southern California waters unless it operates farther than 12 miles off the coast and adopts other measures to lessen the effect on whales and dolphins.

The Navy is expected to appeal Judge Florence Marie Cooper’s decision and ask that her injunction temporarily be removed to allow training exercises to begin later this month without the restrictions.

The recent confrontation between Navy ships and fast-moving Iranian boats in the Persian Gulf illustrates precisely why this case gives the Navy “heartburn,” said Cmdr. Jeff A. Davis, a Navy spokesman at the Pentagon.


The judge’s order, he said, restricts sonar training in the Santa Catalina basin, a “choke point” whose similarity to the Strait of Hormuz can help sailors learn to detect submarines while defending against “swarming attacks by small boats.”

The Navy’s integrated approach to training is designed to ensure that sailors are prepared to respond simultaneously to all potential threats, Davis said.

“While we respect the court’s decision and appreciate the care it took in crafting it, we cannot in good conscience send American sons and daughters into potential trouble spots without adequate training to defend themselves,” Davis said. “This is a national security issue, and we must use all methods available to ensure that overly broad restrictions do not hamper our ability to train.”

In her rulings, Cooper has said she tried to balance national security needs with environmental protections -- specifically those to prevent unnecessary harm to whales and dolphins from mid-frequency active sonar. That’s the type the Navy uses to detect quiet diesel-electric submarines.

She has cited scientific studies linking U.S. and NATO warships’ use of sonar to the deaths and injuries of beaked whales and other marine mammals. She also has reiterated the Navy’s own predictions that the upcoming exercises off Southern California “will cause widespread harm to nearly 30 species of marine mammals.”

She has closed some whale-rich waters to training exercises and insisted that the Navy increase its efforts to watch for whales and shut down the sonar if marine mammals come within 2,200 yards. Her ruling affects training runs off Southern California only.