Michael Jasny, Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC)   |   January 27, 2014 02:01pm ET
whales, blue whales, conservation, endangered species
A blue whale.
Credit: NOAA.

Michael Jasny is director of the NRDC Marine Mammal Project. This Op-Ed will appear on the NRDC blog Switchboard. Jasny contributed this article to LiveScience’s Expert Voices: Op-Ed & Insights.

What do you do when an agency entrusted with protecting the environment seems incapable of doing its job?

Last month, the National Marine Fisheries Service, the agency that the U.S. Congress charges with protecting whales and other marine life, gave the U.S. Navy permission to harm marine mammals on an unprecedented scale. Off Southern California and Hawaii alone, the Navy is now allowed to kill 155 marine mammals outright, permanently injure another 2,000, temporarily deafen hundreds of thousands more, and cause widespread disruption of feeding, nursing and other behaviors that are essential to the animals’ survival — a total of more than 9 million incidents over the next five years.


These are staggering numbers, the product of a massive ramp-up in training on the Navy’s Pacific ranges. And the stats raise serious questions about the ability of some species to sustain all of this damage, to cope with the tens of thousands of detonations and hours of high-powered sonar use that the Navy has planned each year. Yet, remarkably, the Fisheries Service gave its blessing — allowing impacts to rise more than ten times above previous authorizations — without requiring any additional steps to reduce the harm. It will surprise no one that a number of conservation organizations, including my own, filed a lawsuit against both agencies today.

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