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US Supreme Court Allows Sonar Use 374

Posted by samzenpus
from the dolphin-earplugs dept.
gollum123 writes "The US Supreme Court has removed restrictions on the Navy's use of sonar in training exercises near California. The ruling is a defeat for environmental groups who say the sonar can kill whales and other mammals. In its 5-4 ruling, the Supreme Court said the Navy needed to conduct realistic training exercises to respond to potential threats. The court did not deal with the merits of the claims put forward by the environmental groups. In reinstating the use of sonar, the top US court rejected a lower federal judge's injunction that had required the US Navy to take various precautions during submarine-hunting exercises. The Bush administration argued that there is little evidence of harm to marine life in more than 40 years of exercises off the California coast. It said that the judges should have deferred to the judgment of the Navy and Mr Bush. Writing for the majority, Chief Justice John Roberts said overall public interest was 'strongly in favor of the Navy.' 'The most serious possible injury would be harm to an unknown number of the marine mammals,' Chief Justice Roberts wrote. 'In contrast, forcing the Navy to deploy an inadequately trained anti-submarine force jeopardizes the safety of the fleet.'"
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US Supreme Court Allows Sonar Use

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  • What? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by CWRUisTakingMyMoney (939585) on Wednesday November 12, 2008 @10:19PM (#25742035)
    They didn't deal with the claims put forth by the environmentalists? Then what the hell DID they consider besides the Navy's side? (No, I didn't RTFO.)
  • by esocid (946821) on Wednesday November 12, 2008 @10:27PM (#25742087) Journal
    The Navy has even admitted that active sonar is harmful and results in deaths of marine mammals, but like with the EPA, investigations with facts harmful to the administration's opinions are erased [washingtonpost.com].
  • by steelfood (895457) on Wednesday November 12, 2008 @10:44PM (#25742199)

    I don't think the Navy as a government organization or the president have anything relevant to say in the matter. It is what the marine biologists and the science they do says. If their science says that such operations definitely harm marine mammals, then the Navy should be required to take certain precautions before doing their exercises. If there is no conclusive evidence, or if the evidence is circumstantial at best, then there's no reason to stop the Navy from doing their thing until such evidence is found.

    Now, if the evidence was indeed that strong, maybe PETA or some other animal rights group can and should bring suit against the Navy for harming the animals. If indeed the evidence is that strong, then this ruling is meaningless (the Supreme court didn't comment on the environmentalist's stance, which leaves the door wide open for more lawsuits). But until that time that the evidence really becomes that strong, I'm not sure national security should be jeopardized for the sake of a hunch or even an educated guess.

  • by Dryesias (1326115) on Wednesday November 12, 2008 @11:00PM (#25742319)
    Well, the Cold War was relatively recent, nothing was really "fought" so to speak, but submarines were a big deal, a constant threat.
  • Re:What? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 12, 2008 @11:10PM (#25742391)

    no offence, but how are you qualified to make such a judgement? From what I've read from people who are actually qualified to have an educated say, it's widely accepted that the sonar does cause extreme damage to the marine wildlife.

    http://scienceblogs.com/deepseanews/2008/01/whales_are_part_of_the_axis_of.php

  • Re:What? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by martinw89 (1229324) on Wednesday November 12, 2008 @11:30PM (#25742537)

    Environmentalists (as opposed to conservationists) depend on emotional appeal rather than science and rational analysis to further their agenda. Ergo, the court rightly dismissed their claims for the bullshit that it is.

    Seriously? And this sentence isn't emotional appeal with a lack of science how?

    Jepson et al. reporting in Nature has stated that there is a "generally accepted link between some beaked-whale strandings and sonar use" [1 [seaturtle.org]]. More specifically, during a Spanish mid frequency sonar exercise 14 beaked-whales beached themselves. Spanish scientists autopsied 10 of the whales and all had damage similar to decompression sickness [2 [bbc.co.uk]].

    There is some science regarding this issue. To completely throw it out the window without consideration, calling it bullshit, is more emotionally driven than the environmentalists you accuse in your post.

    And as a side point, what would emotionally charged environmentalists have to gain by stopping sonar exercises around whales?

  • Re:lol... (Score:0, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 12, 2008 @11:42PM (#25742633)

    why ? i mean really ... why ? all we need is their DNA to recreate at any time. we might as well kill off the useless animals who arent doing anthing to benefit us. if we need em - use their DNA to recreate em. its like data archiving. if you have a good backup, you can delete the original safely with no harm. rstore from backup if you need the data/species.
    environmentalists always get in the way of progress.

  • Re:Navy's response. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by RobertM1968 (951074) on Thursday November 13, 2008 @01:18AM (#25743179) Homepage Journal

    That's irrelevant. There are plenty of other places where testing can be done - place other than those we know that whales are frequently at.

    The testing and training isnt at issue - the location was.

    Just like the example cited above by the guy you responded to. Jets can fly reaaaally fast - but not at 1000 feet above a house while breaking the sound barrier.

  • Re:What? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Jah-Wren Ryel (80510) on Thursday November 13, 2008 @01:32AM (#25743267)

    They didn't consider the science at all.

    Didn't consider it, or didn't spell out their deliberations in the ruling?

    Merits, addressed in deliberations and deemed irrelevant do not merit attention in the written ruling.

    Are you trying to say that the science behind the claims is irrelevant?

  • Re:What? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Lost Engineer (459920) on Thursday November 13, 2008 @01:57AM (#25743395)
    The article failed wrt details. There was no specific law. The environmentalists claimed the Navy failed to "prepare an environmental impact statement," supposedly violating the National Environmental Policy Act. It seems the court was saying you can't apply an law broadly directed at civilian activity to the naval exercises. The current Court prefers to make limited decisions. If there were a law specifically regulating the Navy's use of sonar I think they would uphold it, but, absent any law, this case is similar to arguing that the Army can't practice shooting because the bullets are full of lead.
  • Minefield? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Tubal-Cain (1289912) * on Thursday November 13, 2008 @01:59AM (#25743409) Journal
    Is there any way they can discourage the whales from coming around? Like maybe ring off the testing area for a couple hundred miles with buoys that make enough noise to be irritating to them?
  • Re:What? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Max Littlemore (1001285) on Thursday November 13, 2008 @02:02AM (#25743425)

    One of the chief responsibilities the government has is to protect its people

    I'm not disagreeing with you. I'm also not a religonut, but one thing I thing humans have sadly lost in the age of reason, with the loss of real old style religion instead of the nutjob variety infect large amounts of the US and Middle East today, is the sense of guardianship of nature. This idea that the governments responsibility to maintain a threat to other nations is higher than the human responsibility to look after the natural world makes us look more primitive than hunter gatherers, IMO.

    If we are guardians, we are the kind that rape and beat their charges so we can look tough to our neighbours. Base and primitive.

  • by LynnwoodRooster (966895) on Thursday November 13, 2008 @02:23AM (#25743567) Journal

    how about test it on underwater divers... they signed up and it's safe for whales. We could try supreme court justices (with out air tanks though that might skew results)

    What kind of device potentially damages animals in a 50 mile radius? Really think about that, this would be equivalent to allowing sonic booms at 1000 feet altitude near cities... and to heck with the broken glass and ear drums. The army has nothing that invasive, the air force has nukes or days of carpet bombing and supersonic aircraft, but they pick the same spots to train where there is minimal wildlife to harm and reuse it over and over.

    I'm sure this is just a case of "boys with toys" making things bigger and louder because they can and pulling rank when asked to tone it down.

    Well, there IS no device - short of a nuclear bomb - that would create the 50 mile radius damage you quote. Directed sound in water falls off at a rate of 20logR, meaning that at a distance of 10 meters you are down 20 dB; at 100 meters you are down 40 dB. At a distance of 10,000 meters - about 6 miles - you are down 80 dB.

    An EXTREMELY powerful SONAR system might be capable of 250 dB ref 1 uPa within its beam angle. Meaning that at 10,000 meters and within the beam angle you would have a level of 170 dB. At that 50 mile radius? You would have 150 dB.

    How much pressure is that? Considering that 10m of water is approximately 1 atmosphere (~193 dB SPL, or ~219 dB ref 1 uPa), that would be equivalent to having a ~15cm wave go over you.

    Even closer, we see that at a range of 100 meters the level is down to 210 dB, meaning about the same as a 3m wave passing over your position underwater. How that damages an animal living IN the water in the open ocean I can't fathom.

    I submit it is NOT the pressure at all; in fact, the pressure generated from the fluke of baleen whale is near 230 dB (and the pressure at 10m from an ocean freighter's prop is about 230 dB as well). If there IS an impact on marine mammals it is probably from the frequency and the sudden "appearance" of an audible frequency. In other words, like walking up behind someone and going "boo".

    There is a tremendous amount of precedence for this hypothesis too; for example, blueback herring are highly sensitive to ~105 kHz signals and will scatter at the slightest noise in that range (which happens to be the third harmonic of the primary click range of bottlenose dolphins). You can blast those herring all day long with 230+ dB SPL at 200 kHz, or at 70 kHz without a problem, and get accurate biomass estimates; go near them with an ultra-low power (140 dB SPL) 105 kHz carrier and they scatter like leaves on the wind.

    And yes, I was (for nearly 7 years) a real live SONAR engineer working in the marine and fisheries research SONAR world, and am still a practicing acoustician (20 years experience).

  • by schwaang (667808) on Thursday November 13, 2008 @02:24AM (#25743569)

    The idea that anything labelled "national defense" automatically overrides the concerns of the local democracy (in this case the citizenry of California and Hawaii) would be in that category I mentioned above of "whatever ideology is in vogue". I don't happen to agree with that ideology.

    "National defense" is why we threw US citizens of Japanese extraction into concentration camps in WW II, to our national shame.

    "National defense" is why we wasted 58,000 American servicemen's lives in Vietnam, not to mention many times that number of Vietnamese, civilian and otherwise.

    "National defense" is why the US has a military budget larger than those of Europe + China + Russia + all three "Axis of Evil" nations *combined*.

    Feel safe yet? Maybe "national defense" shouldn't be an automatic, knee-jerk pass anymore.

  • Re:What? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by fbjon (692006) on Thursday November 13, 2008 @05:14AM (#25744371) Homepage Journal
    It seems to me that they didn't consider any position in particular, their position was just that the ban as such wasn't appropriate for the courts to make.
  • Re:Navy's response. (Score:2, Interesting)

    by AZhun (587303) on Thursday November 13, 2008 @06:28AM (#25744747)

    The whole move to use ever increasing strength sonar will only more quickly get those platforms found and knocked out. Passive and low noise systems to always be able to say "I see you but you don't see me" is paramount in tactics.

    The sale and acceptance of these systems will only result in dead crews, dead ships and loss of sea control. Quite foolish and a waste of money.

    That it adversely impacts the marine environment should further wave flags that the system puts out an abnormally high strength pulse more readily able to be heard by an approaching aggressor at distance, who then can counter.

    No real bubblehead would go active to confirm to a contact, "Here I am! Come get me!"

  • Re:Well... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by jo_ham (604554) <joham999 AT gmail DOT com> on Thursday November 13, 2008 @07:03AM (#25744921)

    So the Navy does these vital training exercises, oh, I don't know, somewhere else? Somewhere where whales are not.

    Someone said earlier in the post, when the sound of the Navy's high powered sonar was just like an F22 jet breaking the sound barrier 100 feet above your house (ie, loud enough to cause you physical pain and hearing damage) that if there were jets doing that, they would simply move. It's a little hard for the whales to do that, because apart from the fact that the sonar travels for hundreds of miles in water, in the shallow portions of the coast where these exercises take place, there aren't a lot of places for the whales to escape to.

    I don;t think I'm going to convince you to consider other arguments though, given your immediate leap to the unpatriotic "why do you hate america?" spiel and your general axe that you seem to want to grind regarding people who aren't just thinking about number 1 all the time.

    Try poking your head above the Halliburton-sponsored propaganda materials for a few minutes, you might learn something. Ohh, I went there. Probably shouldn't have, but you have to keep the flames going I guess.

  • Re:What? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Xest (935314) on Thursday November 13, 2008 @07:48AM (#25745113)

    So many fearmongers seem to forget that Russia has a population of only 170mill and dropping. The only threat from Russia is bullying of smaller nations around them and their nuclear arsenal. It doesn't matter how much the US' credit rating weakens it'll still have it's nuclear arsenal as a deterrent to counter that, the nuclear threat is always present but can always be discounted from these types of scenarios because if it happens we're all fucked, if it doesn't happen we're all carrying on as is.

    Russia and China aren't in any way allies, they have common goals in the security council sometimes of keeping the US subdued but they also have their own border disputes with each other and really have little in common enough to be as close allies as Europe is to the US for example.

    Russia really isn't the type of threat the US needs to worry about in terms of launching submarine based attacks unless for some reason the US becomes an enemy of the likes of Europe also because Europe combined has a vastly bigger set of armed forces than Russia and has more to fear if it goes against the US and hence the West in general due to it being on their doorstep.

    Russia also has a lot of internal strife, whilst South Ossetia and Abkhazia worship the ground Russia walks on due to their incursion into Georgia what a lot of people miss is that North Ossetians and Ingushetia and similar would love nothing more than Russia to be distracted in a real war so that they can lop off a sizeable chunk of Russia's lower borders, there are a few other areas of Russia that would rapidly follow suit.

    China is in a similar situation, Japan, India, South Korea all have interests in supporting the US if China went aggressive and you could be sure again that Europe would join in. The other similarity with Russia is that any aggression by China would rapidly push away Taiwan, Tibet and possibly even Hong-Kong from their grasp. Even Pakistan has border disputes with it. At the end of the day, China couldn't launch full scale military action elsewhere because it'd lose it's grip on so many regions and find itself a nation that was suddenly a whole lot smaller and a whole lot weaker.

    There's an instant fear that because China is so big it's a threat, but whilst it is bigger than any individual nation it's not bigger, nor would it be bigger even with it's allies than the nations whose interests run counter to it and their allies.

    There is really no threat from China and Russia even with a weakened US, the Western view has too much support from too many strong nations and should there be such thing as another world war, even a lot of the border-line nations would easily drop their distaste with the US to support the West in this kind of scenario, whilst Venezuela, Bolivia and so forth may support the Russians/Chinese you can guarantee Argentina, Brazil, Columbia, Mexico would all side with the US. The Middle East would largely be a stalemate with Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, UAE, Israel siding off against Iran, Syria and potentially Lebanon.

    The assault by Russia into Georgia was to make a point, the US has established bases in Iraq and Afghanistan, on Russia's Southern borders, in Japan to Russia's East and now in Poland et al. on Europe's Western borders and in Greenland and in cooperation with Canada over the arctic to it's North. Russia knows it's surrounded, it knows it can't break out but with Georgia it also knew it had a sudden chance to make a point and send a message to other smaller nations like Georgia warning them to not allow anymore US influence on it's borders.

    China and Russia are simply outmanned and outgunned in conventional warfare by a massive amount regardless of the US's strength in the world. The Western ideal whilst regularly slagged off simply has too much core support at the end of the day because so many nations know that the alternative is simply much worse. It is for these reasons that China and Russia simply are not in the position to attack the US with conventional warfare and almost certainly will not be for many, many decades- long after the current range of submarines, other military hardware and current group of people manning them are retired.

  • Re:Yeah we are. (Score:4, Interesting)

    by lorenzo.boccaccia (1263310) on Thursday November 13, 2008 @11:30AM (#25747087)
    remind me whenever in history the "dug in a wall" strategy worked. It didn't worked for China. Didn't worked for France. Didn't worked for Romans, nor for the Aeduii. Radars didn't stop bombing raid, nor chains submarines, nor the gulf war smoke interceptors. (has to be said that worked for England the use of interceptors to block German bombers)

    how sonars are different? they are indeed useful in submarine combat. but provide me a war scenario on which submarine warfare has more importance in getting closer to the conflict resolution than tactical ground attacks, bombing, or hurling long range missiles from one continent to another.

    yes, submarine are cool, useful, stealth and so on. But future is unforeseeable and the only thing history teaches us is that the generic dug in tactic doesn't work. most of submarine task could now be performed by long range missiles. True, submarine could be used as stealth carriers, transport or to build safe supply line, so you absolutely need them for this role and for countermeasure to prevent the enemy to use those tactics on you, but they're far to be the most important strategic asset of a war.

    or, in other terms, you need planes because the enemy has, you need nukes because the enemy has, and you need submarine because the enemy has, miss to match any of the enemy capabilities, and you have a big hole in your defence. no more, no less. Attacking and most importantly winning however, needs a lot more than submarines. (and a problem itself is to define what a victory is)
  • Re:Yeah we are. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by theaveng (1243528) on Thursday November 13, 2008 @12:11PM (#25747697)

    >>>provide me a war scenario on which submarine warfare has more importance in getting closer to the conflict resolution than tactical ground attacks, bombing, or hurling long range missiles from one continent to another
    >>>

    You have got to be kidding. Have you never studied WW2? Submarine attacks waged against Japan effectively cut-off the nation from access to natural resources, oil, even food. Germany did the same thing to Britain during WW1. In Britain's case the anti-sb destroyers were able to sink enough subs to save themselves, but in Japan's case they reached a point where the subs had cutoff their ability to continue waging war.

    In a modern conflict between, say the EU and the U.S., submarines could have a similar affect of cutting-off the U.S. oil supply. That would effectively end the war. The U.S. needs its own submarine force to make sure that does not happen (sub-vs-sub warfare).

  • by mav[LAG] (31387) on Thursday November 13, 2008 @02:43PM (#25750137)

    Again, there is evidence for this because ppl are still buying US bonds. It's that simple. If the US was at risk, you'd see an entirely different price for those bonds -- much much lower.

    As far as I can tell the yields for US bonds are sharply dropping at the moment, which is a prelude to what I claim. Roubini says the same but I can't find his link now - sorry.

    Are you kidding? Is this really a serious question? Re-read that WSJ link I gave you. Then go over to the WorldBank and read up on the stats and numbers. You are, simply wrong.

    Yes - a deadly serious question. Without exception, all the charts and measures I see of US wealth make grim reading. Consumers have no money left - hell, I saw this for myself last week when I was in a Vegas Wal-Mart. US consumers have no savings to fall back on either. The Government has no investments. The commercial banking system is being trashed because banks just aren't geared up to deal with 50-60% foreclosure rates. The nation has no exports worth speaking of. As a whole, you are utterly bankrupt. And some unrealistic measures of GDP won't change the fact that the real engine of US economic growth - consumer spending - is finished for a long time.

    Preposterous. Again, the US has never defaulted on it's debt.

    False. It has defaulted twice - once in 1933 when FDR stopped paying bearers in gold and again in 1971 when Nixon effectively defaulted by taking the dollar off gold.

    Never. I have no idea how you can claim they have no way of paying it back. Again, this statement shows a lack of understanding of the basics. Go read up on some productivity numbers. Go read up on US GDP and it's components.

    OK. Gosh, let's see. Hmmm - US GDP is driven by consumer spending to the tune of 75%. Unfortunately, since 2002, consumer spending has been driven by borrowing on the back of the biggest housing bubble in history. Ever. And now that bubble has popped. I wonder what happens next?

    But we have MORE than enough ability to pay that debt back. We just have to shift a few resources, which is what you see playing out on the front pages and within the halls of our govt....

    If you think borrowing against future taxes or running the printing presses is "shifting resources" then I think you need to do some reading of the basics.

    Look, I am not saying everything is rosy. I am simply saying your predictions of the collapse of Western Finance have been heard before. Lots of times throughout history, in fact. And every single time - they have been 100% wrong. Not a little wrong....a whole lot of wrong.

    For hundreds of years, people thought that swans were white. And every single time they saw a white swan it just confirmed that swans were white. The theory that swans were white was 100% correct.

    Until someone saw a black swan. That single observation invalidated hundreds of years of empirical evidence. All that you've done is blathered about the bond market and pointed me at some meaningless measurements of GDP. But the truth is that within a couple of years, the US will be a Third World country with a worthless currency, trillions in debt, a collapsed infrastructure and unable to even pay for the basics in energy. It will be your Black Swan.

    I will not enjoy watching this happen at all. But you have been warned.

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