Navy asks judge to clarify sonar use

March 12, 2008 6:05:09 AM PDT

The U.S. Pacific Fleet said in a statement that it will go ahead with planned anti-submarine warfare exercises this month in accordance with an order issued late last month by U.S. District Judge David Ezra.

Officials will then determine whether to seek additional clarifications and modifications.

"If we determine the restrictions impede our ability to conduct realistic training and assessment, the Navy will report these concerns back to Judge Ezra and ask for necessary relief," said Capt. Scott Gureck, U.S. Pacific Fleet spokesman.

Ezra's injunction says the Navy cannot conduct exercises within 12 nautical miles, or 13.8 miles, of Hawaii's shoreline. That's where species that are particularly sensitive to sonar, such as the beaked whale, are found.

He also ruled the Navy must look for marine mammals for one hour each day before using sonar and employ three lookouts exclusively to spot the animals during sonar use.

The Navy faces a similar order in California, where a U.S. District Court judge in January issued an injunction creating a 12 nautical-mile no-sonar zone off Southern California.

The Navy's motion for Hawaii asks Ezra to exempt the Navy from the safety zone requirements when the marine mammals spotted in the vicinity are porpoises and dolphins that swim up to warships to ride bow waves.

"Without this exception, an entire exercise could be jeopardized because of one marine mammal who chooses to follow the vessel despite the emission of active sonar," the motion said.

The Navy also asked the judge to change his requirement that vessels power down their mid-frequency active sonar by two or three decibels because not all vessels can do so by precisely that amount.