The North Atlantic Right whales have been protected from commercial whaling since 1935, and may number only as few as 313, according to the judgment of Judge Lisa Wood. On Monday, the same judge dismissed a lawsuit brought by environmentalists and allowed the U.S. Navy to go ahead with building a submarine training range near the only known calving grounds of the North Atlantic Right whale.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), right whales are protected under the Endangered Species Conservation Act of 1969 and are considered among the rarest marine mammals. Adult right whales can grow up to 55 feet in length and prefer shallow coastal waters.
However, the judge, while dismissing the lawsuit brought by environmentalists, observed that the Navy complied fully with federal environmental law in its plans to build the submarine training ground at the sensitive site.
While environmentalists hold that the Navy’s proposed training ground is too close to the breeding site of the endangered right whales, neither the Navy nor the court sees any wrong in that. According to the judge, the navy proved that in 60 years of training in the South Georgia-North Florida area, there has not been a single case of a naval vessel hitting a whale.
The judge observed, “There are no reported instances of sonar causing marine mammals to surface and collide with ships.” She also noted that the Navy has developed procedures for reducing chances of harm to the whales, and requires ships to slow down during calving season. The Navy has also developed early warning systems to alert ships to whale locations and has rules to ensure that ordinarily, ships travel close to the whale habitat only during daylight.
Right whale mothers and calves historically migrate to the waters between Savannah, Georgia and Cape Canaveral, Florida, in the winter months.