SCOTUS: Ping the Whales!

The Supreme Court, dividing 6-3, upheld the Navy’s power to use sonar in military training exercises, even though environmentalists claim that the technology threatens marine life in the training zone off the Pacific Coast.  Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., wrote for the majority; there were two full dissents and one partial dissent.   The decision, the Court’s first ruling of the Term, came in the case of Winter (Navy Secretary) v. National Resources Defense Council, et al. (07-1239).

[full story]

The back story here is that Navy exercises off the coast of Cali have been purported (ha) to have adverse effects on marine mammals.

This is being studied….

Using satellite-linked and underwater listening tags to monitor movement and behavior, NOAA and partnering scientists tagged more than thirty individual marine mammals of four different species. They measured how deep-diving marine mammals feed, interact with one another, dive and respond to sounds in their environment in this pioneering pilot project carried out in conjunction with the Navy’s Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) 2008 exercises. 

[full story]

…but ultimatey the Court found that the results of the study don’t really matter.

Roberts wrote that “the Navy’s need to conduct realistic training with active sonar to respond to the threat posed by enemy submarines plainly outweighs” the environmental concerns raised by advocacy groups. “We do not discount the importance of [the challengers’] ecological, scientific, and recreational interest in marine mammals,” the opinion remarked.

It added: “Of course, military interests do not always trump other considerations, and we have not held that they do.  In this case, however, the proper determination of where the public interest lies does not strike us as a close question.”

So given that no data on the effect of active sonar on the whales or other marine life was considered, it can probably be assumed that nothing, up to and including extinction level interaction, really matters in this case.

Personally I would have like to see the Court wait until the data came back from the study to make a ruling, but as that would have gone beyond the time limit for the exercises [“The Court had heard argument in the case on Oct. 8, and moved comparatively rapidly to prepare the opinions because the specific round of sonar exercises the Navy is conducting are to be finished by January, at the latest.” ] this is just a “move-along, nothing to see here” ruling. 

The Court didn’t say whether or not the Navy should do such a study and to what degree it could affect their exercises, but then again, that’s not really what the SCOTUS does….usually