Protection of Marine Mammals: Background

The Animal Welfare Institute and 12 other groups have filed suit against the U.S. Navy alleging claims under the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (42 U.S.C. §§ 4321 et seq.), Administrative Procedure Act (5 U.S.C. §§ 701-706), and the Endangered Species Act (16 U.S.C. §§ 1531 et seq.), in connection with the decision of the Navy to install an Undersea Warfare Training Range along the East Coast, southeast of the Georgia/Florida border. The groups have also sued the National Marine Fisheries Service, which authorized the project.

The training range - expected to cost $100 million - calls for the construction of an extensive underwater system of cables, nodes and other instruments over an area 500 square nautical miles in size, and once installed, will host 470 war game training exercises involving ships, aircraft and submarines annually over a 20 year period. The project site is home to a variety of marine life, including whales, dolphins, sea turtles and manatees.  Moreover, it is adjacent to the only known calving ground for the critically endangered North Atlantic right whale. The lawsuit alleges that the construction and operation of the range at the project site will undoubtedly pose multiple threats to these species, including collisions with fast moving ships, entanglement in range equipment, and widespread disruption from the extensive year-round use of high-intensity sonar systems during training.

The lawsuit alleges a variety of deficiencies related to the decision to install and operate the training range at the project site, such as the Navy’s failure to (1) adequately consider the impacts of installation and operation of the range, (2) include essential information in the Environmental Impact Study, and (3) ensure there would be no jeopardy to a listed species, as well as the National Marine Fisheries Services' failure to (1) use facts to support the conclusions in its Biological opinion, and (2) issue an incidental take statement.