WASHINGTON (AFP) — An appeals court overturned Friday a ban on the US navy's use of sonar in upcoming training exercises off California that was aimed at protecting whales disturbed by the subsea emissions.
Reversing an August 6 decision in the longstanding battle between environmental groups and the US military over whale safety, the appeals court said the court that handled the case earlier had overstepped.
It said that court had not adequately justified its ruling against sonar use in the navy's 14 planned exercises offshore southern California during 2007-2009.
The appeals court added that although the public had an interest in protecting whales, US defense needs must also be considered.
"We are currently engaged in war, in two countries ... The safety of the whales must be weighed, and so must the safety of our warriors. And of our country," Friday's ruling said.
Environmentalists say the sonar -- which works by flooding large areas of the ocean with loud bursts of sound -- can injure or even kill whales, forcing them to beach themselves on land.
Although litigation brought over war games off the coast of Hawaii resulted in a settlement last year, the navy had refused to take steps to mitigate the impact of the sonar during tests in California waters -- like posting people to watch out for whales and tailoring activities to avoid them.
The court criticized the navy for this, but ultimately said the groups fighting to protect the whales had not substantiated their case of irreversible damage to whales and to the environment from the use of sonar.
"The district court did not explain why a broad, absolute injunction against the use of the medium frequency active sonar in the complex training exercises for two years was necessary to avoid irreparable harm to the environment," the appeals court said.
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