The Humane Society of the United States is joining environmental groups opposing Navy plans to conduct undersea training exercises using sonar and live explosives off the Southeast Georgia coast, calving waters for the endangered right whale.
The concern, according to Wayne Pacelle, the organization's president and CEO, is the impact the training exercises will have on right whales and other marine mammals.
"Almost everybody agrees that we need a robust and strong Navy to protect national security. And almost all of us agree that whales, dolphins and porpoises deserve to live and have a healthy ocean environment. But a recent proposal from the federal government tries to make Americans pick between these options, and it's a false choice," Pacelle said in a prepared statement.
Environmental groups have asked a federal judge to stop the Navy's plans to build the $100 million Undersea Warfare Training Range, which would span 500 square miles and be used an estimated 480 times a year, from one to six hours at a time.
The Navy claims vessels from Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay and Naval Station Mayport already take precautions to ensure there are no collisions with right whales when they are in area waters during calving season, from around mid-November to mid-April.
There are an estimated 350 to 400 right whales in existence.
The Southern Environmental Law Center's lawsuit on behalf of environmental groups claims the Navy approved construction of the range before it finished studying how often right whales swim through the site.
Pacelle said past sonar exercises have injured or killed marine mammals.
"According to its own environmental impact statements, the Navy estimates that the planned exercises would kill up to 2,000 marine mammals, including a large number of animals from endangered species, such as right whales," he said. "Thousands of others would suffer permanent lung damage. An additional 16,000 would be permanently deafened and 5 million would be temporarily deafened by the exercises."
Alex Kearns, chair of the local environmental group St. Marys Earthkeepers, said she understands the need for ongoing Naval training and development, but its plans to continue construction of the training range in right whale calving grounds are "quite simply wrong."
She praised the Humane Society for joining environmental groups opposing the Navy's plans.
"I applaud the efforts of the many national and international organizations who are speaking out against the offshore Jacksonville sonar testing range," she said.