Promised Study Averts Trial on Sonar Plans

     SAN FRANCISCO (CN) - A promise by the Navy to better estimate bottlenose dolphin numbers before rolling out a global sonar system will forestall an upcoming trial, a federal judge said.
     Short for Surveillance Towed Array Sensor System Low Frequency Active Sonar, SURTASS would enhance submarine detection during peacetime training missions.
     The National Marine Fisheries Service in 2012 approved the Navy's five-year plan to deploy 18 deepwater loudspeakers in the Atlantic, Pacific, Indian and Mediterranean Sea - covering between 70 and 75 percent of the world's oceans.
     This prompted a challenge by the Natural Resources Defense Council, which said that underwater bombardment by the loudspeakers would inevitably disrupt many species that use sound to catch prey, navigate and communicate.
     Earlier this year, U.S. District Judge Elizabeth Laporte praised some of the mitigation measures that the plan does incorporate.
     The Navy's efforts at protecting whales received the bulk of this praise, however, with Laporte complaining about the government's use of outdated population estimates for bottlenose dolphins living near Hawaii.
     Those numbers showed small stock numbers - and therefore less of an impact by SURTASS - than current figures from a 2012 report would show, she said.
     A conference on potential remedies to this shortfall led the Navy to promise a supplemental environmental impact report by Feb. 15, 2015, and to use the most current population estimates for bottlenose dolphins before authorizing any future five-year deployments of SURTASS loudspeakers.
     Laporte signed off on the agreement and closed the case Thursday, averting a trial that had been scheduled to begin later this year.