The Deep II

     There is a point of fatigue in the work grind that I have come to learn is the point at which, like knowing when it’s time to leave a party, I know it’s time to leave and get to and into the ocean.
     A long swim, a couple formations of pelicans skimming over the waves, the cold, clean, salty water all around, and I am miraculously recovered. Seeing a couple dolphins surfacing as they cruise along the coast is a bonus, a blessing if you will.
     Growing up in and out of the ocean in Baja, we often saw sea lions, dolphins and whales in the waves off the beach where we camped, and those denizens of the sea came to occupy a favored place in the mind, intelligent creatures that lived in a dangerous and wonderful environment parallel to ours.
     So when the U.S. Navy under President Bush attempted to circumvent court rulings against a barrage of sonar testing that imperiled the dolphins and whales, I inveighed against the administration’s efforts to step around the law. So did the Ninth Circuit.
     Judge Florence Marie Cooper had issued an injunction against the use of powerful, mid-range sonar in coastal waters within 2000 yards of a whale. The hearing system of the sea mammals is so acute and the sonar translates so strongly through the water that it deafens and disorients the big fish. They beach themselves in large numbers, and die.
     The Navy tried to circumvent the injunction by arguing that the test was an “emergency” and the environmental laws therefore did not apply.
     This was pure Bush administration disregard for the courts and the law, as I saw it. And in a more circumspect and diplomatic fashion, the judges on the panel in Pasadena seemed to think the same.
     In the face of the argument from a Justice Department lawyer that limiting the Navy’s testing would harm the nation, Judge Stephen Reinhardt questioned whether it might not do greater harm to the nation to allow the government to avoid court rulings whenever it felt like it.
     He noted in an understated manner that past administrations had certainly challenged court decisions that were not to their liking, but they had done so through the courts.
     The Ninth Circuit’s ruling upholding Cooper’s injunction was overturned by the Supreme Court two years ago. But by then a new president was in place, one who campaigned on his respect for the nation’s environmental laws.
     Ah, but like so many things about the Obama administration and its justice department in particular, plus ca change, plus ca reste le meme.
     The Navy is now planning to conduct testing of high-frequency sonar – it would perhaps be unfair to say the Navy was not content with the number killed by the mid-range sonar – in Hawaii, along the California coast, along the Atlantic coast and in the Gulf of Mexico.
     The Navy estimates in an environmental impact statement that the test will deafen 15,900 whales and dolphins and kill 1,800 more over the next 5 years.
     I normally avoid signing petitions these days, tired of the fifty-cents-a-signature pitchmen who circulate them. But I signed the online petition against the Navy testing. I sent the link to my nephew who is, if anything, more skeptical of such efforts. But he researched the matter and signed, as well.
     If you go back to the foundations of our civilization, around the Mediterranean sea, those ancient mariners considered dolphins a sign of good luck. Vaulting into the present, most of the western world rallies to the defense of whales.
     Why would a proud military service of the United States, one that lives and fights upon the same ocean where the dolphins and whales live, want to go against that ancient tradition and the modern political climate in order to wipe out thousands of the ocean’s most intelligent and harmless creatures.
     I look upon the Pacific with reverence and a kind of love, not only for its restorative power but also because it represents a separate but adjacent world to ours, one that holds extraordinary beauty, hosts its own kingdom of aquatic life, that includes plants and animals of amazing variety, color and shape, a world where we visitors can move in three dimensions, where, through the waves on its surface, we feel the power of storms a half-planet away, and a world that is both nurturing and deadly, where life and death are a matter of luck, food and big teeth.
     Just as we imperil ourselves by the calumnies we have imposed on our own, land-based environment, we double down on that desecration by invading and assaulting the life of the sea.

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